The good folks at reformation21 have just posted two excellent articles on creeds and confessions by two of my favorite church historians, Carl Trueman and Chad Van Dixhoorn.
In A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished, Trueman compares the pros and cons of creeds and confessions by contrasting two oppossing viewpoints in the evangelical world: those who narrowly confess 'no creed but the bible' and those who essentially equate creeds/confessions with the bible. He then supplies his rationale for a via media.
In short, I regard creeds as important because they are documents approved by the church, or at least by particular churches, and thus have more status than the writings of any individual Christian; they generally represent in intention a desire to reflect consensus among Christians; their negative, boundary-setting thrust means that they leave room for discussion, disagreement and thoughtful theologizing, albeit within churchly limits; and they essentially focus on the real core doctrines. In sum, I might say that they give those of us who adhere to them a place to stand both doctrinally and historically, and thus to lay our views open for appropriate public scrutiny and challenge.
Van Dixhoorn provides a birds-eye view of of the Westminster Confession in his article, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Today. He argues that confessions are written for both the church and the world. For churches, they provide a summary of its core beliefs. For the world, "These doctrinal statements announce that this is a church that has beliefs and is willing to list the most important ones for all to see." He then concludes with these remarks about the WCF,
And so it is that chapter by chapter, the Westminster Confession of Faith traces with bold strokes the great history of our redemption. The sad realities of the fall, God’s gracious covenants with man, the stunning announcement of salvation, and our sure hope of eternal life – all these are sketched out here in bold, but considered strokes. Who can read this text and not be warned that those who ignore the Holy Scripture are doomed to stumble through the world in darkness? And who can read this Confession and not see that those who embrace the true God, believe what he promises, and walk by his precepts, will never be without a guide or a light for this life? It is because of the clarity of this gospel message in all of its parts that the Westminster Confession of Faith finds itself in the first rank of great Christian creeds. Perhaps it is the wisest of creeds in its teaching and the finest in its doctrinal expression. Certainly it is a reliable guide to the Scriptures, which are the only guide to God. It is my hope that all who follow its directions will find their way to the Father’s home, through the grace and mercy of the Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit.