The Importance of Creeds and Confessions

We’ve all heard it: No creed but the Bible. A “creed” (from the Latin word credo) simply means “I believe”. A creed is a statement of faith. And, of course, when someone says No creed but the Bible the person who says it, however well-meaning he or she is, has already given a statement of faith – a statement that is not given in the Bible. When we’re asked what we believe, I don’t think that we start at Genesis 1:1 and then quote the rest of the Bible through Revelation 22:21. We tell people what we believe the Bible teaches about things like creation, the fall of humanity into sin, who Christ is, and how we are delivered from sin and death by Him. We use what the Bible itself calls a form of sound doctrine or a pattern of sound teaching. This tells us that the Bible itself speaks of statements or summaries of what God tells us in His word. It also tells us that there are forms of doctrine or teaching that are NOT sound. (And the word here is very important. It means doctrine that cleanses. Doctrine that makes us truly well.) There are forms of sound teaching that are spiritually health-giving – OR – spiritually health-destroying. Statements of faith either help us or harm us in things regarding our relationship with God and our eternal destiny. For many reasons we live in an age that is, to say the least, not fond of church creeds and confessions of faith:

We live in a time (especially since the 1960s) in which people distrust tradition and distrust authority. Yet (and this is a curious thing), the same people will believe trendy ideas (things which are often proved completely wrong over time), or they’ll trust the declarations of movie stars, sports figures, and popular singers who usually know little or nothing about the things about which they make confident affirmations – affirmations which are really statements of their faith. For many reasons (and this would be the subject of more than one Visit to the Pastor’s Study) people have become distrustful of words. In society-at-large there is a tragic cynicism about almost everything that is said. And in groups such as the “Emerging” (or “Emergent”) Church” we are told that the issue in Christianity is “not doctrine, but life.” “Not propositions, but relationships.” Word-formed statements of faith are downplayed, if not eliminated altogether. Added to this, we live in a utilitarian age: How is this really relevant to my life? How is it practical to me? How does it help me make a living? For those who think like this, there’s little use in taking time to probe the depths of the meaning of things like the Trinity, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the meaning of His death on the cross, and the way God’s grace operates in the human will. And we also live in an age of the quick and easy. I fall prey to that myself. It’s easier to make a quick check of what Wikipedia says than to take the time to do some digging for myself. Why bother with lengthy statements of faith. Give it to me in a sound-byte or two, then I’ll get on to something else.

Yet notice that all of these cultural currents have their own statements of faith – their own creeds and confessions: I believe we shouldn’t trust statements made long ago. I believe we shouldn’t be dominated by the dogmatic assertions of others. I believe we should only occupy ourselves with the things that make us happy. I believe that if you can’t put it in a sentence of two we shouldn’t be bothered with it. The God who speaks has made us people of words. And because we are not God who inherently knows all things perfectly, we are all people who must live out of faith commitments. And, putting these things together, we all have credos – word-formed statements of what we believe. Creeds and Confessions, if you will. The big difference in historic Christianity is that historic Christianity is right up front about what it believes. And the Christian Church has, over the centuries, put what it believes into statements called Creeds and Confessions. The Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed. The Athanasian Creed. And, since the Protestant Reformation, there are Confessions held by Lutheran churches, Reformed churches, Presbyterian churches, Baptist churches, and others that corporately and publicly committed themselves to the form of sound doctrine they believed best represented what their final authority for faith and life – the Bible – stated in its 66 books. It was regarded as very important that God’s people and the world in which they lived knew what they believed. It was important because sound doctrine – the form of teaching that faithfully represented what the Word of God said, was – literally – a matter of spiritual health or spiritual sickness; and, in many cases, a matter of life and death.

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