Do we need creeds?

On Tuesday evening, we were of the opinion that creeds are good and we like them.  And most of us felt that they are necessary to us today.  One fellow, however, expressed the opinion that creeds were useful in their historical situation but we don’t necessarily need them today.  His argument was not, as some have put forth, that our understanding of Scripture has changed, but, instead, that since the creeds are just a distillation of what is found in the Bible, then we really just need (need as in “require as a necessity”) the Bible.

Theoretically, this is true.  In fact, when I look back on the Great Tradition, upon Patristic authors, Celtic authors, Mediaeval authors, Reformers, Counter-Reformers, and so on down to today, one thing that impresses itself upon me is that while these people are a fantastic resource and the Holy Spirit can certainly use them to transform lives, they aren’t necessary, either.

They can’t be.  Tradition cannot be absolutely necessary for a healthy spiritual life.  At a certain level, neither can even Scripture.

I say this because there are those who have access neither to tradition nor to the Bible.  Yet God can still encounter them, transform them, and give them vibrant spiritual lives.

And if you have a Bible and sit down and read it prayerfully as part of an attempt at holy living, as part of a life attuned to the Spirit, then the Holy Spirit will speak to your mind and spirit, and you will believe the truth and interpret Scripture properly.

However, this is hypothetical.  My brother has pointed out that in mainline denominations we have almost no clue about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  No one has been taught about discernment of spirits.  The Anglican result is some people saying that the Holy Spirit is leading us into a new era wherein we can affirm, approve, and bless same-sex sexual practices while other people are proclaiming that the Holy Spirit has already spoken authoritatively in Scripture on the subject and is not wont to changing his mind on matters of morality.

Our own lack of holiness and inattentiveness to the Spirit as we interpret Scripture is also evident in many evangelical Protestant circles.  People imagine that sola scriptura means we only read the Bible and that the Bible is self-revealing and self-evident.  However, our flawed minds produce people go schismatic over predestination/freewill, over all sorts of aspects of dispensationalism, over milleniality, over all sorts of issues.  People argue until they are blue in the face over tattoos, Christmas trees, Young Earth Creationism, and so forth, all calling down the fiery truth of the Holy Scriptures in favour of their arguments.

I believe that all you need for salvation is the Bible.

You don’t technically need the creed because the creed is the distillation of the Bible’s teaching.

But I’m glad to have the creed.  It helps pull us back to the essentials as we read Scripture.  It helps us see how the various tensions of biblical Christology hold together.

Let’s not abandon it until Resurrection Day when we’ll see Jesus and say, “OOHHhhhh….”

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4 thoughts on “Do we need creeds?

  1. Great post. I love the creeds for their simple, quick description of the faith. It’s interesting that the churches that are most ‘creedal’ in their worship often have a low pneumatology. But the Apostle’s Creed simply says, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit’ with no further comment. There’s not a lot of creedal emphasis on the Spirit.

    The second thing I find missing from the creeds is an emphasis on the mission of Jesus. There is much about his nature as that was the debate at the time the creeds were formed, but less about his work.

    Just some thoughts …

    • The lack of creedal emphasis on the Spirit is definitely something that is unfortunate, since it seems to parallelled by a lack of teaching on the person and work of the Spirit as well.

      I wonder (this is pure speculation, not scholarship) if the mission of Jesus isn’t mentioned because the creeds are simply baptismal formulae modified to combat heresies. Since there seems to have been an ancient heresy about Jesus’ mission, and since belief about his mission isn’t part of being baptised (but certainly part of growing as a disciple), then that’s one thing that was left out.

      What if we held an ecumenical council, a true pan-Christian, international gathering of bishops and other leaders, and they were to make additions to the Nicene Creed to deal with these gaps? Would that even work?

      • I think it would work, Matthew… but it would be huge – I don’t know where it could be housed… imagine all Christian bishops/church moderators gathering together in one place. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, to me.

        But I don’t think it would work straight out. There are already people in top leadership positions in some so-called churches (let’s be honest about the “so-called”-ness) who don’t believe the Nicene Creed anyways. Should these be allowed to make additions to it? Probably not – in fact, they should probably be stripped of their office and position by the ecumenical council before it begins to do what it gathered for. Mmm… what a glorious day that would be – finally be free of apostasy in our church leadership…

      • Alas, it wouldn’t work — the purging of apostasy, that is. The ecumenical councils can strip people of authority if they wish, but Chalcedon shows us that if they have enough popular support, they’ll go schismatic and ignore the rulings of the council…

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