The word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo” meaning “I believe”. Some churches have felt the need to produce authoritative statements of belief to which their members are expected to follow.
Throughout Scripture we are presented with what can be described as confessions of faith: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4); “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3); “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Many creeds began life as necessary formulas that express the fundamental truths of Scripture in a way that was easy for the believers to memorise. The majority of these (including the so called Apostle’s Creed and the Nicean Creed) were extensions of the Trinitarian Baptism Statement found in Matthew 28:19 – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” They may also be seen as statements of allegiance to the church one belonged to at that particular time.
Eventually these formulas became what is known as “The Rule of Faith” or “Traditions” of the various congregations. These were used to instruct new believers about the central points of the Christian faith in a similar way as some churches use catechisms. Early Christian missionaries would teach these formulas since they could not leave copies of the Bible with the converts. Also, through these creeds the church leaders sought to defend the Truth from such heresies as those promoted by the Gnostics and Ebonites. By memorising these confessions of faith their followers would know enough to resist the teachings of those who were anti-trinitarian or who denied the divinity of Christ. They would also act as a standard against paganistic influences and practices of the peoples the missionaries came into contact with.
The creeds soon began to be used in a liturgical sense and were recited during church services as expressions of worship and unity. Some of these confessions may have become hymns and devotional exclamations of that day.
The churches came to believe that the three main creeds (Nicean, Apostle’s, and the Athanasian) were direct revelations from God and were therefore authoritative for all believers at all times. Even the Protestant Reformers accepted the divine inspiration and authority of the creeds, since they were largely in agreement with the teachings of Christ and His apostles.
The creeds had their value for the time they were written. Few people would have had written copies of the Holy Scriptures so it was virtually impossible for the common man to find evidence for what he believed in any other place than the creeds. Once the Scriptures became available for every man, woman, and child (rather than being solely in the hands of the church leadership) there was no further need to rely upon formulas, confessions, or creeds.
Where the same ancient creeds are used today, in the majority of cases, they are an excuse for not reading and studying the Holy Bible. People have taken these teachings as being enough for personal salvation, and they are in the main Bible illiterate. The Scriptures alone are the sole rule of faith and practice for followers of the Lord Jesus Christ (regardless of the fact that the creeds agree with God’s Word). A believer can know what is truth by searching the Bible for himself. Whatever is put in place of God’s Word or brought alongside it causes man to fall into the same trap as the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. Those leaders placed the oral and written teachings of the fathers on the same level as Scripture.
Most Evangelical churches today have what is known as a “Declaration of Faith”. These are excellent ways of summarising what they believe and adhere to, but it would be fundamentally wrong to give them divine authority or inspiration. Even to rehearse them week after week as a congregation would leave believers and non-believers present with a inadequate understanding of the Word of God. Manmade formulas have one great weakness in that they are simply that, the works of men who believe that they are correct in their knowledge of the things of God. For Bible-believing Christians it is more important to know what the Bible says rather than relying upon a formula.
In summary, the creeds were used by God for the instruction of new believers until the time the Scriptures could be placed in their hands. Once the Holy Bible became available in the language of the people there was no further need to rely upon the creeds for obedience to the faith. Though it is true that the creeds agree with Scripture, they cannot and do not reveal the whole counsel of God. It is far better, even to the saving of the soul, for a person to trust solely upon God’s written Word for all matters of faith and practice.