There are many churches and professing Christians who do not believe in creeds or confessions. They have slogans like “No creed but the Bible,” or “No creed but Christ.” But the fact is: creeds are inescapable. The word creed comes from the Latin credo, which means “I believe.” Statements such as “I believe Jesus is Lord” or “I believe in the resurrection of Christ” are creeds, whether or not they are written down. Even to say “I don’t have a creed” is a creed. And the statement “No creed but Christ” is a poor creed because it does not tell us anything about Christ. Furthermore, how can a person know whether or not he can honestly join with a particular church if he cannot find a statement of the church’s belief?
Some people are against creeds simply because they are man-made. But just because something is man-made does not mean it cannot be accurate. A road map is not a perfect interpretation of the surface of the earth but it’s still accurate. Just because our interpretations of the Bible are not perfect does not mean they are not accurate. The purpose of a creed is to provide accurate summaries of the Bible’s basic teachings.
The Bible Requires Creeds
It is not enough to say we believe the Bible. All cults and heretics appeal to the Bible. The real question is how one understands the teaching of the Bible. Just quoting Scripture is not good enough. Satan quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:6); indeed, Satan very deceptively misinterpreted Scripture.
Therefore, the Bible has to be correctly interpreted. In 2 Timothy 2:15 the apostle Paul told Timothy: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [rightly interpreting] the word of truth. The Bible must be carefully studied and interpreted. We must put various verses together and see how they affect each other. No single passage tells us all about God or Jesus. It is necessary to assemble all the verses, or as many as we can, and make a statement that summarizes the total meaning. That is what a creed is for: to provide careful and accurate summaries of the basic teachings of the Bible.
There are many people who assume no one can really know what the Bible teaches, because there are so many different interpretations. But it is a lie to say the truth cannot be known. In John 17:17, Jesus said, [God’s] Word is Truth. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul said to speak the truth in love. The Bible would never tell us to speak the truth if the truth could not be known. On Judgment Day, God will not allow the excuse: “I didn’t know what to believe because there were so many interpretations.” God will ask us: “Did you study My Word? Did you ask Me for understanding?”
We must learn how to rightly interpret the Bible. It is the Church’s duty to teach God’s people how to rightly interpret the Bible. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). In 2 Peter 3:16: Peter warned that untaught and unstable people twist the Scriptures. We must be taught by godly teachers how to rightly interpret the Bible. This cannot be done without creeds: accurate summaries of truth.
Creeds preserve a correct interpretation of the Bible
Jesus gave to His Church leaders (who were elected by the congregation) to declare the truth and to refute false teaching (see Acts 20:28-30). Jesus said, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). We should not be surprised that there are so many false interpretations of the Bible. Jesus and His apostles told us in advance that there would be many false interpretations of the Bible! The fact that Jesus said to beware of false teaching means it is possible to identify what is false and what is true. It is precisely because there are so many false interpretations of the Bible (so many false creeds) that we need correct creeds to preserve correct interpretations of the Bible.
Experience has shown that creeds serve as a protection against false teaching. More often than not, the very people who oppose creeds and confessions normally hold corrupt opinions themselves.
Creeds are a foundation for true unity
In Amos 3:2, the prophet asks rhetorically, Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? The obvious answer is “No.” Two people cannot walk together unless they are agreed. There is no true unity unless we agree on what the Bible teaches. There is no unity if every person has different ideas about who Jesus is or how He saves sinners.
Scripture commands believers to be like-minded, to have the same correct interpretation of the Bible. There is only one correct interpretation. God does not speak out of both sides of His mouth; therefore the goal is to arrive together at the correct interpretation (Romans 15:5-6). It does not say each person gets to interpret the Bible any way they want without any accountability. If I see something in the Bible that no one else can see then my interpretation is suspect. The Holy Spirit does not reveal the truth to just one believer and then make all the others depend on him. The Holy Spirit guides all of God’s people into the truth (John 16:13). True unity is when we have the same correct interpretation of the Bible. And we need creeds to show our agreement and unity.
Furthermore, before the church can detect false teachers and put them out, the officers and members must be agreed on the truth. The truth must be publicly know and written down as the official position of the church.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There is no need to reinvent Christianity every Sunday. We should certainly follow creeds only so far as they make sense of Scripture, but it is surely foolish, arrogant, and anti-historical to reject one of the primary ways in which the church has painstakingly transmitted her faith from age to age. We don’t operate that way in any other area of life. In no branch of science would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved.
It is inevitable. We are going to follow someone’s interpretation of the Bible, whether it is own our or someone else’s. How much better to submit to the creeds that have been tried and tested by true and faithful churches down through the centuries!
Rev. David Fagrey
Rapid City, SD