Creedal conundrums (part 1)

As a change of pace from regular systematic expository preaching, and often to fit in with school holidays, I have developed a couple of sermons series entitled ‘Creedal conundrums’ that looks at phrases in the creeds that often puzzle people.

On the Apostles’ Creed, we did:

  • Born of the virgin Mary
  • He descended into hell
  • The holy, catholic church.

And recently on the Nicene Creed, we did:

Going through the creeds allows you to do some good systematic theology and enables people to say them with more understanding instead of with uncertainty and a consequent reluctance to say something you don’t quite ‘get’.

I received an enormous amount of comments and questions after this series—including a couple of questions on the value of the creeds in general, and of the Nicene Creed in particular. Here’s the first question:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of having and saying a creed? (There are some good churches that don’t say creeds.)

Here’s my answer: you’re quite right. Many Bible-based churches have endured even though they don’t recite the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis. However, it’s worth noting that many denominations still adopt these creeds as part of their basis of faith (e.g. the Presbyterians), and I have had visits from Baptist pastors who have said they quite enjoy saying the creeds from time to time because they see their value.

Still, the creeds are not Scripture and, as with all man-made traditions, they should be subservient to Scripture; it is teaching God’s word that is critical. And so churches can survive and flourish without using the creeds in their gathering. However, in this case, I would say that the human tradition of the creeds captures important ‘biblical tradition’: creeds are a human tradition that help affirm God’s great and true tradition, if I can put it this way.

I will say more about the advantages of creeds in my next post. But what are you thoughts on this question?

5 thoughts on “Creedal conundrums (part 1)

  1. Great idea for a sermon series!
    At the CCC where I Pastor at the moment we regularly recite the Apostles Creed before receiving communion.

    I did a short (2 part) series on the person and work of Christ last year and distributed a copy of the Nicene when talking about the deity of Jesus.

    At the time I didn’t go through the creed just referenced it as the outcome of the council once Athanasius and Arius had finished their show down.

    But got quite a few concerned and genuine questions about a few of the phrases. So I followed up with a short explanation a few weeks later.

    As for the strengths and weaknesses – ditto. But the value is in the understanding of the creed. There are a plethora of Children and Adults that have memorised Psalm 23 & John 3:16 that haven’t the foggiest about them. It’s just a recitation memorised like one of Shakespeare’s poems.

    The creeds capture and keep us connected to historical orthodoxy. Always good to check them against the latest “contextualised theology” as a yard stick.


  2. Creedal statements were written within the context of false teachings about things as fundamental as the divinity of Jesus the Son of God and his equality with the Father.  As a result, they distill the Bible’s teaching on such issues into clear, memorable statements congregations can easily say. 

    One of the reasons as to why they have fallen into disuse is because they were said weekly in Anglican churches (and others), often without any explanation. This led to people feeling that they were simply part of a weekly liturgical ritual. 

    I think it was a shame that this problem resulted in the wholesale rejection of saying creeds in some churches.  But, that said, we need to learn from this rejection by ensuring saying creeds is not done in a way that people will judge to be perfunctory and unedifying.

    Good on you Sandy for teaching on some of creedal statements- that’s a great way to bring the creeds to life.

  3. Thanks Sandy for the prompt.  At the church I pastor we have stopped reciting the creeds for some of the reasons you and Philip have stated.  Yet clearly their content is vital to Biblical literacy and understanding.  A sermon series is a good idea and timely recitals/reviews need to be reintroduced.

  4. Sandy,

    as a pew sitter, I think this a good idea.

    But there are other important statements of faith that help to clarify our understanding that also don’t get referred to much these days.

    What about preaching through the 39 Articles?  I know it would need to be broken up, but I am sure it would be very worthwhile.


  5. Thanks for the comments!

    Al, thanks for your comments, and interesting to note the use of the Apostles’ Creed in a Chinese Christian Church, whose ‘style’ or patterns I am unfamiliar with.

    Philip, spot on with comments about not short-changing the Creeds by perfunctory recitals. Even when done less often and with more variety in a more contemporary service, they can still be introduced in predictable ways which become grating (e.g. where we over-explain things and often in the same pedestrian way each time.)

    Andy, good to know the Creeds have been used in churches in Japan. Perhaps my following posts will give some scope for creative and helpful use/reintroduction in ways that people will embrace, rather than a weekly repetition, which dispirits some (although it anchors others!)

    Greg, I have tried sometimes to reference some aspect of the 39A in preaching or in a minister’s letter in the bulletin where it reinforces or underlines an important biblical truth. So too with Westminster Confession etc. I even heard of a minister who read one of the Anglican homilies, while his colleague was away and he felt only able to prepare one new sermon that week!

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