What are "creeds" and why do they matter?

Austin Blunt

Chances are that when you hear the word “creed” the first thing that comes to mind is the 90s alternative rock band. Or maybe it’s the trilogy of boxing movies starring Michael B. Jordan. Most likely, your first thought is not the ancient confessions of the early church in the first few generations after Jesus and the apostles. 

A creed is a summary statement of beliefs that unites Christians from all denominations and all generations. It comes from the Latin word credo meaning “I believe.” Creeds are useful for teaching the faith and fostering fellowship between believers. 

Some Christians avoid creeds because they see them as attempts to replace the authority of Scripture. Others ignore them because they don’t see them as relevant to their everyday lives. But when used properly, creeds protect the church from being vulnerable to just any idea and give her a sense of identity and belief. 

Creeds Clarify What It Means to Be “Christian”

You may be surprised to learn that the Bible itself contains several creeds in both the Old and New Testaments. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 served as a creed for ancient Israel that was quoted by Jesus and the apostle Paul. The New Testament contains several early Christian creeds such as “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) and the confession of unity (Ephesians 4:4-6). 

Later generations of church leaders produced creeds to define the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. They also refuted the popular heresies of their day. The Apostles’ Creed refuted Gnosticism — which denied creation, that Jesus is God, and salvation in Christ alone. Other creeds refuted heresies about the natures of Jesus (fully God and fully man) and the Trinity.

Today, these creeds remind us that there is an objective truth and there are right and wrong beliefs. This is where the big church word orthodoxy (“right belief) comes in. The creeds teach us historic Christian orthodoxy on the most important questions of the faith. 

Creeds Unite the Modern Church to Its Ancient Roots

The Apostles’ Creed has been used by the church since its earliest days. Church tradition says the apostles wrote the Creed together after Pentecost. Versions of the Creed were passed down from generation to generation until it was solidified by the Church in the fifth century. 

In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea produced the Nicene Creed which teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. In 451 A.D., the Council of Chalcedon adopted The Chalcedonian Creed which declares that Jesus is one person with two natures, fully God and fully man. The Athanasian Creed clearly articulates the doctrine of the Trinity and was developed in the early sixth century.

Christians who confess these creeds are united with faithful followers of Jesus from every generation. 

Creeds Unite Believers From Every Nation, Tribe, and Denomination

Do you know what Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Charismatics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians all have in common? The creeds! Despite all their differences, Christians from every denomination uphold and agree on the creeds. 

The fancy church word for this is ecumenical (Greek, “the whole inhabited world”). To say that the creeds are ecumenical means that they are part of the larger vision to develop and promote church unity. This effort begins to fulfill the call of Ephesians 4:1-6

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” - Ephesians 4:4-6

The need for the creeds is just as great today as it was in the church’s earliest days. The Apostles’ Creed unites modern believers with the first followers of Jesus and their teachings. Christians who confess the creeds share an uncommon unity with believers from all nations and from every generation.

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