By Jared Lidgerwood
Previously we have looked at why we have the Apostles’ Creed and then how the creeds (in general) help to protect the life-giving Gospel. In this post we consider why Christians should use the creeds.
Why do Christians recite creeds in our public meetings?
In the reformed tradition, there are three creeds which are often used: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Each are a helpful summary of what Christian believe and each focus on slightly different aspects of theology. The Apostles’ Creed is the shortest and has three sections (Father Son and Spirit) spending the most time describing Jesus Christ as Son and Lord. The Nicene Creed follows the same threefold structure but gives a more detailed summary of what Christians believe, focussing on the nature of each person of the Godhead. An earlier version of this creed was formulated during the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. The Athanasian Creed is by far the longest and focuses on affirming both the Trinitarian nature of the uncreated and co-equal members of the Godhead and the Christological significance of the dual nature of Christ (fully God and fully man). It is thought to have been formulated in late 5th or early 6th century AD.
As a statement of belief, there is value in Christian churches having these creeds publicly available – e.g. listed on their websites, included in welcome material, reviewed as part of leader orientation. In doing so, they place a theological marker for those who want to check out what a church believes and affirms. The website for the church where I serve has a ‘What do we believe?’ link on the homepage. It references the three creeds discussed above.
Having the creeds as a reference point means little however, if the membership of a church knows nothing of what the creed is affirming. And for that reason (not just because of tradition), creeds are often recited collectively in Christian public meetings (like a church gathering) – declared together, out loud, in unison, and to one another.
It is a weird practice. It puts some people off. It can seem odd. Christians (as a general rule) should avoid being weird for the sake of being weird! After all, in the eyes of many, the Gospel is strange enough to outsiders and so we don’t need to make our faith even stranger. Some people see Christians reciting a creed in unison and think it sounds a bit too much like chanting. “Are Christians fruit-loops?” they wonder. “Have I stumbled across a weird cult?”
That said, this practice of saying the creed together publicly has immense value. Christians remind each other of central truths of their faith. As the creeds capture what is taught in the Bible about the Christian faith, there is a collective unity that is expressed in what is said. It helps each Christian to memorise those fundamental theological truths (especially if the creed is said each week, year upon year, decade upon decade). There is a challenge that calls people to repent by drawing together in the eternal truths that are set out in the creeds. And there is an encouragement that comes when you stand together in the same declared faith (and recognise you stand together not only with those in your immediate church family, but with believers from the time of Peter and the Apostles, right across the world, across denominations, across languages, and across the ages, to now).
And for the not-yet-believer who may be standing in the midst of a group of Christians who recite the creed together, there is the encouragement and the challenge to take more seriously what this body of believers is declaring. Christians speak the words of the creed as a body, declaring together what they all hold to be true.
How should we use these creeds? In what manner or mindset?
These creeds contain truths which should lift our eyes, minds and hearts to what God has done for all those who have a relationship with him through Jesus. With that knowledge, there is reason for great joy (reflecting what God has done for us in Jesus) and hope (reassuring us of the security that comes from knowing Jesus) – and so it is in that same joy and hope that Christians should use the creeds.
When Christians say the words of the creed together, we encourage each other – especially when it’s said with a gusto. If the outsider questions the practice, then we might answer that we take the creeds very seriously because they affirm the truths of scripture. We might answer that when we declare it together we lift our eyes up, past ourselves, to the God who loves us: the Father who has sent his Son to die in our place; the Spirit who gives us strength and binds us together as a family. We might answer that when we say the creed together, we lift our eyes to the hope of new life with our saviour, Jesus.