So, why study creeds?
- General intellectual interest: history, religion, etc.
- Shouldn’t – “doctrine divides”
- Question: would eliminating all creedal statements and confessions really clear up the confusion and division?
- “No creed but Christ!”
- “The word creed comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” Any attempt to confess what one believes is a creed. Saying “no creed but Christ” is just as much a creed as a written statement is a creed.” - L. Charles Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 38-39). Kindle Edition.
This is what I call the “Deception of intention/sentiment, over substance.” It’s not as important that you believe, as it is what you believe: James 2:19
- “It is never enough to say that you “believe.” ‘The real question remains: what do you believe about Jesus? Reality has a way of foisting this upon us. When you consider that Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and a whole host of other religions all acknowledge a belief in Jesus, it should be obvious that affirming a belief in Jesus is simply not enough.” – L. Charles Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 41-44). Kindle Edition.
No one is without a creed, theology, or doctrine of some kind. All of us have some way of explaining who we are, how we got to where we are, and have proposals for how to “fix” things – in us and around us.
- “They are mile-stones and finger-boards in the history of Christian doctrine. They embody the faith of generations, and the most valuable results of religious controversies.” - Philip Schaff (2009-06-10). Creeds of Christendom Volume 1: The History of the Creeds – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 488-489). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.
- “Family photo album…familial history.” – Sean Lucas, On Being Presbyterian
Origin of Creeds
- Genesis 12:1-3
- “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (the Shema)
“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. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
- Matthew 16:13-20
“…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)
- Acts 16:25-40
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”
- Romans 10:9-10
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Lord’s Supper); Matthew 28:18-20 (baptismal formula)
- Hebrews 13:15-16
- “The ancient creeds of the church are God’s gift to us; they are not doctrinal entanglements. Ironically, they are not the cause of doctrinal controversy; they are the answer to it.” – L. Charles Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 60-61).
- “Faith, like all strong conviction, has a desire to utter itself before others—’Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; ‘I believe, therefore I confess’ (Credo, ergo confiteor). There is also an express duty, when we are received into the membership of the Christian Church, and on every proper occasion, to profess the faith within us, to make ourselves known as followers of Christ, and to lead others to him by the influence of our testimony…This is the origin of Christian symbols or creeds. They never precede faith, but presuppose it. They emanate from the inner life of the Church, independently of external occasion. There would have been creeds even if there had been no doctrinal controversies. In a certain sense it may be said that the Christian Church has never been without a creed (Ecclesia, sine symbolis nulla). The baptismal formula and the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper are creeds; these and the confession of Peter antedate even the birth of the Christian Church on the day of Pentecost. The Church is, indeed, not founded on symbols, but on Christ; not on any words of man, but on the word of God; yet it is founded on Christ as confessed by men, and a creed is man’s answer to Christ’s question, man’s acceptance and interpretation of God’s word.” -
Philip Schaff (2009-06-10). Creeds of Christendom Volume 1: The History of the Creeds – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 516-527). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition
- The question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
- “Jesus pushed Peter to this very point when He insisted that Peter answer the question, “Yes, but who do you say that I am?” [cf. Matthew 16:13ff; Mark 8] Sooner or later, in this world or in the next, we will be responsible for how we answer this question.” – L. Charles Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 89-91)
So, why study the creeds of the Christian faith?
Because living and believing are inseparable parts of our existence. In order to live out the truth of the gospel in our lives, we must believe the truth with our minds and cherish it in our hearts, because ultimately the “truth” of the creeds does not rest on or in themselves alone, but on the One they all point to – the God of the Bible, as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- “It is in the New Testament that confession in the sense of acknowledging allegiance to the faith becomes prominent. Confessing God’s name (Heb. 13:15) or the ‘name of the Lord’ (2 Tim. 2:19) is the mark of a believer. And, since God has revealed himself and his truth decisively in Jesus Christ, confessing Christ becomes the hallmark of genuine Christianity. Jesus taught that ‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven’ (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; cf. Rev. 3:5)…Reflected here is the secular Greek use of the word to denote solemn and binding public testimony in a court of law. Confession of Christ, then, is no private matter, but a public declaration of allegiance. Such claims can, however, be spurious, and are revealed by a lifestyle incompatible with a genuine relationship to Christ (Titus 1:16)…Confessing Christ, then, requires both a matching Christian lifestyle and a matching Christian theology.” – Douglas Moo, “Confess, confession” in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (111)
[Chris Gensheer is Pastoral Assistant at Christ Church Santa Fe, NM. He leads and teaches regularly at the Adult Education Class Sundays at 9:30am. To listen to the audio from this class, click: http://www.christchurchsantafe.org/#/worship/christian-education]