A Quick Word on Creeds and Catechisms

The Tuesday feature of the Worldly Saints is all about reading. The post is meant to share some of my reflections from the latest book or magazine article or blog post I have or am reading. At times, I may post a book blurb (a wannabe book review) or recommend books to be read by others.

 

Creeds and catechisms.

What is their role? Why do they exist? What place should they have in the modern church?

These questions are not often pondered by myself, but due to a friend’s interest in them at church recently, the current teaching series by Matt Chandler on The Apostles’ Creed, and then a book I was given by this same friend (We Believe by Michael Horton), I have a current desire to answer some of these questions. I am not quite sure I have the most thoroughly answered answers to the questions but perhaps for some readers today, what is written here will be helpful.

We Believe

Definitions (as given to us by Merriam-Webster)

creed: a statement of the basic beliefs of a religion

catechism: a collection of questions and answers that are used to teach people about the Christian religion

In short, creeds and catechisms are groups of synthesized doctrines or theology based upon the Scriptures.

Some Examples

The Apostles’ Creed – not actually written by the apostles, but put together over time and finalized in the 2nd century as a summary of theology from the N.T. and O.T.

SAMPLE – “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

The Nicene Creed – based on the Apostles’ Creed and formed at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 and probably the most widely accepted statement of the Christian faith

SAMPLE – “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

The Athanasian Creed – comprised around A.D. 500 as a statement focusing on the trinity and Jesus Christ and is credited for being the 1st creed to ascribe equality of the three persons in the trinity

SAMPLE – “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity

The Heidelberg Catechism – established in A.D. 1562 by Ursinus and Olevanius and formatted as a series of questions and answers to teach Reformed doctrine.

SAMPLE – “Q: What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort? A: First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.”

The Westminster Catechism – written in 1646-1647 as a means to bring the Church of England intro greater conformity with the Church of Scotland.

SAMPLE – “Q: What if the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Their Role or Purpose

A.A. Hodge in his article “A Short History of Creeds and Confessions” gives 4 purposes for the use of creeds and confessions:

  1. “To mark, disseminate and preserve the attainments made in the knowledge of Christian truth by any branch of the Church in any crisis of its development.”
  2. “To discriminate the truth from the glosses of false teachers, and to present it in its integrity and due proportions.”
  3. “To act as the basis of ecclesiastical fellowship among those so nearly agreed as to be able to labor together in harmony.”
  4. “To be used as instruments in the great work of popular instruction.”

How Should We Use Them

Because a creed or confession is a way of summarizing theological truth taught in Scripture, they can be a very helpful way of memorizing what the Bible teaches us about foundational matters. This has led many denominations to offer entire classes in their church on the subject of creeds or catechism and encourage their memorization.

They are never commanded to be used in Scripture and should never be elevated as infallible documents, but they can be beneficial to the Christian looking to fuse a simplified system of biblical theology into their minds … and ultimately into their hearts.

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