More Creeds Needed

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?

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4 Responses to More Creeds Needed

  1. Curtis Byers says:

    I have never thought it ‘a bad thing’ for a person to write down what he believes, even if he publicly shares it. In essence, that is what everyone does who attempts to expound any biblical truth (and Campbell of all people did not shy away from that). And, of course, one must be humble enough to know that their understandings may not be (“are not” is too strong) identical to scripture.

    That is not the same as saying it is ‘a good thing’ to write down what one believes for public consumption. Good may come by using that writing to teach others, but the very act of writing it down can also make us what to defend it more than it should be. Not many can easily say they were wrong and retract that which they have publicly stated in writing.

    The danger of over zealously defending one’s written beliefs seems to me multiplied if the writing of a creed becomes the work of a congregation. Such an attempt would take great effort and once that effort has been expended it is even more likely that the ‘creed’ be defended. It would not take much time before the scriptural reasons for adopting each part of that creed would be forgotten and the creed be defended simply because it is ‘our creed’.

    Clearly the same thing might happen (and probably has in some instances) with ‘oral’ creeds, but I think oral creeds are more easily ‘killed’ when confronted with scripture. Written creeds tend to replace scripture.

    Writing down what one believes may help bring clarity to one’s thought, but I would suggest to keep it private. And then throw it away once clarity is achieved.

    • Jeremy says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Curt. You spoke well to both sides of the issue. I believe there can positive and negative aspects to written beliefs. The best case scenario is that Christians take doctrine seriously, arrive at their beliefs intentionally and thoughtfully, humbly defer to the Scriptures, and discuss and study together to grow and edify one another. Pride and the party spirit do not always let those things happen (with written and unwritten creeds). As for congregations, statements of belief can be found in varying degrees. Many local congregations I have been associated with have some kind of statement of belief or self-understanding on a sign, website or bulletin. Although these would certainly never be called a creed, they represent a short pithy statement about fundamental beliefs, a general approach to Scriptures, and/or the church. I can see your point, however, and that attitude should definitely be avoided.

  2. Patrick says:

    This is an interesting topic. I’ve had to think about creeds a lot over the past few years, having had the opportunity to study church history (which always explodes one’s assumptions) as well as get to know a number of Reformed Christians for whom creeds are very important.

    There are two observations I’ve made that have made me more open to their use: first, historically, most creeds were written as a way of combating serious heresy. The language of the Apostle’s Creed is obviously directed against Gnostics and Marcionites, and the Nicene creed was written against Arianism. The Definition of Chalcedon rejects Apollonarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism. Thus historically, they did serve a helpful purpose. (I tend to hold these particular creeds in quite high regard because of the way they simply assert biblical principles; certain later ones, like the Westminster Confession, I am much more suspicious of because of the way they attempt to explain way too much).

    Second, I’ve realized that there’s a range of understanding in the authoritative nature of creeds among those who use them. To some, they are understood to be on the same level as Scripture (or are at least treated as such); to others, they are simply useful expressions of Biblical doctrines which carry no authority in themselves but only insofar as they faithfully express what is in Scripture, and may even be subject to debate or revision (it’s interesting to see what people do today with the line “descended into hell” in the Apostle’s Creed). I am much more sympathetic with those who consistently take this latter view.

    • Jeremy says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Patrick. As I have mentioned, creeds can have beneficial and harmful results, and I think you helped point out one of the positive aspects of combating error. Another related thought I have heard is that they can bring a sense of cohesion to a group. With that said, if we recognize that they are human products and we must continually go back to God’s word, I think we can avoid some of the problems associated with them.

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