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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

Why Do We Need Creeds?

A Catechetical Sermon on the Apostles’ Creed:

The Need for Creeds

The 3rd Wednesday of Lent, 2/28/2024

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Dear friends in Christ, tonight we take up the matter of the Apostles’ Creed, specifically, we must address a simple question: why do we have Creeds? This is often taken for granted by Christians as the Creeds are a staple in our services and education. In order to answer the question of why we have them, we must approach the matter of what they are.

                To put it simply, a Creed is a formal confession of Christian doctrine, a statement of belief. It is the case that all people have beliefs that they adhere to, and every religion has some formal doctrine to which members adhere. However, a creed, in the general sense, is more precise than this. It is a written statement or summary of these beliefs. As such, creeds, in this general sense, are not limited to the Christian Church. Our nation has a creed of sorts in the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, most organizations have them. For example, 4-H has the 4-H pledge, which is a creed describing its purpose and the expectations of members. Service organizations, like the Kiwanis, the Rotary, and the Lions, all have similar summaries of their duties and purpose. Many businesses, particularly large ones, have creeds of their own. We tend to call these “purpose statements” or “mission statements” and serve to remind the organization of its goals and purpose that all the individual parts should be working for.

                This is all to say that creeds are everywhere in life. We, whether we realize it or not, we all confess and participate in creeds in many, if not most, of the places we interact with others in our lives. And this is not a bad thing. It has become something of a trend these days to allow creeds for civic and business organizations as I have already described, but to sneer and denounce creeds given by churches. Unfortunately for such ham-fisted critics, the denunciation of creeds is itself a creedal position. Creeds are a necessary part of life  because they serve to demarcate a particular thing from other things, such as showing the differences between competing shoe manufacturers or bodies of doctrine. They also help orient organizations of all sorts to their intended ends and goals. And they serve as a rallying cry and reminder of the foundation and purpose of a particular organization. As such, creeds are not only necessary, but they are good and useful, helping us navigate our lives and keeping our efforts oriented to goals and limits that are necessary and helpful.

                When creeds of this sort are forgotten or ignored, organizations suffer. For example, if a non-profit organization which was founded to help educate poor children suddenly scatters its resources and efforts and begins doing other things, such as advocacy for the homeless, soup-kitchens, and the like, they may end up losing their intended goal by spreading their efforts too far. I am not saying that these hypothetical endeavors are bad or wrong in themselves, but when organizations stray from their roots too far, it can have the opposite effect of diminishing support and enthusiasm, bring confusion, and erode confidence and lead to and organizational malaise that is difficult to overcome. This happens with Christian congregations as well. If a congregation misses the main point of its existence, which is of course the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, then the church becomes similarly affected and suffers confusion among its members.

                Creeds fight against this. Secular creeds in non-profit organizations and businesses tend to focus on outcomes and expectations and make minimal truth statements, religious creeds tend to focus on truth over outcomes or expectations. For example, the Nicene Creed has a lot to say about who God is and what was done for us and our salvation, but it has very little to say about the how we should conduct ourselves each day. As an aside, this illustrates another point about Creeds, namely that they are not meant to be exhaustive, but instead serve to recall and reinforce basic, foundational ideas.

                We Christians have three Creeds that we subscribe to: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and that Athanasian. Each of this gives a summary of basic Christian doctrine, that is teaching, though each has as slightly different emphasis. Creeds are important, as I mentioned earlier, because they do a number of useful things for us. One of the things that they do is delineate between that which is Christian and that which is not Christian. And while there are certainly things in the Bible that teach Christian truth beyond the Creeds, the things in the Creed are so basic so that if a person fails to confess them then we cannot consider them to be a believer in the Christian God or in the Christian religion.

                This is the basis of an old distinction within the Christian Church between the heretic and his heretical teaching which is outside of the Christian Church and the heterodox and his heterodoxical teaching, which is still Christian in its basics, but is confused on other matters.

                In other words, the Creeds were composed to defend and maintain biblical teachings on various matters. And these Creeds are so basic to our faith that men and women have given their lives to defend them. The Romans butchered those who died saying the Apostles’ Creed. Heretics tortured and condemned those who refused to deviate from the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. We promise to do the same in our confirmation vows.

                And yet, few of us see the matter of Christian teaching with this degree of importance. Unfortunately, we have imbibed the spirit of our age that sees religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a collection of personal musings and opinions, none of which are worth giving your life over. You hear this sentiment when Christians, well meaning they may be, complain about divisiveness in the Church due to confessing the truth once for all given to the saints. Scripture teaches us that divisions come from deviating from Christ, not by confessing Him. To accuse a congregation or pastor of causing division is to accuse them of failing to truthfully speak of Christ, that is, to be either heretical or heterodox.

                There is a temptation in trying to ignore these real differences for the sake of a united front, but the Scriptures do not allow for false, human-derived unity like this. We are commanded to be one, not in ourselves, but in and on Christ, whose Truth we are obligated to defend and practice. Further, in this age, refusing to confess the importance of truth in these matters is to concede to a disbelieving secular world that there is not truth in matters of religion. In other words, when we concede the point that some teaching of Christ is not important enough to defend, then we concede that it does not matter. If it does not matter, then such a thing must be no more important than an opinion or personal musing. And if that is the case, then what is the purpose of the Christian Church? Without Christ and His true, historical life and death, we would not have a place in salvation or in the paradise of our Lord. This historical, objectively true reality is the basis of all our doctrine and if we give up some part of our Lord’s teaching, we give up some part of our Lord who saves us.

                That being said, we must also not use the truth as a cudgel to smash the confused into line. There are two errors in such matter, the first and more common and grave for our time is the lack of desire in defending or defining truth concerning our Lord. The second, less common but still poisonous, is to turn the truth into an unloving weapon for harm and self-aggrandizing. Practically, this means that there will be times and places to make the good confession and other times that doing so would be unhelpful. But such a realization should not be taken as an excuse to abandon the Truth, which is really to abandon the Lord who is Truth Himself.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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