What is a Creed?
Everybody believes in something. As Burk Parsons points out in his short pamphlet “Why Do We Have Creeds?“, we use the words “I believe” to express our thoughts about nearly everything. At some point or another, they are found on the lips of every human being.
The word “creed” is derived from the Latin word “credo” meaning “I believe.” So a creed is a statement summarizing the shared beliefs of a group or community of persons.
Spawned Out of a Need for Clarification
Some perspectives are simply not compatible with Christian faith. Take Paul’s words to the Galatian church:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:6-9)
To Paul, distorting the truth was no small matter.
When a person or group begins to use the name of Christ in association with beliefs that are incompatible with the Bible’s teaching, a need for warning and clarification arises. Over the centuries such scenarios have been the impetus for the development of a creed. Take the Nicene Creed for example, which was formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea (now Turkey):
“This creed was…a response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. It was revised at the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 381 as a response to the Macedonian or Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.” 1
These statements of belief have been an important part of Christian faith as far back as we have record. The Apostles Creed is considered the earliest creed used by the church today, dating back to the early part of the 3rd century. It states:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen. 2
Interestingly however, we know of other creeds going back much further contained in the Bible itself. 1 Corinthians 15:3b-5 is one example of a Christian creed that many scholars (even critical, read “skeptical” scholars) believe dates back to within two to three years after the death of Jesus Christ. It reads:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” 3
And there are other places in Scripture where we find statements that are believed to be ancient summarizes of faith. Deuteronomy 6:4 is the quintessential statement of Jewish faith:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
We Still Need Creeds Today
The idea of a creed seems outdated to the post-modern mind, but creeds were not just for the ancients. In fact, as our world continues to change and as the Christian church faces new and growing challenges, the need for creeds is as real as ever. Books like McGoldrick’s “Christianity and It’s Competitors” have shown that ancient heresies have been revived with “new faces.”
What is more, radical political and cultural shifts have created schism within the church as well over the issues of sexuality, marriage, gender, bible interpretation, evangelism, politics and more. One of the results has been mystification. So many Christians are lost on a sea of competing ideas and moral compromise.
Creeds are one way that churches can bring awareness to the issues, help their people understand what’s at stake and clarify what options are compatible with Christian faith.
- https://carm.org/nicene-creed, (Accessed on 6/2/2015). ↵
- Copied from http://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed, (Accessed on 6/2/2015). ↵
- You can read more about this fascinating creed at http://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/nt-difficulties/romans-2/1-cor-153b-5-was-this-an-early-christian-statement-of-faith/, (Accessed on 6/2/2015). ↵
My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.