If you have any kind of background in the Restoration Movement, this title will be truly shocking to you, but finish the post before making decisions. Who knows? You might think we need more creeds, too!
There have been a few different readings that has caused me to think about the subject of creeds. I have been reading some books dealing with Restoration History. All the early leaders of the movement criticized the use of creeds. In fact, it was one of the planks of their reform. They called upon people to reject the use of creeds because they created division. They contended that greater allegiance was demanded of the creeds than to Christ and His Word. Stone and Campbell suggested that the middle man of creeds be removed from consideration and the Bible be used solely as the rule of faith.
Related to creeds is the “statement of faith” found in many religious schools, institutions and places of employment today. The Jesus Creed Blog quotes Roger Olson’s thoughts on statements of faith (here). He asks that the process of statements of faith be turned around. Instead of providing a statement of faith and demanding the candidate sign it, he suggests that the candidate write their own statement of faith. Although he does not demand the abolishment of statements of faith, his thoughts sound strangely familiar. I believe that he is responding, in part, to the shackling function of these statements.
So, how does all of this lead me to the thought that we need more creeds? First of all, a creed is simply a statement of faith. For all you linguists out there, it comes from the Latin credo, which means I believe. A creed will serve as a guide to life, in that our beliefs direct our speech, conduct and actions. Of all people, Christians are called upon to be people of faith and to be ready to give a defense of their faith to others (1 Pet. 3:15).
Too many Christians rely on the beliefs of others. They leave their statements of faith to the leaders or those with more training. In part, this is part of the maturation process. When we are younger, we must certainly rely on the beliefs and thoughts of others more. But as we grow older, we should be growing through a continual process of study, reflection and meditation upon our faith. Articulating our faith on a regular basis can only benefit the growth process.
All of my life, I have heard the claim to take the Bible as our only creed. In one sense, there should be no denying this truth. The Bible is God’s breathed-out word. It has a divine source, and it makes a unique and irreplaceable claim on Christians. Yet, it is a living and breathing word that must inhabit our lives. We derive meaning from its pages; we interpret it; we follow its implications; we strive to make sense of it; we develop beliefs from it. Ultimately, our faith is derived from its truths as we develop a (hopefully consistent) system of beliefs while considering the entire witness of Scripture. If taking the Bible as our only creed means it is the ultimate source of Christian faith and reflection, then I absolutely champion the phrase. But I do not believe that it should mean that Christians must refrain from thinking through our faith or articulating it.
So, how should we use these creedal statements? That’s the big question, because it was their function that brought the sharpest criticism from Campbell and others. We should use them as means of growth in the kingdom. With this goal in mind, our beliefs should never replace the Scriptures or be elevated to the place of Scripture. Rather, they should be derived from the Scriptures and continually re-evaluated based upon God’s word. Like human understanding, creeds will never be perfect and should be continually reworked and reconsidered.
Churches, individuals and institutions should write creeds, but we must always realize that our beliefs are not identical to Scripture. So, we should not re-institute the divisive nature of creeds, but we should use them to grow together. That will take effort and grace as we interact with others, but I believe it will be beneficial.
Lastly, let me say that if you are a Christian, you have beliefs that are more than replications of the exact wording of Scripture. You have derived meaning from the Scripture whether you write it down or not. And that’s a good thing! Why not be intentional about developing those beliefs, always striving to grow in your relationship with God, your understanding, and your faith?
So, what do you say? Do we need more creeds?