The Usefulness of Creeds & Confessions

Creed Fossil

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Creeds & confessions also provide a means of keeping the ministers of the church accountable or answerable for their teaching. (See #2 above.)
  4. Creeds & confessions help to pass on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from one generation to the next.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 . . . .”
  7. 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:


For a copy of the Westminster Standards (containing the Westminster Confession of Faith, and both the Larger & Shorter Catechisms), click here:


Book Review: The Creedal Imperative


This might just be the best book I have read all year.  It’s that good.

It is a very timely book about a seemingly ancient subject (the creeds and confessions of the church).  We live in a day when knowledge of the creeds and confessions of the Christian church is at an all-time low.  Some of that ignorance is caused by neglect (i.e. the failure of the churches to utilize the creeds in worship and instruction), but a lot of the ignorance in our day is sadly of the willful variety.  Many in our churches are all but openly hostile to the use of creeds and confessions – they simply reject them out of hand.

There are many (far too many!) Christians in our day who acknowledge ‘no creed but the Bible.’  As Trueman ably demonstrates, this is truly nothing but pious-sounding nonsense.  Everyone has a creed (even if not articulated or written down for posterity) because everyone believes something.  A creed or confession is simply a statement of belief, however minimal or far-reaching.  He notes that “even those churches and Christians who repudiate the whole notion of creeds and confessions will yet tend to operate with an implicit creed” (p.15).  Good point.

In this book, Trueman shows us the need, history, and usefulness of creeds and confessions.  He also explains the biblical basis for creeds. (This section alone is worth the price of the book.)  He writes,

To claim to have no creed but the Bible, then, is problematic: the Bible itself seems to demand that we have forms of sound words, and that is what creeds are. (p.76)

This book is not exactly light-reading, although it is not really all that long (197 pages).  That being said, it is well-worth the time and effort required to read it.  As a bonus of sorts, Trueman sprinkles in a healthy dose of wit and irony throughout. (More than once I found myself nearly laughing out loud.)

In my humble opinion, every pastor should read this book.  Anyone who is even thinking about becoming a pastor should read this book.  The subject matter is that crucial, and Trueman’s treatment of it is that helpful.

If you want to better understand why we have creeds and confessions, why we need them, how they are subordinate to the Scriptures, how they have developed over the centuries, and how they are inestimably useful for the health and well-being of the church (and so individual believers as well), I would highly recommend this book to you.  It could be the most important book (other than the Bible itself, of course) that you read all year.

You can order a copy here: The Creedal Imperative

God the Judge


“From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostles’ Creed)

The just judgment of God on sinful humanity is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  It is found again and again in Scripture, and is featured prominently in three of the four great ecumenical Christian creeds.

The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed all explicitly state that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will come again “to judge the living and the dead.” (Chalcedon being the only exception, which was not a broad summation of the faith like the other three, but was primarily written to state and defend the orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ.)

And yet the popular misconception has seemingly always persisted that God will not surely judge sinners.  Rob Bell (in his book, Love Wins) is certainly no innovator in that regard.  In fact, the idea that God will not judge sinners is practically the original lie of Satan himself.  In Genesis 3:1 the serpent questioned the Word of God (specifically the commandment against eating the forbidden fruit, which certainly also implied the punishment threatened for transgressing that commandment – death), and then in v.4 flatly denied the just judgment of God, saying, “You will not surely die.”

That lie has been repeated in one form or another again and again throughout history, with deadly results.

J.I. Packer writes,

“People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the Old Testament to the New, the theme of divine judgment fades into the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified.” (Knowing God, p.140)

God does not change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).  The idea that God is somehow different now than He was during the Old Testament is simply untrue.  The idea that the God of the Old Testament was the harsh God of wrath and judgment, while the God of the New Testament is the nice God of love is simply untrue.  God was gracious in the Old Testament, and God is still the righteous Judge of all the earth in the New Testament.

The gospel comes to us and says not “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), but rather that Jesus has died in the place of sinners.  The good news is not that the judgment of God has somehow been done away with or abrogated, but that it has been propitiated – God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus Christ on the Cross!  A sinless substitute has been fully punished for our sins in our place!

We are not only saved from judgment, but saved through (or by) judgment – through the Son of God Himself (the Judge!) taking the punishment for our sins!  So if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you no longer need to fear the final judgment, for the Judge of the living and the dead is the One who died for your salvation!  As Paul writes in Romans 8:31-34,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect when the Judge Himself is the One who died for our sins and was raised from the dead, and is also the One who ever lives to intercede for His people at the right hand of God the Father!