The Ancient Faith

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J.W. McGarvey

The position that the Bible and the Bible alone should be our creed is so obviously correct, that men everywhere realize the advantage which it gives us, and they have made the most strenuous exertions to rob us of it. The most popular cry at present against the position is, that though we have no written creed, we have an unwritten one, that is just as binding and as rigidly enforced as any written creed. Even some of our own brethren, when they begin to wander into forbidden paths, and find the force of public sentiment against them, make the discovery that we have an unwritten creed, and that we enforce it very tyrannically.

If this charge is true, we ought to confess it honestly, and repent of our past duplicity. But is it true? If it is, someone who knows it to be so ought to be able to point out the articles of this creed. We confess ourselves unable to point out a single one. Is the belief in immersion one of them? What we believe in regard to this is not unwritten; it is written in the plainest words in the New Testament. What could be plainer than this: “Buried with Christ in baptism, wherein we are also risen with him by faith in the operation of God which raised him from the dead”? Is the doctrine of baptism for the remission of sins one of them? It is also written in so many words in the Scriptures, and if we had a written human creed, we could not write this article more plainly. So of repentance; so of the confession; so of the Lord’s supper; so of our church officers, elders and deacons; and so of every single item of faith, ordinance and church organization which we teach.

There are some negations which we are in the habit of announcing which are not written in our creed; such as the denial of infant baptism, of sprinkling, or the mourner’s bench, of pardon before immersion, of ceremonials, of church officers and church courts not named in the Scriptures, etc. But these cannot be called articles of an unwritten creed; for they are nothing more than denials that these things are authorized by our written creed, the Word of God. If a Presbyterian denies that diocesan episcopacy is authorized by the creed of his church, no one would speak so absurdly as to say that this denial is an article in an unwritten creed which he has in addition to his written creed; why, then, be so hard as to charge us with having an unwritten creed because we deny that certain things believed in the churches are taught in, or authorized by the Bible?

When any man says we have an unwritten creed, I deny it, and challenge him to present a single article which belongs to such a creed. Everything which we require men to believe in order to fellowship with us is written, and written in the Word of God; and every thing which we deny is denied because it is not written therein. Our creed, then, is not only a written one, but we bind ourselves so closely to it that we refuse to believe anything of divine authority that is not in it. This cannot be said by the inherents of any other one creed; for besides all that is in their own creed they believe much that is contained in ours and not in theirs.

 [From The Apostolic Times, Lexington, Kentucky, April 30, 1874.]

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”