What is a creed? It is a testimony of the faith in God and the scriptures that defines “those things which are most surely believed among us.” as Christians. (Luke 1:1). It is simply says, “We believe” or, “I believe.” The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God and are the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). It is the only criterion of doctrine that has any power to insist people to believe and obey what it teaches. All other standards that a person subscribes to are of value or authority only as they teach what the Scriptures teach.
R.C. Sproul said that “creeds are distinguished from the Scripture in that Scripture is norma normans (“the rule that rules”) while the creeds are norma normata (“a rule that is ruled”).[i] The wonderfully practical thing about creeds is that they summarize and give clarity to what we believe as Christians and they are important for the harmony of God’s people because they help us to unite around important issues. It is hard to have unity with others when you do not know what they believe. Creeds were intended to bring unity not division despite the fact that creedally challenged people today seem to think that they are divisive. But men who made creeds and confessions studied the scriptures and considered it their duty to intellectually and logically construct a system of faith out of the materials presented in scriptures. When you can be specific and clear on what you and the church believe, unity becomes more cherished and unity must be based on truth, not the lowest common denominator.
How can you fellowship with someone when you do not know what they believe? How can you ignore the teachings of the scripture for the sake of unity? Today the great sickness in the thought process of people is pluralism-the belief that all religious paths lead to acceptance with God. This is anti-Christ thinking and will only lead to religious slavery and eventually societal breakdown. Unity today is at best the setting aside of your beliefs for the “greater good” of soceity. But the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ and Christianity are the true religion and this cannot be compromised.
Many ministers egotistically teach that we have no creed but Christ. But the Bible asks, “What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor 14:34). The men of God who hammered out and forged the creeds of the church should not be ignored or set aside by those who question their teaching just because it is seen in a creed. This erroneous attitude of non-creedalists is nothing new. It goes back to the time where the church in Corinth was having terrible disunity, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:12). I that group who do you think was the most problematic? Was it Paul’s group? Was it Peter’s denomination? I think not. It was that elitist congregation those who claimed that they exclusively belonged to Christ above their brethren that were the most dangerous.
I read somewhere that the real question is not about accepting the word of God over the creeds of men or placing the Creeds above the holy Scriptures but the issue is the tried and tested faith of the collective body of God’s people, versus the private opinion of the person or groups who object to creeds to make up or reinvent the church and their own beliefs. Creeds are an expression of beliefs that line up with scripture (orthodoxy) and are detailed in their phraseology to avoid beliefs that deviate from scripture (heresy).
The Article Seven of the Belgic Confession states this adamantly concerning scriptures and any other human writing, “For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.
Creeds demonstrated how the church developed and became more sophisticated in their interpreting Scripture. It also serves to help discern pure doctrine and defend it from the distortion of heretics and the assault of unbelievers, and creates a unity of faith through teaching. They also give us a syllabus in training our children and other Christians. They should manifest a convincing competent knowledge of the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith and live a life that glorifies and serves God.
Many people will say that they do not agree with the Greek and Roman forms of the church and that is why they do not accept Creeds. That is why we must test the Creeds in light of the scripture. I think the Second Helvetic Confession says it beautifully, “Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.”
[i]Norma Normata A Rule that is Ruled Right Now Counts Forever By R.C. Sproul © 2008 Tabletalk Magazine