This morning we use the Apostles’ Creed as a means of confessing (Creed comes from the Latin credo meaning “I believe”) our faith in Christ. Sometimes the use of creeds and confessions and catechisms gives some folks pause. Why not just use the Bible? A fair question, for sure.
Originally used as baptismal professions and as instruction for new converts, historic creeds and confessions and catechisms give us the opportunity to “…learn alongside the saints and doctors and martyrs how to give ear to the gospel” (John Webster). In other words, they allow us to attach ourselves to the church’s doctrinal development over the course of the centuries. They invite us to be Christians in the best and broadest sense. We are not alone here. We are not the creators of our dogma. Rather, we are united in the great stream of Christian thought and tradition, a unity that is one display when we confess along with millions of Christians our shared, historic faith.
There is a slight difference between creeds and confessions, though. C.S. Lewis has perhaps given us the best illustration of the difference between creeds and confessions when he noted,
I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the confessions of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall [creeds], I have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms [confessions], not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.
In other words, while creeds usually give us the rudimentary elements of Christendom, confessions usually give us more specifics of each faith tradition. For example, while all Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed Christians can and do confess the Apostles’ Creed, only one of those groups confesses the Augsburg Confession.
Additionally, from the earliest of times, Christians have developed catechisms—a form of teaching by means of questions and answers—as a means of communicating the faith. Usually, catechisms, like confessions, are done by particular traditions as a means of articulating and teaching a specific expression of Christendom.
Finally, it should be noted that usually doctrine has been developed as a response to heresy and at particular councils when the universal church would gather. There are seven ecumenical councils recognized by all of Christendom, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy alike—Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (533), Constantinople III (681), and Nicaea II (787).
In the coming weeks we will survey some of these councils and creeds with the goal of learning our history and teaching better.