June 04, 2020

How Are Creeds and Confessions Helpful?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
How Are Creeds and Confessions Helpful?

Many of us have heard the adage, “No creed but Christ.” But this is actually its own creed, and it’s not the most helpful one. Today, Stephen Nichols expresses the true value of creeds, confessions, and catechisms for the Christian life.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on campus with one of our teaching fellows, Dr. Stephen Nichols. Dr. Nichols, how are the creeds and confessions throughout church history helpful for us as Christians?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: I think they're incredibly helpful as devotional tools. I think they're helpful as guardians to keep us on track with theological orthodoxy. I think a lot of folks come out of American evangelicalism, and one of the things you hear from time to time is "No creed but Christ." And that's a deeply rooted sentiment, and I really want to push back on that. For one thing, I think we see creeds in Scripture itself. There's one in particular that scholars point us to. It's 1 Timothy 3:16. In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul begins with, "Great indeed, we confess." Or literally it says, "Our common confession." Then he goes to rattle off all of these teachings about the person of Christ. And there's a rhythm to it.

So before we get out of the New Testament, we're setting the stage to have creeds and catechisms. And we have them in the early church: the Apostles', the Nicene, the Chalcedonian. The Apostles' Creed, especially. It's easy; like, little kids can memorize this. It's got a rhythm, a flow. And the idea is that each one of those phrases in the Apostles' Creed is like a doorway; it opens up an entire horizon for theological reflection and biblical consideration. So why wouldn't you want to have that as part of your mental furniture? That you just have the Apostles' Creed memorized as a handy tool for you to think well and think biblically and theologically.

Well, as we move into the Reformation, there's an issue of who's the true church"the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestants? And so what do they do? Well, they write confessions to say: "Well, this is what the Bible teaches. And we are the true church because we are faithful to the text." And again, these become guardrails for the church to guard her against apostasy, against heresy. And keep her on that path of orthodoxy.

But they're also just very rich devotional texts that can sort of lift us out of our current moment. We can shut out all the clutter and noise and distraction. And just reflect on beautiful literature"which a lot of these confessions, catechisms, creeds are; beautiful literature, rich biblical literature, and just solid theological reflection. How is this not helpful for Christians today and for the church today?

So I think all Christians should go back and pay attention to the creeds and confessions. And I think they'll realize they'll become better disciples for it.