I was not writing about the Protestant confessions, since they are not creeds. Confessions are, well, confessions; they express the beliefs that a community agrees to believe. Creeds, on the other hand, are expressions of belief that the community ought to believe because the appropriate authority issued them.
Really? Would it not be more reasonable to say the community ought to believe a creed because the creed is true?
This, it seems to me, puts Protestants in a particularly difficult quandry.
It might be a quandary if, like Beckwith, you miscast the issue.
I suspect that each Protestant community that publishes a confession thinks that it is issuing normative guidelines of belief that depend on certain truths. In that case, from the perspective of the Reformed, anyone who denies any aspect of the Westminster Confession is in fact a heretic. But that means that a confession is more than just a summary of biblical doctrine, rather, it is a brief against heresy issued by a body with the authority to prosecute and convict. In that case, the confession has become a creed. And now we have the equivalent of a conciliar pronouncement with real teeth. But that would require a living magisterium, if there was real historical continuity between those that penned and published the WC and their successors. But there does not seem to be. Is it the PCUSA, PSA, RCA, or OPC, etc.?
i) Well that’s rather silly. For instance, a denomination can use a creed as doctrinal standard for church officers or laymen. In that respect, the creed also functions as an accountability mechanism in church discipline.
Church officers and laymen agree to the accountability system as a condition of ordination or membership. The creed will then be interpreted and applied for disciplinary purposes.
So what is Beckwith’s objection, exactly? Is it that Protestants lack an infallible magisterium? But how many cases of church discipline in his own denomination involve an infallible verdict regarding the guilt or innocence of the defendant? How many cases involve an infallible punishment?
So, it’s merely a confession after all, a literary relic from the past that people choose to believe today. For this reason, they can amend it, taking out the parts that offend contemporary sensibilities, not unlike removing the ‘N’ word from Mark Twain novels.
Of course, the Roman church amends older “creeds” by conveniently reinterpreting them via the doctrine of development. And, in the process, it eliminates things offensive to contemporary sensibilities.
And it’s not as if the Roman church systematically excommunicates members who defy its teachings. Indeed, the Roman church is exceedingly lax.