In this video, Dr. Stephen Nichols provides advice on how to commend the historic creeds and confessions of the church.
This is very much a part especially of American Christianity. In fact, we have this hymn: no creed but Christ. You see this, you see almost a suspicion towards creeds, towards confessions, towards catechisms among American Christians. But it’s not just something American Christians are susceptible to. It’s something we seem to be especially susceptible to in the twenty-first century. I think we can answer this with a number of things. I think one thing is, we just need to be reminded that there is a healthy relationship to the past. We see in Roman Catholic traditions an unhealthy relationship to the past, where tradition is elevated. It’s elevated to the point of being right along Scripture as an authority. That would be an unhealthy use and respect in looking to the past. But there is a healthy use of the past and a healthy respect for the past. We need to recover that. We especially need to recover that as Christians.
It was Spurgeon who once said, “I find it odd that Christians who think so highly of what the Holy Spirit teaches them think so little of what the Holy Spirit teaches others also.” And so, when we ignore church history, when we ignore the rich creeds, the confessions, the catechisms that come to us from the past, one of the things we are saying in effect is: “The Holy Spirit has not been at work from the first century to the twenty-first century. And whatever was happening in those two thousand years, it’s of no consequence for us; it’s of no meaning for us.” I don’t think we want to say that. I think instead we want to say, “We have Scripture, and every generation, every age of the church, is called upon to study Scripture, to understand Scripture, to proclaim Scripture, and to live that Scripture out.”
What we have in church history, what we have in the creeds, is centuries to millennia of models, of examples, of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us, who have taken God’s Word and applied it to the challenges of the day and to the exigencies of the day. We need to pay attention to that. We need to bring that into our own moment and learn from the past. So I would just encourage my fellow Christians of the twenty-first century to just have a healthy respect for the church of the past and look to that church of the past for help as we fulfill our calling to be Christ’s faithful disciples in this age and in this present moment.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on December 2, 2019.