Home > Confessions > Biblical and Pastoral Basis for Creeds and Confessions

Biblical and Pastoral Basis for Creeds and Confessions

by Robert S. Rayburn

“Premise” Volume III, Number 3 / March 29, 1996

The following essay was a chapter in The Practice of Confessional Subscription (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995).

Creeds serve a variety of purposes in the life of the church. They are a testimony of the church’s belief to the world; they offer a summation of Christian doctrine for the instruction of the faithful; and they form a bulwark against the incursion of error by providing a standard of orthodoxy and a test for office-bearers. In these ways creeds also serve to protect and to foster the bond of Christian fellowship as a unity of faith and doctrine, of mind and conviction, and not merely of organization or sentiment.1

The earliest creeds, as confessions of faith, served a liturgical purpose and some do to this day. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, in their liturgical usage, foster a sense of belonging to the one, holy, catholic church. Their importance lies not only in the excellence of their form of words but in their antiquity, the witness they bear to the unity of the church through the generations. In worship, creeds give expression to the living connection between contemporary Christians and their spiritual ancestry. The Heidelberg Catechism, which functions liturgically in some Calvinist communions, links the worshipper in a similar way to the epoch of the Reformation and the Reformed tradition.

All of this notwithstanding, creeds have had their detractors. It has been alleged that they compromise the supreme authority of Holy Scripture in the church, that they unlawfully bind the conscience, being extra-biblical standards to which submission is required, and, more often popularly, it is alleged that, by focusing attention on doctrinal formulation, creeds contribute to a barren orthodoxy. It can hardly be denied that creeds have proved through the years a temptation and a stumbling block in all of these ways. However, the necessity of creeds as the authoritative declaration of a tradition of interpretation of Holy Scripture is taught and illustrated plainly in the Bible. 2




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