Every church operates from a creed; whether or not their beliefs are codified into a formal, written statement or not, every church (and every religious organization) is creedal.
From David Watson’s excellent new book Scripture and the Life of God:
“Occasionally I have heard people claim that their church or denomination is non-creedal. I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a non-creedal church. There are churches with implicit creeds and churches with explicit creeds. Every Christian tradition, however, is organized around some set of beliefs that set it apart from other traditions, and the adherents of those traditions generally know what those beliefs are. These beliefs help to shape the ways in which the community of faith understands and applies Scripture.”
We’ve had this debate in the UMC (some still claim Wesley was not creedal) but it applies to other churches as well. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of so-called “Non-Denominational” churches. In many cases, they have explicit ties to a denomination, but they are quiet about them. Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, for instance, was begun with Southern Baptist money. In all cases, “Non-Denominational” churches have a set of beliefs one might call creedal. They are always protestant, and usually some combination of baptist, reformed, and/or charismatic. (Hint: claim the title or don’t, but if you have a congregationalist polity [read: autonomous] and you practice believer’s baptism, you are a baptist.)
We should not be shy about the traditions we inhabit and the beliefs that go along with them. In part, this is simple honesty: be up front with insiders and outsiders about who you are and what you are about. Many hip megachurches look trendy and contemporary, but hide the fact that they don’t let women be in leadership. Better to own it than to deceive.
But creeds also matter, because we need guard rails. Many people think of creeds as shackles, but this is modernist anxiety run amok. As G.K. Chesteron put it with his characteristic wit, “doctrine and discipline may be walls, but they are the walls of a playground.” The creeds help us interpret Scripture, as David Watson notes, because they place us in conversation with the undivided, earliest church. We will quibble over lesser matters, but if we exit the apostolic consensus represented in the creeds, we know we’ve committed a grievous error. Within the playground formed by these walls, however, there is a lot of room for running, jumping, and skipping.
Every religious organization has a creed, whether explicit or not. Churches would do best claim, teach, and celebrate them, both for the sake of formation in the “faith once delivered” (from Jude), and for transparency.
Does your church use creeds? What implicit creeds have you encountered at various churches? What creed is most valuable, and why? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe!