Category Archives: Creeds

“the earliest creed is…” moving on…

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I keep hearing this tired refrain:

“‘Jesus is Lord’ is the earliest creed.”

They are pulling this phrase from 1 Corinthians 12.3 although they seem to miss the first part of said verse.

But, honestly, it isn’t.

There are more “creeds” than that in Scripture. The New Testament, a collection of early works assembled later, contains references to traditions pre-dating Scripture (the same canon later assembled by the same church that developed the creeds).

Let me name a few. There is the Christ hymn in Philippians 2.5–11. John 6.52–58 has some resemblance to an early eucharistic liturgical celebration. There is also 1 Timothy 3.16, which while not Pauline (shoot me, but it is Pseudo-Pauline) shows a creedal presence. Let us not forget Matthew 28.19–20 as well. Hebrews 1.1–3 seems creedal-ness, but I will admit that may be stretching it just a bit.

Revelation is liturgical. Hebrews is homiletic. Both do so to point to a belief that Jesus is Lord and what that means. It is not simply “say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you are in like flinn.” In other words, even if “Jesus is Lord” is a creed, it is never without explanation and understanding.

So, how do the creeds and symbols develop? From the baptismal confessions. Indeed, baptism and creeds go together.

From St. Irenaeus:

1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

2. To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in

one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, 4, 1-2)

From Tertullian,

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith-that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend-it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son,and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.” (Tertullian, the Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter XIII)

St. Hippolytus, in preserving to us the Apostolic Tradition (c. 215) preserves older traditions as well. This is the baptismal formula:

Then, after these things, let him give him over to the presbyter who baptizes, and let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them likewise. And when he who is being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus:

Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?

And he who is being baptized shall say:

I believe.

Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say:

Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Admittedly, the Apostolic Traditions’ worth will be dependent upon the side in the scholarly debate you fall. For me, I’ll go down the middle and say that while it may be assembled later (say, like several books throughout the canon, and the canon itself) it does contain earlier recollections.

To sum, the first creedal statements focus on two things simultaneously: Who Jesus is and what did he do?  We see this developed through the baptismal confessions exactly because we are being baptized into Christ. It is only right to ask the new believer “do you know what you are doing?” and require that they actually tell you.

We can argue all the day long about creeds and litmus tests and the such, but we really shouldn’t argue whether or not creeds were in the early church — they were, before Scripture, and it equalized everyone. We can’t even argue that the Trinity is somehow a 4th century creation. Well, you can, if you want to appear ignorant of history and all.

Check out these from Logos and Accordance.

The Afghanistan Creed

believetitleI had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan before the US involvement there. It was an incredibly rewarding trip in many ways, but I wanted to focus on one of the ways specifically. There has been a lot of talk about the creeds and why they matter or do not matter and most of it has been theoretical and impassioned. I hope to perhaps provide a real world example to the discussion and bring it out of the realm of ideas and place i firmly in the realm of people.

At the time that I was there Afghanistan was not a particularly friendly country to Christians and the Bible was frowned upon and in most places not allowed. Knowing this, I did the only reasonable thing and helped a group to smuggle bibles into the area in the official language of the country. The trip itself was rewarding but the reaction to seeing the Bible was worth the risk in and of itself. O if we in the Western World had a longing and love for the scriptures as they did…but that is a different story.

The villagers that I met had experiences with missionaries who had spread word of the gospel, but few of them had ever seen a Bible, none of them had a full copy (a lucky few had a page or two torn away) and the standard missionary verses were known. (John 3:16, etc) but that was the beginning and end of their Biblical knowledge. Through the translator, I asked how it was that they knew they were Christians if they had not had a proper education in the faith and had no access to the Word of God. They listed the following 12 reasons as how they knew:

  1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

  2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

  5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

  6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

  7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

  9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

  10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

  1. And the life everlasting.

This was how they knew they were Christian. This is what they had taught others you needed to believe in order to be a Christian. This was the only thing that they had and knew for certain. They went on to provide a brief explanation of which each statement actually meant as well, so it was not simply lines memorized, bu rather the gospel understood. Not only that, but they were happy to share it and over joyed to be able to tell the story. There is probably a lesson there for the western church.

While they were overjoyed and excited to have the full Word of God, it was not so that they could try and find out what they believed, they already knew that, they wanted to find out the whole story from beginning to end. They wanted to fill in the details and to be able to better know the Lord. They knew what they believed, they just wanted to know some more of the details.

There has been some discussion of whether or not the Apostles Creed (and the others) is “seeker friendly”. I know that it was able to be understood by Afghans  who were poorly educated at best. There has been some discussion as to weather or not it can inspire faith. I know that it inspired those men, women and children to the point that upon being able to touch the Word of God, the wept for joy. Thy become positively elated when they opened it to see a language that many of them could read. Yeah, that’s right. They were content to be able to touch the Word of God without being able to read it (so they thought). That is how precious it was to them. It was precious because of their belief, and that belief came from the Creed. There has been some conversation about if the creeds are necessary. I know that is all the tribesmen and villagers I met had, and it was necessary for their belief. There has been some discussion as to weather or not one needs to believe all the tenants of the Creed to be a Christian, and to be fair, who is a Christian and who is not is above my pay grade. I will say that if you do not believe in what is contained in the Apostle’s creed, you are well outside the boundaries of what has defined Christianity for centuries and that is a dangerous place to be.

So, do the creeds matter? Are they still useful? Here is what my experiences have shown me. I know that when the somewhat popular Newsboys song “We Believe” is played, that a six year old boy runs to grab his cross and hold it high and sing along and dance like David (except for the no clothes part) because he knows it to be true. I know that the words of the Apostle’s Creed still hold power as they are the story of a loving God from beginning to end. I know that no matter our differences, that the whole of Christianity has traditionally held to 12 rather simple tenets. I know that it was enough for those who had no idea who the Living Christ was and that while we are arguing over it’s usefulness, it is still leading people to new faith and affirming  the faith of those whom already believe.  I know that if we are to have any hope for true Christian unity that it will begin with the words “I believe” and end with “amen”.




John and Charles Wesley lived by the Creeds

English: Charles Wesley
I don’t always quote doctrine, but when I do, it is Creedal // English: Charles Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is this constant rumor John Wesley thought the creed a weak source or somehow unnecessary. I cannot find this in Wesley’s works (via Logos). Charles, John’s forgotten brother but very much one of our founders, cannot be said to be foreign to the creeds.  What follows is a brief synopsis of the Wesleys’ view on the Creeds — usually three in number, those being the Apostles’, the Nicene (381), and one attributed to St. Athanasius.

An aged gentlewoman here testified that she had long denied that article of her creed, “forgiveness of sins,” but was yesterday experimentally convinced of it, under Mr. Hall’s ministry. Others I meet with, who have passed from death unto life, in hearing our brother Whitefield. Our brethren of Fetter-lane deny the fact, that any soul has been justified by our ministry, since “no one gives what he has not himself.” – Charles Wesley, 12 May 17401

How many today would believe in the Creeds if they but listen to a proper ministry?

In a poem styled an epistle, Charles counsels his brother,

…The Church whose cause I serve, whose faith approve,
Whose altars reverence, and whose name I love.

But does she still exist in more than sound?
The Church—alas! where is she to be found?
Not in the men, however dignified,
Who would her creeds repeal, her laws deride,
Her Prayers expunge, her Articles disown,
And thrust the Filial Godhead from His throne…

He goes on,

Then let the zealous orthodox appear,
And challenge the contested character:
Those, who renounce the whole Dissenting tribe,
Creeds, Articles, and Liturgy subscribe;
Their parish church who never once have miss’d,
At schism rail, and hate a Methodist;
“The company of faithful souls” are these,
Who strive to ’stablish their own righteousness,
But count the faith Divine a madman’s dream?
Howe’er they to themselves may pillars seem,
Of Christ, and of His church they make no part;
They never knew the Saviour in their heart.

I dare say, many of those who have already passed their BOOM should feel unjustified in doing so. To dare to denounce the creeds, the articles — those things as the bedrock of orthodoxy (and yes, it is real) — is to separate oneself from Christianity.

Stop using our name!

Wait! I have found something to extinguish my hope in a creedal Wesley!

They both say, “Creeds and books can nothing do!”

Except, there is more:

1 FATHER, Son, and Spirit, hear
Thy apostate creature’s groan,
Languishing to find Thee near,
Worshipping a God unknown,
Light till in Thy light I see,
Know eternal life in Thee.

2 Creeds and books can nothing do,
Unaccompanied by grace;
Grace must form my soul anew,
Give me to discern Thy face,
Bring my faithful heart the power
God in persons three to’ adore. – From the Hymns to the Trinity, IV

Let us now move forward to John alone. In several letters, he recommends besides the bible, Bishop Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed.

In order to be well acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity, you need but one book, (besides the Bible,)—Bishop Pearson on the Creed. This I advise you to read and master throughly: It is a library in one volume. But above all be much in prayer, and God will withhold no manner of thing that is good. — J. Wesley, 1767

For Wesley, believing in Christ is the same as assenting to the Creed:

To believe in Christ was the very thing (Whitefield) supposed wanting; as understanding that term believing to imply, not only an assent to the Articles of our Creed, but also ‘a true trust and confidence of the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ – J. Wesley, 1738

And then, later in life,

“You now heap together ten paragraphs more, most of which require very little answer. In the first you say, ‘Your foolishness is become the wonder and admiration of the public.’ In the second, ‘The public blushes for you, till you give a better solution to the articles demanded of you.’ In the third, you cite my words, I still maintain ‘the Bible, with the Liturgy, and Homilies of our Church; and do not espouse any other principles but what are consonant to the Book of Common-Prayer.’ You keenly answer, ‘Granted, Mr. Methodist; but whether or no you would not espouse other principles, if you durst, is evident enough from some innovations you have already introduced, which I shall attempt to prove in the subsequent part of my answer.’ Indeed you will not. You neither prove, nor attempt to prove, that I would espouse other principles if I durst. However, you give me a deadly thrust: ‘You falsify the first Article of the Athanasian Creed.’ But how so? Why, I said, ‘The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodists is, Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith.’ Sir, shall I tell you a secret?—It was for the readers of your class that I changed the hard word Catholic into an easier. — J. Wesley, 1760

Note what he said.

‘The fundamental doctrine of the people called Methodists is, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the true faith.”’

That repeated line is from the Creed commonly attributed to St. Athanasius. We cannot separate “true faith” from the Creeds, because Wesley never did.

Granted, none of that matters, at least to the United Methodist Church. Our Book of Discipline says that Wesley’s Sermons (not his letters and journals) are part of our doctrinal standards. I didn’t understand this, but then while reading Wesley I kept seeing that the Homilies of the Anglican Church could not be denied either.

These are quotes from his sermons.

In Sermon 7, Wesley says that one can have all of the orthodoxy there is available, but in denying the requirement of good works is nothing before God. I agree. And, this is where I would differ with the Reformed. Faith is not an intellectual only assent, but must be assented through our actions – actions based on that intellectual assent. This is the same concept in Sermon 18. These actions is what Wesley calls “religion.”

Wesley goes on in Sermon 55 to clarify his stance on that dastardly line in the Athanasian Creed:

It was in an evil hour that these explainers began their fruitless work I insist upon no explication at all; no, not even on the best I ever saw; I mean, that which is given us in the creed commonly ascribed to Athanasius. I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this shall without doubt perish everlastingly.” For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it.

Returning to the notion of “religion?”

The foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It is built upon the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles! And how is it possible without it to understand the essential truths contained therein? a beautiful summary of which we have in that which is called the Apostles’ Creed. – Sermon 70

Reason, then, is to properly understand… including the Apostles’ Creed.

And finally, in Sermon 132, Wesley gives you the foundation of Methodism,

In the four or five years following, another and another were added to the number, till, in the year 1735, there were fourteen of them who constantly met together. Three of these were Tutors in their several Colleges; the rest, Bachelors of Arts or Under-graduates. They were all precisely of one judgment, as well as of one soul; all tenacious of order to the last degree, and observant, for conscience’ sake, of every rule of the Church, and every statute both of the University and of their respective Colleges. They were all orthodox in every point; firmly believing, not only the Three Creeds, but whatsoever they judged to be the doctrine of the Church of England, as contained in her Articles and Homilies. As to that practice of the Apostolic Church, (which continued till the time of Tertullian, at least in many Churches,) the having all things in common, they had no rule, nor any formed design concerning it; but it was so in effect. and it could not be otherwise; for none could want anything that another could spare. This was the infancy of the work. They had no conception of anything that would follow. Indeed, they took “no thought for the morrow,” desiring only to live today.

At some time in the future, I would like to go and dig through Wesley’s works and see what he says about various lines of the Creed(s). For now, however, we can see the Wesleys — from beginning to end — held high the Creeds and orthodoxy. Indeed, “true religion” is rooted to the “true faith.”

Be sure to read Dr. David Watson’s piece as well. Andrew Thompson has chimed in as well. I have a follow-up sort of too. Drew McIntyre has a post up on this, suggesting that we look closer at Wesley’s “Letter to a Roman Catholic.” Dr Rankin has a post on pietism and the creeds. Dr. Kevin Watson has one up on “John Wesley and the Creeds.”

  1. Interesting enough, these one lines can be found throughout the Wesleys works — I may do a search later — and in their immediate ecclesiastical descendents. Bishop Thomas Coke uses a line as a life guide.

In the (e)mail from @AccordanceBible, @ivpacademic’s “Ancient Christian Doctrine (5 Volumes)”

NA28 on AccordanceThanks to H at Accordance for this!

From the Accordance Website:

This exciting five-volume series follows up on the acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture to provide patristic commentary on the Nicene Creed. The series renders primary Greek, Latin, Coptic and Syriac source material from the church fathers in lucid English translation (some here for the first time) and gives readers unparalleled insight into the history and substance of what the early church believed.

Including biographical sketches, a timeline of ancient Christian sources, indexes, bibliographies and keys to original language sources as well as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek, Latin and English (ICET version), this series illuminates key theological essentials in the light of classic and consensual Christian faith and makes an excellent resource for preaching and teaching.

This module includes the following five volumes:

  • Volume 1 – We Believe in One God (Edited by Gerald L. Bray)
  • Volume 2 – We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Edited by John Anthony Mcguckin)
  • Volume 3 – We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord (Edited by Mark J. Edwards)
  • Volume 4 – We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Edited by Joel C. Elowsky)
  • Volume 5 – We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Edited by Angelo DiBerardino)

You may also be interested in the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS Complete) and the 3-volume Ancient Christian Devotional (Ancient Devotional).

BTW, as of today, there is a 20% discount storewide.

This is what it looks like on my Mac:

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.26.04 AM


This is what it looks like on my iPad with 2.0 Accordance App:



I mean… how awesome is that!

Ditch the Creed?

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a solid discussion ongoing among some internet-UMCers.

Rev. Jeremy Smith seems to think so and attempts to make the case with an essay that summarizes a longer sermon preached by Dr. Raymond E. Balcomb, a former pastor of First Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon. The post is a follow-up to another creed-critical post from about a year ago that came in response a tweet in which I quoted Tom Noble on the importance of the Creeds for the people called Methodist. You can read my response to Jeremy’s earlier post here.

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: Do We Need the Creed? In Dialogue with @umjeremy #UMC.

This is my pondering as of late.

  1. The Development of a creed (beginning with the rule of faith) predates the Canon.
  2. The various creeds have helped to solidify Christianity around a central tenet, that Jesus Christ is God the Son.
  3. The creeds are based in Scripture

Because of this, I consider the Creed as part of Scripture. It is canonical. It is canon.

There, I said it. I cannot see a Church without a Creed.

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