What Is A Creed?
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
The industrialist Henry Ford used to say that he knew the Church was a divine institution because, contended Ford, no other organization so poorly organized and run would have survived for 2000 years. Going beyond the satire of what he said, there is a measure of truth behind that statement.
After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were left without an organization, without a financial base, and really without an organized plan for growth. They had no buildings, no leader, and no game plan. It was almost fifteen years before Saul–known to history as the Apostle Paul–came on the scene. What held them together? What gave them cohesiveness?
John, one of the youngest of the Twelve, partly answered that question at the end of his life. He wrote, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). Simply put, two things were the basis of agreement and fellowship: what they had seen, and what they had heard, which began to be passed from generation to generation.
One of the challenges confronting the church is this old issue: What brings us together and what keeps us together? Music won’t do it anymore; neither will a unified translation of the Bible, though the Bible itself is our age-abiding source of authority and belief. But is there more?
Shortly after the resurrection of Christ, men and women from different parts of the world began asking, “What do we believe?” And, “Is it the same everywhere?” The answers to those questions are contained in what are called the creeds of the church. Like you, perhaps, in the early years of my Christian experience I considered creeds and statements of faith to be rather dull, boring historical data, and I wanted life and liberty. “Old so soon; smart so late” often describes the mentality.
Eventually I came to appreciate the fact that the historical creeds of the church are something like the steel or iron bands that held the staves of an old fashioned wooden barrel together. Remember, the old wooden barrels of bygone years that held cider and applies and that sort of produce? Around the world there are different groups with different cultures, and sometimes differing views of the truth of God’s Word. They are much like the staves of a barrel, but the concise statements of creeds are like the iron bands that hold everything together. Within is the treasure of what God has revealed in His Word.
In an age of diversity and fragmentation, we need to know what is important and why, which means taking a look at what has been believed from the days of the Early Church to the present.
The earliest creed or statement of faith was included in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about 56 AD. He wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Pretty simple: Christ died, He was buried, and He rose again the third day.
Over a period of years, especially when someone came along with strange or heretical beliefs, Christians said, “Wait a minute! We don’t believe that,” and called church councils who took a hard look at what was commonly believed to be true, and the statement of faith expanded.
Usually the councils of the church simply recognized what God’s Holy Spirit had universally impressed upon people. But their verdicts were based not on what people thought but on what they believed the truth of God’s Word revealed.
What do you believe, anyway? It’s an issue of tremendous importance. You need to know.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19