The Creed

Occasionally students or others will say “I don’t believe in the Creed.” My response, usually accompanied by a startle, is this: “Which line or lines in the Creed don’t you believe.” I’ve not yet had but one or two students say they actually disagreed with any lines in the Creed, and it is a simple fact that our “orthodoxy” is defined by The Creed, and this sometimes means The Apostles’ Creed or The Nicene Creed or The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. (By the way, the third title is the single-most difficult word to say in theology.) I believe in The Creed and by it we define orthodoxy. Heresy, then, is denial of The Creed.

What do you think of reciting the Creed publicly? Do you think affirming the Creed is appropriate? How often should we recite the Creed? Do you think denial of the Creed is what constitutes heresy? Or denial of any line in the Creed?
It is a downright pity that low church evangelicals ceased reciting the Creed in public. I’ll be lecturing on this at the Wheaton conference on Evangelicals and the Early Church. But the reason I bring up the creeds is not because of that conference, but because of a brand new set from IVP about which I am more than a little enthusiastic.
A full sketch of what the early fathers thought about The Creed, and there are elegantly produced in an easy-to-read format in five volumes. This is a set that belongs in every pastor’s library (no kidding) and in every church’s library (no kidding either). I list the volumes here:

We Believe in One God (Ancient Christian Doctrine) 





About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Elwin

    You should have started off by telling us what you think the point is of defining anything as “heresy”; “hopelessly bad doctrine”, “beliefs incompatible with the absolute truth of Christianity”, “beliefs that are so wrong holding them will excommunicate you from fellowship with God” are all helpful terms. “Heresy”, IMO, is not.
    I’ve not yet had but one or two students say they actually disagreed with any lines in the Creed…
    Really? I know a few people who disagree with certain points: virgin birth, future return, bodily resurrection, etc.

  • Adam

    Scot, I’m a bit surprised by your assertion that so few disagree with even a few lines in the creed.
    “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins” — I know of quite a few evangelicals who have a problem with that line in the Nicene creed, don’t you?
    “born of the virgin Mary” — Personally, I’m not sure I’d make this a necessary piece of orthodox Christianity.

  • http://augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com/ Irenicum

    The only area of disagreement I’ve come across is over the filioque, but I have several EO friends, so that makes sense. Most low church evangelicals, of which I largely count myself, don’t know enough of what they actually believe to coherently give a reason for any disagreement they might have with any part of the Creed. Honestly, I think most objections to the Creed are based more on it sounding ‘too Catholic’ and therefore it’s automatically bad. I currently attend an Anglican church and we recite the Creed every week, along with the Lord’s Prayer. I find that to be very spiritually nourishing and a weekly remember of the basics of our faith.

  • Mike M

    Elwin: the same people who define the “Creed” define what “heresy” is so it’s a philosophical tautology and no-win situation. I myself disagree with lots of what the “Creed” says so I am a “heretic.” However, I also know in my deepest being (and God tells me this everyday), I am still a “Christian” despite what the “Creeders” may say and will eventually be with my Lord and Saviour forever.

  • http://grasshoppersdreaming.blogspot.com :mic

    Scot -
    Typically, the disagreement with reciting creeds is that it is ‘manmade’ and therefore not on par with inspired Scripture. The only (decent and lasting) critique I’ve encountered with the Apostle’s Creed itself is that it does not give any mention to the life of Christ (in suffering or as example), but simply moves from birth to Pilate to death. This rises from German Pietism, and does make a good observation.
    Adam (2) -
    The virgin birth is quite necessary for proper doctrine on the Incarnation. Those who are quick to ignore this as vital simply 1) haven’t understood Paul, 2) paid attention to the debates of early church history, and/or 3) haven’t considered the further implications of their theology. While I’m not interested in getting into a separate discussion that the main post, I challenge you to reconsider your position – even though it has become more ‘acceptable’ for evangelicals to claim that the virgin birth doesn’t really matter. (Cf. T. Torrance, “Incarnation” IVP, 2008)

  • Elwin

    You should have started off by telling us what you think the point is of defining anything as “heresy”; “hopelessly bad doctrine”, “beliefs incompatible with the absolute truth of Christianity”, “beliefs that are so wrong holding them will excommunicate you from fellowship with God” are all helpful terms. “Heresy”, IMO, is not.
    I’ve not yet had but one or two students say they actually disagreed with any lines in the Creed…
    Really? I know a few people who disagree with certain points: virgin birth, future return, bodily resurrection, etc.

  • Elwin

    Sorry, I refreshed after the captcha thing expired and it posted the wrong text. I meant to say:
    Mike,
    I hear you, brother. You and I are in the same position. To me it’s outright laughable that an interpretation of biblical events and beliefs decided upon centuries after the fact is the truth from which we must not stray, particularly considering that the existence of diversity that the creeds were intended to squelch was itself the catalyst for the councils.

  • Micah

    I don’t believe Jesus descended to Hell and then on the third day rose again… I think he dined in Paradise on Good Friday then rose on the third day.
    Most of the “descended into hell” passages are exercises in lack of context, aren’t they? I’ve never heard a strong defense of the idea that Jesus did anything except bear the totality of our sin on the cross. Why would he go to hell if the price had already been paid?

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/ Scot McKnight

    At airport with my phone only.
    Terms.
    Biblical: means it’s taught in Bible.
    Orthodoxy: taught by the Church’s affirmations in Creed.
    Heresy: denial of what’s in Creed.
    Protestant: affirm the solas.

  • David

    I attended the memorial service for philosopher Peter Winch at an Episcopal Church in my university town. The priest nuanced away all “Brother” Peter Winch indications in the Book of Common Prayer service. The church will filled with faculty and my fellow graduate students in the then predominantly atheistic philosophy department. The service was beautiful with amazing organ music and Latin scripture readings by a Latinist in the classics department (quite beautiful). The service was filled with responsive readings. I noticed that there was a fair amount of participation by the people. I immediately thought that they must have merely been participating in the religious language game that the Wittgenstinian Winch might have tolerated. But as the service progressed more and more voices dropped participation in the readings. I was maybe the only Christian who attended because I knew Winch. Soon it was me among the hundreds and the Priest and his co-workers continuing the responsive readings. We stood to recite the Apostles Creed and I found myself speaking it loudly and believingly just 18 inches from the ear of then the president of the Nietzsche Society, an atheist by admission and conviction. As I continued to speak those words my mind turned to the Light the Creed displays amidst the darkness all around me at that very moment. It was a surreal memorial service in so many ways, but reciting the Creed almost alone in the midst of over a hundred of non-believers in a church remembering the death of a non-believer remains unforgettable.

  • Mark Pike

    Scot,
    Thanks for the post on the Creed and the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. I recommend two authors that helped me, a low church Christian, come to appreciate the Apostles Creed. They are Dorothy Sayers (Creed or Chaos) and C. FitzSimons Allison (The Cruelty of Heresy). Too many American Christians practice a form of personal gnosticism and don’t like it when someone suggests their views aren’t Christian when they deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, etc.
    Mark

  • http://davidwierzbicki.com David

    hey Scot,
    I’d like to pretend that the title of this post refers to saying you refer to as the Jesus Creed. The one you wrote an incredible book about.
    “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these”
    ‘There is no commandment greater than these.’
    Maybe I misunderstand the gravity of the word heretic, but I’ve always understood it to be used as the ultimate slap in the face of someone with whom you choose to disagree. If there is not decree greater than the call to love God and neighbour, why do we decide to make adherence to other concepts the deciding factor in someone’s orthodoxy?
    Isn’t an adherence to the creeds (notice the plural.. why did you decide to create this singularity? – somewhat revisionist don’t you think?) better understood as a life lived in the rhythm of God? An understanding of the resurrection should not focus on the historicity of the event but how you live your life in response to its truth (whether it happened or not) That is what I understand the Jesus Creed to be teaching us.
    Whether or not I agree with creeds written by powerful men hundreds of years after the fact is really not of any importance. I would never dream of dissecting parts of our church family based on their intellectual adherence to a paragraph or sentence. Instead we will all live in the grace of a God who calls us to live a life of LOVE. Something that is tragically missing from these high and mighty creeds. To cast someone out based on any other factor is violent and not worthy of the Spirit.
    (it is a my simple opinion that our orthodoxy should not be measured by adherence to anyone’s creed of choice)
    By the way… I absolutely love the Ancient Christian Doctrine series. truly an incredible resource.

  • Adam

    :mic,
    Sorry, I should have been clearer. I meant that I wouldn’t hold virgin birth as a necessary belief for others to have in order to consider them orthodox Christians. Personally, I do hold to virgin birth, but I’m rather open-minded about it when it comes to others and their view(s) on the topic.
    BTW, I just finished Torrance’s book. Excellent stuff.

  • Dan

    The Nicene Creed is not a doctrinaire statement ” written by powerful men hundreds of years after the fact”. It is a summary of the essential teachings of scripture, what had been believed from the beginning regarding the nature of God the father, the deity and humanity of Christ, essential doctrine. Thomas Oden’s “Rebirth of Orthodoxy” might be a good book to read.
    The virgin birth, one element of the creed is essential because it is the key to understanding the dual nature of Christ as fully God and fully man. I think we ignore the creed to our peril, even though the “filioque” clause has been debated.
    Heresy, to the early church, meant to “go one’s own way” and to abandon the teaching of the church as a whole. It is not useful as a label to brand others who disagree with our own personal views. It is a term that should be reserved for those who deny key elements of the creed, such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection, or the role of God in creation.
    Though I am an evangelical now, I am eternally grateful for having memorized the creed during my Catholic upbringing. It set boundaries that kept me centered on sound doctrine. My own pastor unfortunately disagrees with the “descended into hell” phrase, but I doubt that is a complete deal breaker for most. Still, I think the loss of the creed is a major factor in the fragmentation and chaos that seems to be the norm in the evangelical world today. If it was up to me, I would restore it and the Lord’s Prayer to regular Sunday worship.

  • Journey Pastor

    I appreciate the Apostles’ Creed very much, and appreciate when the worship leader at our church leads us in reciting it. The only troublesome thing about this posting is that Scott keeps recommending these awesome books which –being scholarly and theological–are not cheap, and we are trying desperately to save money now :(

  • Zsolt Sandor

    I posted a small post on my offsite blog on The Creed, and I was inspired to do so because I’m finding many “non-denominational” churches and some more traditional ones to be so focused on developing their own statement of faith, they end up in a long and overcomplicated text, that actually nobody reads thoroughly and nobody understands clearly, to be honest.
    The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed might have a long name, but it’s so short and essential, that it’s easy to understand, and it needs nothing to be added.
    Therefore I’m fine with the second ponit of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:
    The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

  • http://boydston.us Brad Boydston

    Adam #2
    “‘I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins’ — I know of quite a few evangelicals who have a problem with that line in the Nicene creed, don’t you?”
    Ah, that’s one line in the Nicene Creed which is pulled almost verbatim from scripture — Acts 2:38.
    Micah #8
    Hell in old English = realm of the dead (not place of punishment). The meaning of the word has morphed. The point is that Jesus fully died and experienced the fullness of death. It wasn’t a half death.

  • Terry Tiessen

    I certainly agree with you about the importance of the Creeds. Coincidentally, I added recitation of a creed to my morning routine last fall and memorized the Nicene Creed (381 edition) and the Chalcedon Formula for that purpose. Sunday, I recite the Apostles Creed, MWF I recite the Nicene, and on T,Th,Sat I recite the formula of Chalcedon. I realize that the last is not technically a creed, but I have found my life enriched by regular contemplation of the great central doctrines central to our faith on a regular basis.

  • Zsolt Sandor

    Well, there are actually two extremes in developing a very unique statement of faith:
    - a shorter draft that looks more like copypasted from a PowerPoint presentation;
    - a longer text that has many paragraphs, and sub paragraphs, and sub-sub paragraphs, and sub-sub-sub paragraphs, and…
    All in the spirit of “ewww, creeds are too Catholic”.

  • Elwin

    Dan,
    It is a summary of the essential teachings of scripture, what had been believed from the beginning regarding the nature of God the father, the deity and humanity of Christ, essential doctrine.
    Regarding the creeds’ “essential” interpretation of Scripture, if this were more than a mere assertion, I’m sure I’d find it compelling!
    Regarding “what had been believed from the beginning,” if scholarship has told us nothing else in recent years it’s confirmed multiple streams of thought and divergent traditions in Christianity persisted and developed throughout the early centuries. To be sure, much (but certainly not everything) in the creeds was believed from very early on, but so were other things that were overruled by the councils. Appealing to those particular councils, “hundreds of years after the fact,” to decide which of those beliefs were “essential” and correct is where the problem comes in.

  • Mike M

    Elwin: trust me, you can’t win this one here. My biggest issue with the creeds is this: being a “Christian” went from having faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior to believing that Jesus is God, however that is defined. There is a lot of difference between “having faith in” someone and “believing something about” him. Now the first may eventually proceed to the second but I don’t think it’s a necessary condition for anyone’s salvation.
    But this mentality has led in part to the Evangelical dilemma above: if all you need from a possible new convert is a verbal agreement that Jesus is God, you probably don’t need to do much more explaining or defining.
    As poetical as the creeds are, they essentially define a mythology about Jesus that has become the orthodoxy (yes, it is a mythology: I didnt’ say whether it’s true or not). So if you stray from the mythology, either because you can’t accept the orthodoxy or you have a better mythology, you are a heretic. Plain and simple.

  • Dan

    Elwin. Not a mere assertion. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith.” Read Tom Oden, look up Vincent of Lerins. Don’t believe the nonsense that comes from the Dan Brown school of scholarship.
    While there are certainly things the early church wrestled with, most of the statements in the Creed were pretty clear in scripture and fairly widely held – God as creator, Christ as the God/Man, the virgin birth, the crucifixion and resurrection. Those were solidly taught in the New Testament documents and confirmed over and over in the writings of the early church. There was not unanimity, but there was clear consensus.

  • Scot McKnight

    Kris and I have been on the road today and I’ve been able to watch only in snippets, but I thought I’d mention a couple of points:
    Creed is connected to “gospel” and not just theological battles. The Creed sought to articulate what was needed in order to support what was always understood in the gospel.
    The lines about Christ are developments of 1 Cor 15, and so reflect the absence of the life of Jesus though that is implied in everyone connected to Creed formation.
    One major reason we struggle today, or have so many today, who see no need for the Creed, is because the low church evangelical movement took “sola scriptura” too far and now has reaped what it has sown: many who instinctively have no need for the Great Tradition of the Church and one major reason they have no need is that they know almost nothing about it. The absence of citing the Creed, in other words, leads to a mental framework that eventually needs no Creed.
    At the bottom of this is an absence of believing the ongoing presence of God in the Church.

  • RJS

    I agree with Dan here. The essence of the creeds are in scripture and the early consensus of the church. This essence is expressed clearly in Tertullian and other early church thinkers – well before Constantine. The precision of wording is new in the early ecumenical creeds – but the global essence of thought and understanding is not. While I think one could argue with the precise words (and even more with some of the increasingly wordy legalese in the later ecumenical creeds) as an attempt to express the ideas in the language of the day, the ideas themselves are foundational.
    This looks like a great series – a little on the pricey side for a general home library though.

  • http://davidwierzbicki.com David

    My problem is more with the use of the word heretic than with anyone’s reverence for the Creeds (with an ‘s’ — still important). The creeds are beautiful expressions of the faith of many. But, like I said before, I believe they leave out some extremely important points of the Gospel (possibly the most important) which are summed up in the ultimate Creed (as I stated above)
    Thus, they can’t be an end point for determining someone’s status in an orthorodoxy

  • Kerry

    Dan #14 I too, am very grateful for the knowledge of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds gained in a Catholic upbringing.
    I spend a fair bit of time with people who are exploring faith and recently have begun explaining my faith in terms of the story of the Trinity (as summarised in the Creeds). Doing so incorporates creation, incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. The response to this has been extremely positive but one friend quizzed me about whether I was the only person who believed in this because she had never heard it before in spite of teaching in 3 church schools. Bit sad really.

  • ratrotter73@yahoo.com

    This will come across as harsh to some, but I have a real problem with people who want to redefine a religious faith yet still want to lay claim to the religion. If one disagrees with the accepted beliefs of a religion, that’s their right and if they feel truly called to it, then perhaps its even their responsibility. However, once you have rejected something like the creed which has been used for millenia and whose beliefs date back to the earliest church, then at least be honest enough to admit that you are no longer within orthodoxy. IMO, it is better to honestly state, “I’m an unorthodox Christian” than it is to try and redefine orthodoxy to fit what you want it to be.

  • Mike M

    Good point Kerry: defending the creeds (in essence, trinitarianism) is equivalent to defending Catholicism. Which is pretty hard for Evangelicals to accept. A protestant has to truthfully say “I deny this this and this about the Catholics yet accept this this and this about them.” Has anyone else noticed that apologizing for trinitarianism is strikingly familiar to Catholics apologizing for Mary Worship (as an aside, can we call this “Miriamism” for clarity’s sake?).
    Here’s the litmus test of Christianity: how many of you trinitarians honestly believe that if you don’t accept the creeds you are doomed to eternal damnation and torture? Dr. M? RJS? Derek? Any other takers? Anyone else bold enough to step up to the plate

  • Jerry S

    I grew up in a very non-creedal environment (mainstream Methodism) but I now when I preside at worship I include a creedal statement at every service. Apostle’s Creed mostly, but sometimes Nicene. I also use Philippians 2 and 1 Cor 15 as creeds.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com derek leman

    For Messianic Jews, the anti-Judaism of the councils is problematic, but we do affirm what the creeds affirm and negate what they negate. We just had a fantastic paper and discussion about this at the Hashivenu Forum in Los Angeles, with Mark Kinzer presenting. I blogged about it a few weeks ago. We are also exploring other language and ways to express what the creeds affirm. Interestingly, within the stream of Jewish thought, there are plenty of ideas of a differentiated Godhead and mediators of the divine presence.
    Also, amongst laypeople and even many pastors, people do not really understand the difference between the Father and Son. There is a lot of collapsing of the Son into the Father. I think many people, for example, feel Colossians 1 does not go far enough in describing Jesus’ deity. In the free churches where the Creeds are not recited, their content is poorly understood.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com derek leman

    Mike M:
    I’d be glad to privately email you Dr. Kinzer’s paper on Messianic Judaism and the Nicene Creed. It will also be available by week’s end on hashivenu.org (but for a subscription price). Email me at derek4messiah at gmail. I think this paper will help you see a Jewish way of looking at Yeshua’s deity.
    Scot:
    Clearly a lesson series from you on the Nicene and Nicene-Constantinopolitan creeds is needed. Points like “hell” as “the grave” and “baptism” as both a rite and a heavenly reality are in order to clarify misunderstandings.

  • Diane

    The creeds are necessary (imho) and important. But two things: mic, saying that anyone who doesn’t accept the Virgin birth doesn’t understand church history may be true–but most people don’t understand church history and frankly aren’t terribly interested, so the question is, how do we deal that? Second, I do object to people mindlessly saying the creeds or saying them under social pressure without really believing them. The problem is not the creeds themselves but when they become a substitute for religious faith, as in “I say the creeds, ergo I’m a Christian.” You can’t say the creeds and go out and beat your neighbor and it’s OK.

  • Dan

    It should be added for balance that most doctrinal statements in Evangelical churches affirm the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed, particularly the Trinity and the Deity/humanity of Christ. The additional statements were necessary because the Nicene creed says little about soteriology or ecclesiology, so the additions in the denominational doctrinal statements usually only add elements like Sola Scriptura, Sole Fide, Sola Gratia and perhaps something about the nature of the church and the nature of the sacraments.
    Few would be accused of heresy for disagreeing about ecclesiology or eschatology. Heresy is reserved for issues directly tied to the nature of God or a salvation issue – the meaning of the cross.
    I also should add that though I think evangelicals would benefit from the historical connection the Creeds bring, I would rather worship where the creed is believed but not recited than in a church where the creed is recited but not believed. It is well documented that significant numbers of leaders in a number of mainline movements deny the Trinity or the resurrection or the virgin birth or the deity of Christ, yet the creed is a regular part of their liturgy. Sadly, that attitude is infiltrating the evangelical world.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot — I am both comfortable and uncomfortable with what you’re saying here.
    If we understand this to refer to the doctrinal shape of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, then I think this is very helpful and important. That is, if we take the general notions of the Trinity and Christology expressed in the Creeds as providing structure and direction for all authentically Christian theology and belief, then I’m there with you.
    BUT — I’m a lawyer, so I can’t help thinking this way — if we view the Creeds legalistically, then it seems to me problems start to arise. If we view the Creeds as propositional affirmations that define one’s place in the community in quasi-legislative terms, then we have to get into all sorts of knots about their original meaning and intent.
    For example, as a few commenters have observed, it would have been unthinkable, utterly unthinkable, to the drafters of the Creeds for “protestants” against the one true Roman Church to be able to recite these lines while remaining protesters. All of us who are not in communion with the Roman Church would be heretics according to the proponents of these early creeds — no?
    We also have to define what we mean by “the creeds.” Some folks want to include the Athanasian, which IMHO contains some archaic language about the “soul” and some other things that are hard to affirm as central to the faith. Why stop at the Apostle’s and Nicene?
    Still — Mike M, I take it that you’re a Christadelphian or a Mormon or affiliated with some other group that doesn’t accept the full divinity and full humanity of Christ. I’m sorry, but here I agree that the Creeds, the Rule of Faith, and the Scriptures have to define the shape of “Christian” theology. Without an essentially Chalcedonian understanding of Christ, the resulting theology isn’t “Christian.”

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    I wouldn’t treat these as legalistic — bad word no one wants to affirm!
    But, I would argue they are the core of how the Church understand the gospel and its challengers in the 4th Century (basically).
    On I believe in the Church, isn’t the point of the Reformation not to break away but to restore and reform the Church to the gospel so that its affirmation of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church is about itself? Don’t the Reformers think the RCC (not to mention EO, which was mostly not in mind) strayed from the true beliefs and practices?

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#35) — well, that’s what the Reformers thought, but the counter-Reformers thought otherwise, and the counter-Reformers had Augustine’s arguments about the Donatists and such on their side, as well as the “original intent” of the councils that drafted the Creeds — no? Certainly the councils that drafted the Creeds would not have accepted the divorcing of the “invisible” Church from the “institutional” Church that came about as a result of the Reformation. And never mind Anabaptist theology about peneumatology and the Church — how does that fit in with paleo-orthodoxy?
    Maybe I’d frame it this way: if we agree that the Creeds are important frameworks, what is a succinct principle for critical affirmation and use of the Creeds?
    I’m am afraid that paleo-orthodoxy too often places the Creeds into a normative category that functionally equates to “revelation.” And in doing so, I’m equally afraid that paleo-orthodoxy implies a rather static view of “revelation”.
    If conservative Evangelicals seem to think the Spirit stopped speaking when scripture was “breathed out,” the paleo-orthodox seem to think the Spirit stopped speaking in the fourth or fifth century (or the sixteenth century for the paleo-orthodox Reformed).
    Are the Creeds, at least in principle, reformable?
    If I’m channeling Barth a bit here, that’s not accidental. Is paleo-orthodoxy just another quasi-fundamentalist way of responding to Barth, like neo-evangelicalism?

  • dopderbeck

    How about this for a general “hermeneutical” principle with respect to the Creeds:
    The ecumenical Creeds, rooted in the Rule of Faith and and the witness of scripture, establish a pattern of thinking for the developing Christian tradition. This pattern is Trinitarian, Christological, and Ecclesiological. All authentically “Christian” thought, and all faithful efforts to extend the Christian tradition, will take this pattern. “Christian” thought and practice understands God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one; Christ as fully God and fully man, the only savior, who died and rose again; and the Church as the community of the faithful called to serve God in the world.
    This is really all I’d want to say. I don’t want to suggest that the Creeds have some sort of detailed force or authority, that they aren’t in principle reformable, or that some particular sort of formalistic confession of them is required. I want to say, in non-foundationalist MacIntyerian terms, that the Creeds provide shape to the Christian Tradition.
    Not sure if this is good enough for paleo-orthodoxy.

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    I think Doperback makes a good point. And I don’t think the answer is as simple as we should adopt the creeds, but not “legalistically”. Clearly there is an entire assumptive framework, or context, in which the creeds were written. So in what sense are we affirming them when we say them, while recontextualizing at the same time? And, in a way, isn’t that being “legalistic” – preferring the letter of the law to the spirit of it?
    And this leads to a conundrum I’ve often considered, one I think evangelicals need to face up to. The reason the creeds and the councils, and even the authority of scripture was affirmed, because it happened through the official “stamp” of the RCC. So how can evangelicals simply adopt the “products” of the RCC, while simultaneously rejecting the authority of the RCC? This seems at best problematic, and at worst: contradictory.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck (#37),
    That is a good way of saying what I was trying to say in #24, speaking of the essence of the creeds as opposed to the precision of wording etc.

  • Scot McKnight

    But, dopderbeck, we have no New Testament without the Rule of Faith and The Creed. Not that people voted on books, but the Regula Fidei both emerged from Scripture and then judged which books would fit so that a theology shaped which books now appear in our New Testaments.
    I’m not a specialist in these matters, but I’ve thought for more than a decade that Regula Fidei/The Creed and New Testament are simultaneous developments in a dialectical manner.
    Trinitarian, but that means Father Son and Spirit — and the Spirit is to guide the Church.

  • RJS

    Darren King (#38),
    I think it is because the creeds for the most part merely affirmed what was developed from the beginning when we look at the essence of the creeds and at the authority of scripture. This is especially true of what we call the Apostle’s Creed. The RCC adopted this as a matter of course – it was not created by the RCC. When we start looking at the specifics of the splits – between RCC and EO and the reformation, the arguments are not over this essence from the beginning.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    But to a large extent the NT canon was determined well before Nicea wasn’t it? The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in its precise wording is a a growth from the thinking of the church, as seen in the NT and the writings of the earlier church fathers and it is consistent with that thought. But it also contains marks of context that are beyond this in the wrangling over specific technical wording. Did the wrangling over technical expression end with the ecumenical council?

  • Rick

    Scot in #40 is correct when he says “that Regula Fidei/The Creed and New Testament are simultaneous developments in a dialectical manner.”
    I believe it is JND Kelly in his book Early Christian Creeds that shows the recognition of existing creeds in Scripture, as well as the development of creeds (built around the Regula Fidei) in the catechumen, and in baptismal ceremonies.
    That same core of the creed(s)/regula fidei was there early on, and therefore expressed early in those 3 areas.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#40) — right. I don’t think I said otherwise. Is my general formulation not good enough? Why not?
    What about, by way of further example, the Canons of Nicea. Why stop at only the creedal statement? The Canons were considered just as binding as the Creed, and were equally decisions of the Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    So here are several of the Canons of Nicea which are regularly violated by every Protestant. What is the principle by which any Proestant can claim Nicene orthodoxy while regularly and openly violating these Canons? Why is the Creed more a product of the Holy Spirit’s “history” than the Canons? Why are the Canons not valid tools for determining the intent of the Creedal statements, particularly concerning the nature of the one holy apostolic Church?
    Canon 7: “Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Ælia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour.”
    Canon 8: “Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church;”
    Canon 13: “Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum.
    Canon 18: “It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.”

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    Yes, I would agree. The Regula Fidei, which is already developing in the 2d Century, is shaped by the apostolic books and the which books are shaped by the Regula Fidei. It’s an organic development.
    dopderbeck,
    I think you’ve shifted the meaning slightly in bringing in the canons since it seems now that you want these to be legalistic (your term). I embrace the Creeds not as infallible but as the way the Church understands the gospel, but each Creed is shaped by the context out of which it comes, and some contexts are huge and important.
    I believe in ongoing creedal articulation. I want that creedal development to be as ecumenical as possible.
    But here’s my problem with the pushbacks I see today about the Creed: there’s so little ecclesiology for so many. I think the vast majority of low church evangelicalism the Church was basically wrong from the 2d Century until Luther and Calvin. Add to this the Constantinian empire issue that is so fascinating to many today, and you’ve got the whole thing in the pits until Luther. Or, if I’m reading the situation aright, until the 21st Century when we’ve all of a sudden finally seen Jesus for who he really was.
    I can’t accept that.

  • http://www.precipicemagazine.com Darren King

    RJS,
    First off, I’m certainly not sitting in the RCC camp myself. And I can somewhat agree with your reasoning. However, I’d say the view you expressed is exactly how things look for a Protestant looking back at history. I’m sure you know that many RCs would not see it the same way. They, many of them anyway, would argue that the second a group breaks away from the RCC, that group is no longer within the camp – because, in their view, “Christianity” and “Church” are inseparable categories. Their view is that you can’t pick and choose as you like. And I would still argue that, even when Protestants cry “sola scriptura”, there is a strange tension there. Because scripture itself was deemed authoritative because the Church said it was. Kind of a bite the hand that feeds you thing.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#45) — When you say, “I embrace the Creeds not as infallible but as the way the Church understands the gospel, but each Creed is shaped by the context out of which it comes, and some contexts are huge and important”, that basically is the same as what I meant in #37.
    I agree with you about the problem of ecclesiology (though I think your questions are inconsistent with Anabaptism). But, my Catholic friends will say, you can’t have the Creeds without the Canons and the Apostolic Church — and that is exactly the problem of ecclesiology.
    I had this very sort of conversation last month with a Catholic scholar at the Christian law profs. conference. He asked me pointedly why I feel free to refer to the Creeds without submitting to the authority of the Apostolic Church. I said I felt the Holy Spirit had initiated the Reformation because the Roman Church had become corrupt.
    He readily agreed, and noted that that the Roman Church subsequently initiated reforms, and that Luther and everyone else who followed him (including us) should have come back into the Apostolic fold. He asked, if there was one holy Apostolic Church from the time of Pentecost through the Reformation, is it now part of the “history of the Holy Spirit” that the Church should be fragmented into numerous factions without an Apostolic head?
    I honestly didn’t have a very good answer for that question, and I still don’t, and I’m wondering whether the paleo-orthodox crowd does.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck #46-
    “He asked, if there was one holy Apostolic Church from the time of Pentecost through the Reformation, is it now part of the “history of the Holy Spirit” that the Church should be fragmented into numerous factions without an Apostolic head?”
    What does he say about the EO?

  • dopderbeck

    Rick (#48) — we didn’t get into the EO issue that deeply — at this point it was at least the second glass of wine after a very nice meal ;-) — but basically he suggested that the EO eventually should and will come back into the fold as well.
    This wasn’t, BTW, a tense or unfriendly conversation — the guy I was talking with is a wonderful scholar and I enjoyed it immensely.

  • T

    Scot,
    I guess I’m another affirmer of the Creeds that isn’t particularly crazy about them. There’s not a thing in them that I don’t affirm. But my issue lies here: “but each Creed is shaped by the context out of which it comes, and some contexts are huge and important.” Despite the kingdom/reign of God being Jesus’s central topic, for instance, it is barely a minor topic in the Creeds, along with other points of Jesus’s emphasis, because of the theology and pressing issues of the time of the Creeds. So if we elevate what’s in the Creeds as “central” we leave things out that certainly appear to have been “central” to Jesus. That’s what I can’t accept: that we major on minors and minor on (Jesus’s) majors, which the Creeds do in part. (Frankly, I’m not even that wild about Paul’s summary in I Cor. 15 as the ideal summary of the gospel, nor do I think Paul intended it as such. Is it all true? Absolutely. Is that mini-story essential stuff? Yes. But Paul gives this trying to correct a very specific problem in Corinth related to the resurrection and its role in his gospel not as a comprehensive summary of his gospel.) Just like the teachings of Luther, I feel like the Creeds happen to address some of our theological problems today, but encourage/create other ones by what they emphasize and leave out or misinterpret based on the theologies and issues in which they were born. They become a kind of permission to bifurcate Jesus along the lines of the Creeds and not wrestle or pay much attention to the bits that are left out. That’s what I feel like the Reformation did all over again.
    Our tradition (low-church evangelical) is living proof that despite how many other ways Paul, Jesus and others in the NT generally articulate “gospel”, it is too easy to pick one version of it (especially if formalized in some way by our tradition’s leaders or founders) and eclipse all the others with it. I could be totally wrong, but I feel like the Creeds, though good, have encouraged that myopic view of Jesus and have helped turn the global church into spectating affirmers. Our best intended lists become cliff-notes that repaint and minimize the Original. I certainly agree with you that all was not darkness until Luther and Calvin (or today). I just don’t think we do ourselves any long-term favors by overly emphasizing/using any of them for formation. How different, for instance, would the global Church be if the Jesus Creed was as central as the Creeds you mention? That exemplifies my formational concerns.

  • Scot McKnight

    T, one point:
    When the Creed affirms the one holy catholic and apostolic church, kingdom theology is present. Kingdom wasn’t separated as much from church as it is today.
    Furthermore, those Creed participants, if we go on the basis of preaching, were big time Gospel text preachers. So, those Gospel texts were at work in what they were writing.

  • http://livingtheresurrection.typepad.com Chris Enstad

    The fact that one is supposed to “believe in” the Creed when confronted with the political realities that went into forming them (see Pelikan for instance) is what many young people find hard to swallow.
    yes, when one dives into the creeds themselves we find much truth linked back to Scripture and the life, ministry, and death of Christ. But it is Him that we are to believe “in” not necessarily words “about” him.
    And what about all of the heresies that became orthodoxy along the way?
    It seems the hard line is the wrong one with a generation that requires engagement and ownership not the downloading of tradition as law.
    Cheers,
    Chris

  • Homeless Drew

    Well personally I think they’re one of the worst bands ever… oh we’re talking about a different creed?
    Anyway to deny the creeds or reciting them is on par with denying the canon. Scripture comes from the same tradition built on creeds and there are creeds recited all throughout the Bible. Chris’ suggestion of Pelikan is solid even though he is incredibly boring to read. The Church should understand the Creeds as an essential part of being followers of Christ that connects them with communities from all throughout history and the world. Creeds were very critical in the formation of the Bible and an essential part of our history as Christians.
    If you find creeds boring you should check out the band Psalters’ album “The Divine Liturgy” (as long as you don’t mind gypsy music). They have some pretty solid songs and one of them is just a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed.

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck #49-
    In regards to the “question”, I find it interesting that the RCC finds themselves as that historic “Apostolic head”, but leaves out EO churches.
    In regards to what that Apostolic head is, I see that as the teachings of Scripture (as tied to the Apostles and their associates), as well as the Regula Fidei. That is why that early devolopment of the RF and the creeds is so important. They were not late devolopments, but grew out of, and passed along from, that Apostolic teaching.
    Finally, as someone who leans towards paleo-orthod, I also rely on the Vincentian Canon (everywhere, always, all).
    Does the splintering mean the HS is not still guiding the church (as in the Reformation)? No. He may be using such splintering and developments to help us refocus. That also means we need to listen to other streams of the historic church (RCC and EO) to take into account what may be beneficial for all.
    T #50-
    I may be misunderstanding you, so I apologize ahead of time if so, but attempting to clarify (in a creed) the belief on the identity of Jesus is not a “minor”. His question, “Who do you say I am?”, is a central part of His time here on earth. Is there a more important question than asking Who God is?
    Chris #52-
    “yes, when one dives into the creeds themselves we find much truth linked back to Scripture and the life, ministry, and death of Christ. But it is Him that we are to believe “in” not necessarily words “about” him.”
    Again, much found in the creeds was not just tied to Scripture, but to the teachings that were also going on at the same time.
    And as I asked T, is not the question about who Jesus is the most important one?
    Homeless Drew #53-
    “Anyway to deny the creeds or reciting them is on par with denying the canon. Scripture comes from the same tradition built on creeds and there are creeds recited all throughout the Bible.”
    Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen recently started a loooong debate involving that same issue.
    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/01/why-i-believe-the-canon-is-fallible-and-am-fine-with-it/

  • JMorrow

    Scot,
    When you mention the organic development of creeds, canon and church, do you have any recommendations on books or articles that flesh this out more?
    I think your arguments demonstrate the need for creeds to sustain a healthy, ecumenical ecclesiology, but David’s legal rebuttal demonstrates how easily creeds can be abused. But some historical light might help us to retain the benefits while keeping the liabilities at bay.

  • dopderbeck

    But Scot (#51) — for them, “Kingdom” and “Holy Apostolic Church” are synonymous. No Holy Apostolic Church, no Kingdom. And when the Reformers eventually took up this idea, that’s when we got scenes like this one .

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    Yes, that’s the point. They did see them together but overly politicized it. But the reaction is worse: today for both Protestant liberals and low church evangelicals, the kingdom of God has become “personal reign of God” or the “cultural reign of God” and completely disconnected from church. Big mistake.
    On books, JMorrow, I’d recommend a book from a different angle:The Gospel in Christian Traditions

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#57) — “overly politicized it?” So you want to have your cake and eat it too: the Anabaptist critique of Constantianism, and the equation of “Kingdom” with an institutional Church? Has there ever been an institutional Church that hasn’t been politicized?

  • http://geoffreyholsclaw.net geoffrey holsclaw

    i’ll just throw this into the mix because it hasn’t come up yet. the creed, at least the Apostle’s Creed, originated within the realm of baptismal preparation, linked to the Great Commission, “Go…and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” As the gospel came into contact with outright pagans (rather than Jews or God-fearer) there was very little knowledge of who this “Father, Son, and Spirit” might be. The creed was formulated and taught to baptismins as a bare minimum for understanding whose NAME they were being baptized into.
    For those against the Creed, it does no good to argue that it is a late formulation when in fact it was an early articulation coupled to a concrete practice of the Church, based in the command of Christ.

  • Barry

    two cents worth… as a contemporary anabaptist, i really appreciate dopderbeck’s take on this.
    second cent. American Public Radio has a radio program called Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet. There is an episode called “The Need for Creeds” and is an interview with Yale historian and author Jaroslav Pelikan. He maintains a deep conviction that we need creeds to sustain us and give us identity but he also recognizes the variety of creeds and their very contextual nature. If we “adopt and adapt” the Scripture, what keeps us from doing the same with the Creeds?
    One of my favorite lines from this interview…
    “The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition.” – Jaroslav Pelikan
    My issue with the creeds is not so much the texts per se but that they are so often referred to without the acknowledgment of their particular context and that they are painfully truncated. There’s just not enough in them to determine universal orthodoxy everywhere for all time (which just may be impossible to write – isn’t God bigger than our linguistic exercises?). Why not just stick with interpreting Scripture in community instead of adding the additional textual and interpretive layers of the Creeds (as if they are the second canon)? For that matter, being so intent on the Creeds seems akin to bibliolatry (the worship of the Bible instead of a relationship with the God of the Bible).

  • T

    Scot,
    Thanks for the note about the Gospel-text preaching. Like to see more of that these days.
    And, FWIW, I do think there are much worse things a church could do than regularly recite the Creeds! I personally just wouldn’t want that to be the only thing recited (It’s “true, but not true enough” for me, to use your phrase.) At a minimum, I’d like to supplement or replace it with the Shema/Jesus Creed & the Lord’s prayer to round it out and at least point toward the kind of Christian orthopraxy that Christian orthodoxy creates.
    Rick,
    Yes, Jesus’ identity is central. In my perspective it’s not so much that the Creeds don’t carry some central stuff as that they leave other central items out or separate one thing from another or present problematic emphases. What about the Jesus Creed, for instance: central? Apparently not. Kind of odd for Jesus’s church to say that his “most important” commands aren’t really a central teaching of Christianity. I know, though that M. Patton and Scot would disagree with me that commands are properly part of “orthodoxy” but I’m not yet convinced that such definitional distinctions aren’t part of our problem. When Gandhi made his now infamous observations, he did so regarding a Church that regularly confessed the Creeds, they just didn’t live like Jesus taught. So I don’t really buy that the Creeds, emphasizing Jesus’s identity over his teachings, are all that helpful formationally or even for developing truly “orthodox” little Christs, at least not in the context of the modern or post-modern West.
    And while I agree with Scot that “the kingdom” that was Jesus’ main topic rightly has a communal dimension that we’ve often failed to include in the last century or so, I don’t think it can be simply equated with “the Church” either and still keep all the goodness intended in Jesus’ announcement and inaguration of it. In a nutshell, the teachings of Jesus (including especially his Creed and his kingdom-gospel) seem too central to Jesus for me to say that the Creeds sum up & present the faith all that well. Plus, as I’ve said, I think the Creeds as written tend to create or facilitate a spectator faith (as a result of the problems I’ve already mentioned).

  • http://davidwierzbicki.com David

    I agree with Barry. And to then refer to all of this varied history and connection as “The Creed” and “The Rule of Faith is to do more injustice to history and context.
    Not sure why everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room. I’ll quote T (#50) instead of repeating myself.
    “How different, for instance, would the global Church be if the Jesus Creed was as central as the Creeds you mention?”

  • Rick

    Geoffrey #59-
    “For those against the Creed, it does no good to argue that it is a late formulation when in fact it was an early articulation…”
    Good point.
    Barry #60-
    I heard that same program (the last 1/2 actually) and thought it was great.
    T #61-
    I agree with you that orthopraxy is very important, and has been under emphasized. However, (IMHO) orthodoxy has been under emphasized as well. Instead we have churches that focus on moralistic therapeutic deism.
    That being said, we must remember that apart from Jesus, we “can do nothing” (John 15). If we don’t know who Jesus is, it is difficult to “abide” in Him, and therefore difficult to practice orthopraxy.
    I will quote Dan Kimball:
    “But only having right doctrines doesn’t mean that it will always produce Spirit-filled Christians. There are those who have great ORTHODOXY but it never seems to move to their heart and some become legalists and can become very mean Christians. Right beliefs (ORTHODOXY) without the Spirit changing us with those beliefs (even the devil believed there is one God – James 2:19) doesn’t mean we will be a Spirit-filled Christian demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
    But then the other extreme is having good ORTHOPRAXY (straight or right living/action/practice) but losing ORTHODOXY. We can live good lives, be kind, gentle, help the poor – but we can have that if we join the Peace Corps or even be athiest and have good practice of living. So it has to be both. The Spirit should use ORTHODOXY to produce ORTHOPRAXY. One without the other is not good. I quoted Jesus and how He said “If you love Me, you will obey my commands” and I shared how we have to know what His commands are in order to obey them.”

  • http://boydston.us Brad Boydston

    There seem to be a lots of historical gaps and misunderstandings about the development and function of creeds. I would recomend Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan. It’s not written on a popular level but it is not inaccessible, either. He does a pretty decent job introducing the creeds and confessions — biblical roots, how they relate to the concepts of orthodoxy and the rule of faith. He talks about development and transmission and does some analysis of various statements of faith. (He even talks some about all those Anabaptist confessions which modern Anabaptists have forgotten.)

  • nathan

    i love the Creeds because it’s not enough to simply say “I Believe the Bible”.
    The Creeds give me a touchstone to the question of “What do I believe the Bible is saying?”
    Nicea affirms the communal character of the Trinitarian God, and that God’s action on our behalf in Creation and Redemption.
    It also declares the simple fact that God is not some Platonic “Nous” unconcerned with us, but profoundly bound up with us and our experience. (i.e. the Incarnation).
    It proclaims the central moment of the Cosmos in the Person & Work of Christ.
    It affirms the continuing Presence of God by the Holy Spirit and intimately weds that Presence to God’s gracious partnering with and through the people of God. (accomodating everything from an RCC view of The Church to the centrality of the Church for mission in the Seeker Sensitive movement.)
    It proclaims the joys of God’s faithfulness to us in the final consummation of all things…that what God has begun, God will finish.
    And frankly, why should I accomodate the “wisdom” of any stream that functionally sees no value in the hard work of the early church?
    These Creeds render the baseline theology that most “non-creedal” Christians take for granted or assume any way.
    Whether you see the value in them or not, you are indebted to them. They are part of our story.
    Why would we want to avoid them or denigrate them or their use?
    What is gained by rejecting them or not deploying them?

  • Adam

    Brad #17,
    You wrote,
    Adam #2
    “‘I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins’ — I know of quite a few evangelicals who have a problem with that line in the Nicene creed, don’t you?”
    Ah, that’s one line in the Nicene Creed which is pulled almost verbatim from scripture — Acts 2:38.
    Again, sorry if I wasn’t clear in my original post. I’m not saying that it’s not from Scripture. Nor am I saying that I disagree with it.
    All I’m saying is that I know quite a few evangelicals who disagree with the statement. Scot’s original blog post mentioned that he knows very few people who disagree with the Creed, even particular statements. That surprised me.

  • Dave W

    Your definition of high church must be different than mine. To me high church is smoke, smells, and bells Anglican or Roman Catholic or Orthodox. As someone with bad asthma I never attend such or leave if I have a problem. I’m in a Christian Reformed Church and we say the creeds and use the catechism from time to time.
    I used to know what evangelical meant, now I am not so sure any more as it has become an all inclusive terms that includes groups that thirty years ago would have died if they were called evangelical rather than charismatic, fundamental…


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