Why Creeds and Confessions?
At Addison Street Community Church we regularly and audibly read in our public worship services a creed, some part of a historical confession of faith, a catechism Q&A, or a piece of our own doctrinal confession. You might have asked yourself “why do we keep this practice?” If you have not, we'd like to invite you to start thinking about it because we don’t do it without a purpose.
- Creeds and confessions have accompanied God's people in all history
In the Old Testament we have the shema (hear), the very first confession of faith in form of a creed found in the Bible to be declared by God’s people: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” - Deuteronomy 6:14. The early church also made use of doctrinal statements, as we can clearly see in the hymn displayed by Paul in his First Letter to Timothy (3:16): “He was manifested in the flesh; Vindicated by the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.” In Church history, some small professions of faith were already known in the second and third century. From the third century was found the earliest version of the Apostles’ Creed, being named after the tradition that it was composed by the very apostles of Jesus. Its final version has been a standard of right doctrine for at least 1,400 years. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed was formulated in the fourth century, with its first form from 325 in the Council of Nicea, and its final version formulated in Constantinople in the year 381. The Athanasian Creed was formulated sometime between 380 and 430, a fourth or fifth century document then. It was during the Reformation in the sixteenth century that many of the confessional faith documents started to be written by the protestant churches, such as the Anglican Articles, the Book of Concord (Lutheran), the Three Forms of Unity (Reformed Churches in the Continental Europe), the Westminster Standards (Presbyterian Churches).
- Creeds and confessions affirm the essentials
Christianity holds a coherent set of essential beliefs that cannot be made relative, diminished, or set aside. Creeds play the important role to state and affirm in a very objective manner these essential doctrines that are not negotiable. Confessions of faith and/or doctrinal confessions help us go deeper and understand better each of these fundamental truths. The catechisms are a third category of statement of faith that in the framework of Q&A form a didactical method to learn and teach the essentials. All of them together are a powerful instrument to help each Christian to hold on to what they already believed in their hearts.
- Creeds and confessions identify the churches that are faithful to the Gospel.
Have you ever heard the illustration that the best way to realize that you are being given a fake dollar bill is to know really well all the details of a true dollar bill? It is the same with our faith! The best way to realize that some pastor, church or church leader is passing on wrong teaching is to know really well the essentials of the true Christian faith.
- Creeds and confessions help the church to correct Elders who are going astray from sound doctrine.
If Elders are the ones responsible to watch over the doctrine being taught in the Bible, then who watches over the Elders? Or “who watches the watchmen?” A document that openly and clearly states the church doctrine, such as a doctrinal confession, has to be subscribed by everyone in the church - from the newest member to the ones who have been around for a long time, and from those who do not hold any official position to the Elders (pastors). Every time an Elder goes astray from the biblical orthodoxy (which means right teaching), any member can make a stand and point to the Bible according to the church doctrines.
- Creeds and confessions give unity and an identity to denominations and local churches
How do you know what a church believes? How do you know what kind of mainstream evangelical protestant denomination a local church belongs to? If you say by the sign on the front side, you have a good point. But what is it that gives the right of that particular congregation to identify with the denomination they declare themselves to be a part of? It is mainly their confession of faith. Agreement on what is taught and preached is the most important matter that holds a denomination together. Non-denominational churches can benefit the same way from doctrinal confessions as they don’t hold to a specific name but can be identified by Christians according to their stated beliefs.
- Even those who deny having a confession of faith hold to one.
You might have heard the phrase: “no creed but the Bible.” It is one of those catchy sentences that we often hear now and then. The problem with this statement is that it is self-contradictory, because the affirmation itself is a creed. The word creed comes from the Latin Credo, which means, “I believe.” Saying “no creed but the Bible” is to make a statement of belief, it is to say that you believe in the Bible. The difference is that some churches hold to their doctrinal statement orally, and others have a written creed or confession to which they can refer. The advantage of written confessions of faith is that the church will have a firm, stable and verifiable document to which everyone will be accountable and that guides the preaching and the teaching in the community of faith.
Resources used to prepare this article: The Creedal Imperative by Rev/Dr. Carl R. Trueman, as well as chapter 6 of The Pastor's Book, "The Historic Christian Creeds, " by Rev/Dr. Douglas Sean O`Donnell.