Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

“I believe.” We hear these words every day of our lives. Whatever the context, we use these two simple words to express our thoughts about nearly everything. When we want to tell others what we are thinking or want to reveal the innermost affections of our hearts, we will often say, “I believe.” In His wisdom, God created us not only with the capacity to believe but also with an insatiable desire to explore, examine, and express our beliefs (Prov. 2; 1 Peter 1). We possess a God-given hunger deep within our souls that causes us to examine fundamental truths about everything God has revealed to us (Deut. 4; Matt. 22).

The mere fact that we believe in something doesn’t actually do anything for us. At the most basic level, a belief in something only provides us with the overwhelming sense that we’re not alone and that something exists beyond us. Everyone has a capacity to believe in something, and in fact everyone actually does believe something (Acts 17). Although the cynical skeptic might say, “I believe in nothing,” the simple point is that he does believe in something, and according to him that something is “nothing.” But even the convinced skeptic knows that it is impossible to believe in absolutely nothing. If someone claims to believe in nothing, the truth of the matter is that he actually believes in everything that begins and ends with himself as the source and object of his self-fashioned, self-centered faith. He has an open mind about everything, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a good thing. Someone who has an open mind about everything will uncritically allow any and all data, no matter how absurd, to enter his mind because he has no filters—no criteria—to discern right from wrong, truth from falsehood, and even truth from half-truth (Prov. 1:22, 32). The open mind of everything is an undiscerning open space, filled only with perceptions and inclinations.

For belief to have heart-changing and life-changing significance, it requires God as both its source and object (Ps. 68:26; 1 Cor. 2:5). As Christians, we are new creatures in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has graciously ripped out our hard hearts of stone and given us new, spiritually pliable hearts so that we are now able to believe, confess, and proclaim the glorious and eternal truths of God’s sacred Word (Luke 24:45). We are to be open-minded to anything and everything that God has revealed to us, and by necessity we are to be completely, albeit graciously, closed-minded to anything that contradicts what He has revealed. As Christians, we believe, confess, and proclaim God’s truth and nothing but God’s truth. This is why we have creeds and confessions, so that with unwavering resolve we might stand firm in the faith once delivered to the saints—to the end that we and our children would believe, confess, and proclaim God’s unchanging truth for His glory, for He is the source of everything we believe and, thus, His revelation is our creedal standard for all of faith and life.

everyone has a creed

We have creeds because everyone believes in something, and even more to the point, everyone believes in God. Even self-proclaimed atheists believe there is a God, by virtue of God’s revelation about Himself in creation and the fact that all people are created in His image, and thus we are left without any excuse whatsoever (Rom. 1:18–20). So-called atheists know full well there’s a God; they just hate God and find it easier for their consciences simply to pretend He does not exist. But, as we know, even demons believe God exists and rightly tremble (Mark 5:7; James 2:19).

If everyone believes in God, the question then follows: What do we believe about God? To answer the question is to confess, or declare, our creed. Whether formal or informal, written or verbal, in one way or another we all have a creed that details our beliefs. Some of us have a formal, written creed we adhere to, while others have an informal, unwritten creed that can easily change and perhaps often does change.

We are creedal by our very nature and begin to form concepts of belief from the moment we are born. As we move from the formation of concepts to actual statements of belief, we are naturally inclined toward verbal and even written creedal formulations that express our beliefs and unite us with other people around truths to which we all agree to adhere. By God’s design, the entire human race is creedal—before the fall and after the fall—and will be throughout eternity in the new heavens and new earth. So the real question is not whether we have creeds. Rather, the questions are, What do we believe in our creeds? What is the nature of our belief? What are the authority, usefulness, foundation, and purpose of our creeds?

Anytime someone considers for a moment what God has revealed, he has begun to formulate a creed.

Some find creeds and confessions incompatible with the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Since God saw fit to provide us with Scripture as our only infallible guide for faith and life, it necessarily follows that Scripture is completely sufficient to serve as the final, incontrovertible judge and standard of our beliefs. Right? Without a doubt—all we need for salvation is God’s Word. That’s precisely what God Himself teaches us (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 3:16). So, then, what about the historic creeds of our faith, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed? What about all the Reformed confessions and catechisms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism? If Scripture alone is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness to the end that we would be competent and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17), then why do we need anything else? If the Lord God Almighty wanted us to have anything beyond the sixty-six books of sacred Scripture, could He not have simply provided it to us? Are creeds and confessions really needed in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church?

These are necessary and inescapable questions that every Christian must consider when it comes to creeds and confessions. And we can easily see how such questions extend not only to creeds but to the nature and purpose of the study of doctrine itself. What’s more, such questions extend naturally to any and all study of Scripture—all commentaries, all systematic theologies, all sermons, and all discussions and disputes about anything in the Bible. Anytime someone considers for a moment what God has revealed, he has begun to formulate a creed. Whenever we sing simple songs to our children, such as “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” we have formulated a creedal statement about Jesus, His love, the object of His love, our assurance of His love, and the nature of biblical authority.

Still, some might say, “My only creed is Christ.” But as soon as we ask the question, “Who is Christ?” we will hear someone’s expression of his creedal understanding about Christ, which will be either right or wrong, biblical or unbiblical. And an unbiblical belief about the person and work of Christ will result in our condemnation. For if it is the Christ of the Bible who unites us, we must affirm the one, true biblical Christ to have true biblical salvation and true biblical unity. Thus, it would be quite appropriate to say, “My only creed is the creed of Christ.” This is the aim of every Christian—namely, to believe, confess, and proclaim the very creed and doctrine revealed in Scripture that Christ Himself authored, fulfills, defends, and proclaims. If we are genuine Christians who trust Christ alone, it is impossible for us not to affirm the elementary saving doctrine of Christ our Lord and Savior; the only question is whether the entirety of our doctrine is sound doctrine or false doctrine.

creeds and confessions are like maps from our forefathers

It may be helpful to think of creeds and confessions as maps, or guides, to help us navigate our way as we study God’s Word. While someone could argue that we don’t really need maps to travel, we all know how helpful maps are if we want to arrive at a particular destination by way of a particular route in a particular amount of time. We use maps whenever we need assistance getting to a particular destination that is not familiar to us, but we do not typically look at a map of a road we have traveled often because we have committed that route to memory. But unless we travel to a particular destination regularly, we can lose our way and wander off the most convenient route because our minds do not think as clearly or remember as fully as we would like. The Bible is a beautiful and vast world of mountains, rivers, and paths, and we are called to climb them, navigate them, and walk them as we look to, learn from, and lean on our forefathers who have traveled them faithfully in generations past.

Still, someone could easily level the charge against the usefulness of creeds and confessions by pointing out that our forefathers, though faithful, were sinners and therefore disqualified from formulating such guides for the church. There is a twofold response to this charge. First, after our fall into sin, God has continued to call, gift, and equip redeemed and repentant sinners to serve Him and His called-out people, the church, to the end that God’s people would believe, confess, and proclaim His truth. Second, as redeemed and repentant sinners who are naturally inclined to formulate creeds, we must grasp that it is our sin itself that leads us to disagree, dispute, and divide within the church, which is precisely what God Himself commands against in His Word. So, while we can conclude that it is because of sin that we are naturally inclined toward differing beliefs, it is also because of sin that we should strive diligently to formulate a written creed that affirms the doctrines of Scripture. Even as spiritually regenerate believers, we suffer the noetic effects of sin and do not always think as clearly and as carefully as we should when we study Scripture. However, in His grace God has given us His Spirit, and in His wisdom He has given us pastors and teachers until Christ’s consummation of His kingdom. The Holy Spirit illumines His Word to us and leads in the truth of His Word as He enables and employs His servants to study, explain, and teach His truth in sermons, Bible study lessons, commentaries, books, and creeds. So creeds and confessions, similar to sermons, are written, formulated explanations meant to provide us with a clear summary of the doctrine of Scripture.

Not only does sin cloud our thinking; it clouds our memories. We do not always remember as fully and as quickly as we should from our study of Scripture, which is why God Himself has given us creedal summaries of His Word throughout His Word (e.g., Deut. 6:4; 1 Tim. 3:16). And just like the concise creedlike statements in Scripture, the church’s historic creeds provide us with a concise system of the doctrine of Scripture so that we might better and more easily learn and remember the doctrine our Lord has revealed to us in His Word.

Without sin, just about everything would be different, and we would not have any need whatsoever for creeds and confessions. If we were not sinners, we would all read and believe God’s Word exactly as God intended. We would not disagree about anything in Scripture. There would be no divisions in the church. There would be no false teachers, no heresy, and no need for church discipline. The one, holy, catholic (universal), and Apostolic church would completely agree on everything. And this will be the reality in the new heavens and new earth. But alas, we are sinners with depraved hearts and debauched minds as a result of the often-underestimated fall of man into sin, which put us at enmity not only with God but also, to a lesser degree, with one another. We must not underestimate the consequences of sin. Rather, we must have a high regard for the depravity of man and for the overwhelming effects of sin on all we think, say, and do and on the motives behind all we think, say, and do. Consequently, it’s precisely because each and every one of us is a sinner and because there is more than one of us that we need creeds and confessions.

creeds unite us

Contrary to popular opinion, we have creeds and confessions not to divide us but to unite us on the foundational beliefs of the one and only true faith. Doctrine doesn’t divide; nor do creeds and confessions. Sin is what divides us, and doctrine is what unites us. Through our union with Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, our affirmation of biblical doctrine is the only thing that can possibly unite a church made up of repentant sinners who are saved by our sovereign God whom we confess.

Genuinely Confessional

The Confessing Church in History

Keep Reading The Confessing Church

From the June 2021 Issue
Jun 2021 Issue