Why Creeds and Confessions Matter
Michael Agapito | MARCH 19, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
If you were to mention “creeds” or “confessions” to an evangelical crowd today, it’s likely that you would get a wide variety of reactions ranging from blank stares to gasps from people with sirens going off in their heads. This is unfortunate, because creeds and confessions have played a major role in church history since the early centuries.
But the idea of confessions is actually not quite as alien as some might think. If you attend a local church, odds are your church has a “statement of faith” (somewhere on your website) that outlines what it believes that Scripture properly teaches. These statements are also found at the denominational level (for example, the Baptist Faith and Message for Southern Baptists).
Your church or denomination found it prudent to write down a summary of their beliefs for clarification in order to distinguish what they believe. That is what creeds and confessions are: a summary of faithful teaching according to Scripture. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo,” meaning “I believe.” The creeds and confessions function as statements of faith for what Christians have historically believed.
Still, the question remains: Why bother with the creeds and confessions? Can’t I just go with my church’s statement? It’s a legitimate question, especially for those that don’t belong to a particular denomination. But I would argue that even for evangelicals of the non-denominational variety, it is still helpful (and important) to know the historic confessions. Here are four reasons why.
1) It guards us from error and helps us speak rightly about God
Most creeds and confessions were created in response to false teachings that were developing at the time. They act as guardrails to prevent us from falling down the slippery slope of heresy. They give us the vocabulary we need to speak rightly about who God is, whether to fellow believers or unbelievers.
Take the Trinity, for example. Many Christians don’t realize that the language that we use for the doctrine of the Trinity was carefully chosen by those that would formulate the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds (more on that in future posts). It’s when we shy away from using this language that we start to drift into heresy — for example, when Christians describe the Trinity as different states of water. The creeds, on the other hand, are tried and tested ways of talking about God that have been used for centuries.
2) It is countercultural
Christians that reject historic confessions often do so because they unwittingly buy into the misleading cultural narrative that the past is antiquated and useless because society has progressed and evolved. Additionally, Millennials and Gen Z tend to value freedom and individual self-expression above many other things.
In a generation and culture that wants to deconstruct anything that smacks of authority or traditionalism, confessions are typically the last place people look to steer and give guidance. Dogma is seen as a straightjacket and even a taboo word. But when our culture conflicts with our faith, we need to be able to plant ourselves in firm and solid footing. This is where the creeds and confessions come in handy. As brief summaries of our faith, they serve as guidelines to express what we believe and they correctly affirms the value of what we can learn from past.
3) It connects us with our past and draws from the wisdom of those that have gone before us
Hebrews 12:1 tells us that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us in the faith. Many of us forget that for the past two millennia, thoughtful Christians have wrestled with the same questions we still have today. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch when discussing key doctrines. It would be foolish to completely disregard and ignore the wisdom of past Christians that have preceded us.
Additionally, you could say that we have an obligation and responsibility to learn about the testimony of historic Christian witness in the church. When I married my wife, it was important that I learned about her family, their background, and their history. Why? Because for all intents and purposes, I am now a part of their family—I am included as one of them (and vice versa).
The same goes with the church. When we enter into the family of Christ, it is important that we learn about our family history (warts and all).
4) It unites Christians
This one may seem counterintuitive. Isn’t the point of confessions to draw lines in the sand? Much of contemporary evangelicalism wants to blur doctrinal distinctions for the sake of unity and replace it with unadulterated emotional expression. But there’s some truth in the saying, “good fences make good neighbors”.
Understanding confessions helps us establish what we believe about certain doctrines (and why we believe them), and allows us to engage with brothers and sisters of differing theological convictions. When you encounter Christians of different stripes and persuasions, confessions give you the categories and frames of reference to have those thoughtful discussions. It serves as a platform for conversation, not a launching pad for attack. Having our beliefs laid bare allows us to discover where we agree and disagree. And when this is done correctly it serves to help us find our common ground.
Organizations such as The SOLA Network or The Gospel Coalition consist of Christians of all sorts of backgrounds (Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, etc.), not because they ignored confessions or surrendered their denominational identity, but because their leadership was able to see where they could stand with one another.
So your church doesn’t use the creeds or confessions? Get to know them anyway. They are an invaluable resource for our generation, and for those that will succeed us.
Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will explore historic creeds and confessions of faith littered throughout the history of the church. We will begin by exploring the ecumenical creeds of the early church and then transition into the confessions of the Reformation-era. Some readers may find that there are facts about their tradition or denomination that they had not known previously. For the next article, we will look at the creed that started it all: the Apostles’ Creed.
Michael Agapito is the Resident Director at University Baptist Church, ministering to the students at the University of Illinois. He is also a seminary student, pursuing a Masters of Divinity in the hopes of becoming a pastor. He has a B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois and M.A. in Counseling from Wheaton College. Michael has been happily married since last July to his wife Amy, who is his partner in ministry and biggest cheerleader.