Creeds and the Six Creation Days

"It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good."[1]

Thus begins Chapter 4 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the doctrinal standard for conservative Presbyterians. It was written 350 years ago by ministers and laymen assembled by the English Parliament to reform and unify the English, Scottish, and Irish churches in accordance with the Word of God.

Confessions, or creeds, are as old as the church, with the first draft of the Apostles' Creed dating from the 2nd century. As J. Gordon Melton writes, "Even the most anti-creedal and experience-oriented groups usually have a small body of assumed intellectual content (a system of beliefs that can be put into words) . . . ."[2]

While all the early creeds speak of God as the maker of heaven and earth, they do not mention the six days. Nevertheless, almost all the early Gentile Christians had turned from pagan evolutionary ideas to the Biblical teaching of recent creation in six days.[3]

Creeds cover Biblical teaching in broad strokes, with special coverage for contemporary controversies or doctrinal emphases. Hence the early ecumenical creeds focused on the trinity and the person of Christ, which had been the center of controversies in the early church. Later, the Reformed Confessions focused on differences from Roman Catholic doctrine. It was only in the 17th century that creeds first mentioned the six creation days.

17th-Century Creeds

In Philip Schaff's extensive three volumes, The Creeds of Christendom, the first creed mentioning the six creation days was the Irish Articles. These Articles of the Irish Episcopal Church were adopted in 1600 and later became the model for the Westminster Confession. Article 18 reads: "In the beginning of time, when no creature had any being, God, by his word alone, in the space of six days, created all things...."[4] The Articles were drafted by James Ussher, then head of the theological faculty of Trinity College, Dublin. The inclusion of the six days reflected his interest in the true, Biblical history of the earth in the face of contrary philosophies.

In 1632 the Mennonites, meeting in Holland, wrote their Dordrecht Confession, the first article addressing creation: ". . . In this one God, who 'worketh all in all,' we believe. Him we confess as the Creator of all things, visible and invisible; who in six days created and prepared 'heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.'" This confession was also adopted later in the century by the Amish, and remains authoritative in many of these churches.[5]

In his study of the Westminster Assembly, which met from 1643 to 1646, Scott Thomas Murphy concludes that "the Divines saw no need to compartmentalize religion, history and science. For them, such events as the creation of the world and the resurrection of Christ were religious facts, historical facts and scientific facts."[6]

Four of the Divines wrote commentaries on the first chapters of Genesis. They and the others, according to Murphy, took the creation account as literal history.[7] It was important to them that all the historical details were true. Anthony Burgess, one of the Divines, said, "If the Scriptures might err in matters of less moment, why not in greater?"[8] They did not think that a Christian could believe only those events of the Bible that speak of our salvation. According to Murphy, "The Divines' view of inspiration led them to believe that statements that are non-fundamental to salvation, and even statements that seem trivial are the inspired truth.... (Divine Samuel Rutherford wrote that) many are saved who never heard of many historical facts contained in Scripture, yet once these facts are known, it is not a matter of indifference whether they are believed or not."[9]

Murphy tells us that: "The Westminster Divines were familiar with Plato and Aristotle and used methods gleaned from both. Nevertheless, neither philosopher was consistently followed, since Scripture was the Divines' final rule."[10] Many of these men were educated at Cambridge, yet they humbly rejected the notion that man could apprehend eternal truths. Their Confession begins: "Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.... The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.... The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture" (I.1,9,10., Westminster Confession).

The Westminster Confession, finished in 1646, was not only adopted by Presbyterians, but became the basis for the Congregational Savoy Declaration of 1658 and the Baptist London Confession of 1689. All affirmed creation in the space of six days. However, by the 20th century, mainline Presbyterian, Congregational, and Baptist bodies had chosen new confessions, with no mention of the six creation days. For example, the 1890 English Presbyterian Articles of Faith read, "Almighty God . . . was pleased in the beginning to create the heavens and the earth . . . through progressive stages. . . ."[11]

20th-Century Creeds

In this century in the United States, one large and at least two smaller denominations have written or modified creeds to affirm the six-day creation. In other churches the subject of creation is controversial and there is a current effort to reform the creed.

In 1932, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod adopted a "Brief Statement of Doctrinal Position," Article 5, stating: "We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Genesis 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days."[12]

Later, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod wrote an equally clear statement on creation. Article II.1. and 2. of their creed affirms that creation "happened in the course of six normal days by the power of God's almighty word" and that "the Bible presents a true and historical account of Creation."[13]

Three Baptist bodies have confessions that affirm belief "in the Genesis account of creation." One of the three, the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches, has added that "the six days of creation in Genesis Chapter One were solar, that is twenty-four hour days."[14]

The current creation movement may be instrumental in causing some Reformed and Presbyterian churches to reconsider their confession about creation. The Alliance of Reformed Churches[15] is convening a series of confessional conferences on current controversies. The first, scheduled at Wheaton College, July 21-24, 1993, will address "evolutionism."[16] The Rev. Steve Schlissel has confidently written, "The Confessional Conference seeks to overthrow evolutionists, especially the 'theistic' types, . . ."[17]

Conclusion

The Word of God is the source of our confessions. The Westminster Confession's fourth chapter on creation shows that the authors took seriously their first chapter on Scripture: "The authority of the Holy Scripture . . . is to be received because it is the word of God" (I.4.). This is still the reason, in the face of contrary philosophies, that we gladly confess that in "six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth" (Exodus 20:11; 31:17).

REFERENCES

[1] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966 (1877), p. 611.
[2] J. Gordon Melton, ed., The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 1st ed., Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1988, p. xxi.
[3] See author's articles, "The Early Church Defended Creation Science," Impact No. 160, ICR, October 1986; "Augustine on the Creation Days," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 32/4, December 1989, pp. 457-464.
[4] Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, p. 529.
[5] Melton, Ibid., pp. 420-425.
[6] Scott Thomas Murphy, The Doctrine of Scripture in the Westminster Assembly, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1985, p. 82.
[7] Ibid., pp. 83, 84, 86, 208.
[8] An Expository Comment, London: Abel Roper, 1661, p. 12, quoted in Murphy, Ibid., p. 81.
[9] A Dispute Touching Scandal and Christian Liberty, London: John Field, 1646, p. 44, paraphrased by Murphy, Ibid., p. 79.
[10] Ibid., p. 5.
[11] Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, p. 916.
[12] Melton, Ibid., p. 149.
[13] Ibid., p. 157.
[14] Ibid., Faith Baptist Bible Fellowship, p. 484; General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, p. 492; and New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches, p. 498.
[15] An alliance of mostly Christian Reformed churches, with participation by a few other Reformed and Presbyterian churches and ministers.
[16] "Schedule Set for Confessional Conference," Christian Renewal, 11/1, September 14, 1992, p. 4.
[17] "Why, for art thou, O Confessional Conference?", Christian Renewal, 10/18, June 22, 1992, p. 5.

The author thanks the Reformed Theological Seminary library staff for their courtesy and assistance.

* Mr. Lavallee (M.S., Harvard, M.Div., Reformed Theological Seminary) is an environmental administrator in Mississippi.

Cite this article: Louis Lavallee, M.S., M.Div. 1993. Creeds and the Six Creation Days. Acts & Facts. 22 (1).


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