Many creeds commence with the formula, “I believe…” or “We believe…” Throughout church history, Christians have articulated their convictions of truth in statements of faith. As the hand of time rolls a creed through the debris of error, its content grows larger and denser until it comes to rest as an immovable mass of solid doctrine.
“I don’t believe in creeds, I believe in Jesus.” That pithy declaration is an example of a creed. Any statement of a belief or expression of a conviction is a creed, even one that avers a total rejection of creeds, notwithstanding the irony and a comical lack of self-awareness.
The word creed comes from the Latin “credo” meaning “I believe.” Many creeds commence with the formula, “I believe…” or “We believe…” Throughout church history, Christians have articulated their convictions of truth in statements of faith. As the hand of time rolls a creed through the debris of error, its content grows larger and denser until it comes to rest as an immovable mass of solid doctrine.
If you declare that you believe in Jesus, it is only a matter of time before someone may challenge you to clarify which Jesus. The one in the Bible, of course. Yes, but what do you believe about that Jesus? People in the Bible suggested he might be Elijah or some other prophet, but Peter rightly declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He thus eliminated some erroneous interpretations and false beliefs. The rest of the New Testament continues the work of expunging error and articulating truth.
To assert that you believe the Bible alone is cute but inadequate. Unless you are prepared to recite the whole Bible every time anyone asks you what you believe on any topic, you will find the convenience of an abridgment invaluable.
Now, you are free to formulate your own statement of faith but be warned, it’s a tricky business. Anytime you say one thing that is true, someone can agree with your statement, while simultaneously embracing something else you would reject. This will lead you to add a phrase or change a word—which in turn will spawn new needs for more nuance and clarification. Let’s just say that getting the wording of an airtight, eternally significant belief system takes more linguistic expertise, theological prowess, biblical knowledge, and time than any individual Christian possesses. Time is a key ingredient. It takes a long while to pressure test the product for leaks. Only when people you disagree with come and say they agree with your creed, can you spot the cracks in your handiwork.
Some theology takes longer to error-proof than can be accomplished in one lifetime.
One example is the Apostles’ Creed. I have recited a version of that confession over a thousand times… as a Roman Catholic. Now, as a born-again, Evangelical, Reformed Baptist, guess what? I can still recite the Apostles’ Creed and agree with every word (though I now have a better understanding of what some of the words mean, like “catholic” and “hell” and “begotten”).
So, if a Catholic and a Baptist can recite the same creed, why can’t we all just get along, ecclesiastically speaking? Because we all also hold to other beliefs that are not included in that ancient creed. As Dr. Al Mohler wrote in his recent book, unambiguously titled The Apostles’ Creed, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.”