The Importance of the Creeds

(Above, early fathers of the church: Bishops Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom of Constantinople, Jerome of Italy, and Augustine of Hippo)

My church says the Apostles’ Creed every week. We all say it together. We all affirm the truths communicated therein. But why say the creed? Why recite it? Why even affirm it? Why is an old creed important anyways?

Allister McGrath, in his Historical Theology, explains the large importance of the early creeds:

The English word “creed” derives from the Latin word credo, “I believe”, with which the Apostles’ Creed — probably the most familiar of the creeds — begins: “I believe in God…” It has come to refer to a statement of faith, summarizing the main points of Christian belief, which is common to all Christians. For this reason, the term “creed” is never applied to statements of faith associated with specific denominations. These latter are often referred to as “confessions”. A “confession” pertains to a denomination, and includes specific beliefs and emphases relating to that denomination; a “creed” pertains to the entire Christian church, and includes nothing more and nothing less than a statement of beliefs which every Christian ought to be able to accept and be bound by. A “creed” has come to be recognized as a concise, formal, and universally accepted and authorized statement of the main points of Christian faith. (p 29)

A “creed”, historically and within the early church, is that which every Christian needs to believe in order to be considered Christian. Confessions, which emerged later, are documents which highlight specific beliefs to a denomination, rather than the entire church.

McGrath explains how the creeds functioned in the early church:

The patristic period saw two creeds coming to be treated with particular authority and respect throughout the church (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds). The stimulus to their development appears to have been the felt need to provide a convenient summary of Christian faith suitable for public occasions, of which perhaps the most important was baptism. The early church tended to baptize its converts on Easter Day, using the period of Lent as a time of preparation and instruction for this moment of public declaration of faith and commitment. An essential requirement was that each convert who wished to be baptized should declare his or her public faith. It seems that creeds began to emerge as a uniform declaration of faith which converts could use on such occasions. (ibid)

So then, in order to be baptized into the church, you were bound to publicly affirm the historic creeds. If you could not affirm the creeds, you could not be called a Christian! This was the importance of the creeds.

The importance of the creeds still continues today. To be Christian, you must be affirm the truths found in the creeds! If we are looking at the Apostles’ Creed, Christ’s death and resurrection, the virgin birth, the resurrection of the dead; these are truths which must be affirmed to be called Christian. If we are looking at the Nicene Creed, the Trinity, divinity of Christ, etc, must be affirmed to be called Christian.

Unfortunately, many look to these creeds as mere denominational confessions that can be accepted or rejected. Actually, and historically, these are not optional! They were formulated ecumenically, by the church at that time, as universal statements about Christianity.

Within this rubric, we know that Mormons could not be considered Christians — they deny the divinity of Christ. However, there are many other churches which we could also not consider Christian: Oneness churches — those who deny the Trinity — can not legitimately be called Christian. Liberal churches who deny the resurrection, cannot be called Christian, etc. The list could go on.

With this in mind, let us affirm with the early church fathers, the truths of the historic creeds.

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12 thoughts on “The Importance of the Creeds

      • Maybe I’m mistaken here, but don’t they believe that Jesus was a human who became a god? Making him unequal w/ the Father?

        It’s tricky because they don’t have any of what you could call defined dogma. There is apparently some leeway in what you are allowed to believe. I have met some Mormons who believe the whole “as man is God once was” thing, and some who don’t. The more “traditional” Mormons, who do believe it, believe that the Father was once a man, who then became a god; and, I suppose, they would also say that Jesus became a god in the same way. But I’m not sure about that last, since I have also met traditional Mormons who believed that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament, i.e. Jehovah, which would mean that he was God before he came to earth.

        That both the Father and the Son have physical bodies, I believe is a required “dogma”.

        I have my own reasons for believing that Mormons are not Christian in the strict sense, which, if interested, you can find on my blog under the title “Whether Mormons Are Christians?”. To prove them not to be Christians based on doctrine alone, I think requires a lot of philosophical and semantic hairsplitting. After much effort in that line, I gave it up. For me, it basically boils down to valid baptism, which I think they lack.

      • See I’ve ministered to several Mormons who believe in a “Godhead”, but which is a plurality of Gods. I’ve also surmised that they are Pelagian in their view of sin and salvation. Certainly it can’t come down to baptism. That would make them on equal par with me!! (From your point of view)

  1. I think most Mormons believe in a Godhead each of the members of which is a separate being, but which together form a single “Godhead” since they are completely united in will and purpose. Come to think of it, you may be right that they believe Jesus to be subordinate or inferior to the Father within that Godhead. But again, they tend not to define things so precisely, and to allow a range of beliefs, which is why it’s hard to insist that they’re non-Christian merely by virtue of being Mormon.

    Another question is whether they are, strictly speaking, totally non-Christian or merely Christian heretics. Again, a question that’s hard to answer with precision when their beliefs are not defined with precision.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that basing it on baptism would put them on par with you. Do you mean that you’re not validly baptized either?

    • Wouldn’t three distinct beings = at LEAST Christian heresy?? (Side bar: Is Protestant baptism valid in your eyes? Sometimes it’s confusing how Catholics see it. And If so, I wonder, why can’t I share Eucharist w/ you?)

      • It’s funny that you say “at least” heretics. Some of the Mormons I have interacted with gladly accept that appellation, since to call them heretics you have to admit that they are Christians. I agree that they would be heretics if they were Christians. I just don’t think they are Christians strictly speaking, due to the baptism issue.

        Protestant baptism is valid as long as the correct formula is used (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”). You might also want to see my post on “Maximus Nothus Decretum”, which goes into why Mormon baptism is not considered valid by the Catholic Church, even though they do use the correct formula.

        You can’t share the Eucharist with me basically because you’re an unrepentant heretic. No offense. : )

  2. It’s hard to say off the top of my head, since I don’t know your beliefs in detail. But for starters, I assume you deny the supremacy and infallibility of the pope. These are dogmas, therefore to deny them is heresy.

      • Well, I assumed you had a reason for denying the doctrine, and it wasn’t my intent to debate it. The principle is that you’re not fully in communion with the Church if you’re unwilling to submit to the Church. Just as (I assume) you could not be fully in communion with a Bible-believing church if you were unwilling to submit (at least in principle) to the Bible.

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