Is there a place for creeds & confessions in 21st century Christianity?
Some might say that they are little more than ancient relics of a bygone era that have gone the way of the dinosaur. Many in the church today treat them much like a museum piece – they might be interesting to look at once in a while, but they have no abiding significance or usefulness in the modern (or postmodern) age in which we live.
In some circles, creeds and confessions are not just neglected, but openly disparaged. “Deeds not creeds” and “no creed but Christ” are the rallying cries of the day in many churches. Ironically, those same slogans themselves actually are creeds, even if unbiblical, unhelpful, and downright nonsensical ones at that. So in a sense we all have creeds – we all believe something. As Carl Trueman notes,
. . .even those churches and Christians who repudiate the whole notion of creeds and confessions will yet tend to operate with an implicit creed. (The Creedal Imperative, p.15)
Judging by the widespread ignorance and disuse of even the most basic ecumenical creeds (i.e. the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), it seems that the consensus in many evangelical churches is that such things are now obsolete (or possibly just off-putting). But we neglect the ancient creeds and Reformed confessions to our own detriment.
So what purposes do creeds & confessions serve in the life of the church and in the lives of believers in Jesus Christ? More than you might think. Here are just a few:
- Creeds & confessions help to foster unity in the church (and even between churches). They remind us of the essentials or non-negotiables of the Christian faith, the things that we as believers in Christ by definition believe together.
- Creeds & confessions serve to protect the church from false teaching and heresy. They provide a helpful litmus test of sorts for the regular preaching and teaching of the church.
- Creeds & confessions also provide a means of keeping the ministers of the church accountable or answerable for their teaching. (See #2 above.)
- Creeds & confessions help to pass on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from one generation to the next.
- Creeds & confessions are very helpful teaching tools – they help us to know what we believe. Many believers today are simply unsure or unclear about what they believe (or even what they should believe). Creeds and confessions give us a clear outline of the basics of the faith. This is yet another reason to incorporate them into the public worship of the church on the Lord’s day.
- Creeds & confessions not only help us to know what we believe (see #5 above), but also help us to articulate (or clearly state) what we believe as well. Creeds put the words of faith in their mouths – “I believe . . . .”
- Creeds & confessions connect us to the common faith that we share with our brothers & sisters of earlier centuries and cultures. In so doing they can do us the invaluable service of preventing us from the all-too-common mistake of chronological snobbery (for lack of a better term). We sometimes think that the sun rises and sets with us, or that we are somehow smarter or more advanced than our brethren from generations past. The ancient creeds and Reformed confessions remind us that “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3, ESV) did not start with us.
There are no doubt many other benefits to using the historic creeds & confessions of the Christian faith. If you think of some others that are not on the above list, feel free to submit your suggestions in the comments section below.
For a very helpful book on the subject of creeds, check out The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman. If you are not yet convinced of the vital importance of creeds and confessions (and even the biblical mandate for them!) get this book!
For a short volume containing many of the ecumenical creeds & Reformed confessions, click here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/ecumenical-creeds-and-reformed-confessions-faith-alive-9780930265342
For a copy of the Westminster Standards (containing the Westminster Confession of Faith, and both the Larger & Shorter Catechisms), click here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/westminster-standards-gcp-9780934688567