When we think about the Christian faith, most people today rarely think about creeds, liturgy, or confessions, let alone see them as essential to their relationship with God. Our hesitation concerning creeds is understandable, especially when they are disconnected from our worship and love of God. People often see them as cold, mindless doctrines that have nothing to do with Jesus. But this is not how they were created nor how they should be used.
In the creeds of the early church, we find something of a hidden secret – a treasure chest overlooked by many. We find a way to instruct ourselves and our children in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Let’s look at each of these three points to see why every Christian needs to use the creeds in their personal and corporate worship.
1. Creeds are instructive because they are biblical.
When we think of the great Christian creeds (the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed, for example), we often put them in opposition to the Bible. What we often do not realize is that the Bible itself leads us into making creeds and is filled with creedal statements.
In the Old Testament, we see Israel confessing its faith in God as it worshiped him in what is called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). This daily statement of faith is intertwined with the command to love God. Who God is and what he has done to save his people is tied to our response in faith and love. Credo, from which creed is derived, after all simply means, “I believe.”
The early church inherited this tradition and confessed before the world what it believed. Many of these confessions and creeds found their way into the New Testament writings (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14, 2 Cor. 5:15, Rom. 4:25, Rev. 2:8). These statements were circulated in the early church to confess what they believed. Who God was, who Jesus was as the God-man, and what he came to do were essential to their worship and life as the church.
We rightly say that Scripture is our ultimate authority. When the church becomes aware of what it believes in opposition to false teaching concerning how we come to a saving faith in God, we must clarify our beliefs. We must write them down. The Apostle Paul did this and placed many of these statements into the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:3-5, 11:23-26; 2 Thess. 2:15). Jesus himself tells the church in the Book of Revelation to carry on this biblical tradition and believe what they have received and heard from the apostles – the eyewitness testimonies of the risen Lord (Rev. 3:3).
The church looks at Scripture as its ultimate authority and cannot but respond in faith concerning what she believes. She believes, confesses, and declares to the world what God has done for her in Jesus Christ. To neglect this great treasure is to attempt to reinvent the wheel and miss what Christians for millennia have been doing as part of their faithful witness to Jesus. Study the creeds to know they are true.
2. Creeds are summaries of redemption and lead us to worship God.
While the creeds were formed in the heat of controversy, it was often the case that worshipping God in church, what was said, sung, prayed, and spoken, became the fountain from which people recognized truth from error. Worshipping God, and understanding what was necessary for our salvation, drove our church fathers to write down why salvation had to look and be a certain way. Without each person of the Godhead being fully God, the early church knew there could be no salvation. We could not worship God rightly. Without Jesus being fully God and fully man, we have no hope. Worshipping Jesus as Lord drove them to confess their faith against error.
The earliest creeds, therefore, became the very life-blood of Christian worship and the way to praise God for all his wondrous deeds.
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16).
This is still our pattern today. As we come to know more and more about God, our worship and love for him are purified by God’s Word and Spirit. This is specifically what Christ came to do. He brought us to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). He is the one who forms and shapes us to speak all the words God has given us to say, declaring to the world the works of God (Ps. 71:15, 105:1, 145:6; Heb. 10:5-10). Creeds are meant for worship, to be sung, recited, and memorized so the word of Christ may dwell in us richly. Put them into your worship services to meditate on God.
3. Creeds are guardrails for our faith and doctrine.
When our beliefs are written down and we have them informed by those who have gone before us, we safeguard ourselves from our generation’s peculiarities and from the tyranny of leaders who would abuse their authority. Like roads on a highway, they keep us from driving onto terrain that will destroy our tires or, as Paul says, to prevent us from shipwrecking our faith (1. Tim. 1:19).
When we fail to write down what we believe and why, we open the door for people’s unspoken traditions to tyrannize us. When traditions are unspoken, they ironically take on supreme authority. Because no one can read them, no one can question them. When they are written down, they compel us to see if they are in fact biblical. When they are known by the smallest child to the oldest saint, they can lead us to worship the triune God as he has revealed himself.
In the creeds, we find a way to worship God with the saints of all ages, hearing the echoes of worship through the centuries. We find a people from all nations, tribes, and tongues worshipping the triune God for the redemption he has purchased in Jesus. We have a foretaste of the new creation he has ushered into this world and will one day bring to completion. In the creeds, we see time-tested paths to tread that keep us looking to Jesus every day as we seek to know him more and more. Use them to guide your love for the triune God.