Why we don’t need new creeds

I recently heard a Christian, in fulltime ministry, dismiss the need for ‘old creeds’ on the basis that today’s church should look to produce new creeds, defending the faith from modern errors. True, there are lots of errors out there today, but the comment shows a naivety of the richness, timelessness and dare I say it, authority of the Creed.

While it is a defence against the errors of Arianism, at its core, the Nicene Creed is a positive declaration about the being of God. It is a powerful proclamation that God is the Triune creator of all.
Get it wrong and you get Him wrong. It seems to me that while there are always an abundance of errors coming left, right and centre, few have challenged the Church like those that led to the formulation of the Creed. And not all challenge the very being of God.

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Of the contribution the Nicene Creed has made to our understanding of the doctrine of God, T. F. Torrance has this to say:

It was a turning-point of far-reaching significance, with conceptual irreversibility. When the conception of the oneness in being between the incarnate Son and the Father was formed and given explicit expression in the clause homoousios to patri, a giant step forward was taken in grasping the inner ontological coherence of the Gospel as it had been mediated through the apostolic Scriptures. Once that insight had been reached, the Church could not go back upon it, because the evangelical substance of the faith, with its distinctively Christian doctrine of God, had been secured in its mind and understanding in a permanent way. ‘The Word of God which came through the Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea abides forever.’

(Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith. T&T Clark 1991)

If we get our doctrine of God wrong everything falls apart, and what we have in the Nicene Creed is a thoroughly relevant, thoroughly positive declaration to the world about who God is in His being.
I think, that to throw out the Nicene Creed for more ‘relevant’ declarations shows a great deal of arrogance…What do you think?

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17 Responses to “Why we don’t need new creeds”

  1. It’s the bedrock of who we are as a tribe. Reformed, Evangelical, Protestants are thoroughly Chaledocian in shape and form…well, at least on paper.

  2. get over it mate: surely we can continue to write new creeds. dispensing with the old ones doesn’t have to be included in that, but to address current concerns is surely the job of the church, and how better than a creed. it’s in the formulation of a creed that we can think thru issues in their fulness.

    creed it up i reckon – let’s go to some town with an awesome name – nambucca or something – and write a creed for the C21!

    • stephengardner Says:

      Get into it Doug! Nice. A few things:
      For this particular person producing new creeds most definitely meant dispensing with the old ones.
      I’m not dismissing the Church’s role to address the world on relevant, important issues. That is part of our calling to be a light to the world.
      But, do you think today’s Church can produce another creed of equal worth and importance?
      And what issues do you think need addressing?

      • Do we have the same authority to produce creeds like the early church did? They were producing creeds for the whole church – I’m not sure if we have the power to write one or the ability to enforce such a creed. Idea – maybe that is what makes a creed a creed: that it is for the whole church. And so something like GAFCON’s Jerusalem Statement is not creedal because, as an Anglican confessional statement, it is insufficient for the whole church.

  3. Amen, Steve. No new creeds! The Church — representatively — agreed that Constantinople (which gave us what we know as the Nicene Creed) was it for creed writing.

    Sure, there are formulas (Chalcedon), confessions (The Thirty-Nine Articles, Westminster, etc) and catechisms after that. But these don’t displace the Creed, they just clear up ambiguity and help mark out the shifting boundaries of truth and error in each age.

    I’m all for undertaking this kind of work for today. But let’s not run headlong into abandoning part of what keeps us evangelicals barely hanging in there as genuinely ‘catholic’ Christians — the Nicene Creed declares the gospel narrative (and the doctrine of God that underwrites it) far more precisely and expansively than much of our preaching, praying and congregational singing!

  4. a couple of things:
    1/ credo just means I believe. it’s something that you choose to assent to. there were always those who dissented. thus there is nothing wrong with asserting ‘this is what i believe’ and confessing that with others. time (like the Constantinopolitan creed – recognised 70 years later at Chalcedon) will be the judge of how well this speaks for others.
    2/ didn’t all creeds – including the Nicean – ‘clear up ambiguity and help mark out the shifting boundaries of truth and error’? why should that not be the case today?

    so i don’t for a moment want to naysay the import of such creeds, but the definition of a new creed need not be seen as an evil, but a new work defining an old truth. is that so bad?

  5. stephengardner Says:

    Chris-Better than i could have put it. Constantionople brought an end to creeds.

    Moffitt-great questions. How could there ever be another ‘catholic creed’. Pragmatically, who on earth would initiate it and oversee it?
    I love your definition of a creed (for the whole Church),in my mind that’s what I like to think makes a Creed. Something that ‘defines’ the Church and proclaims the object of the Church’s worship.

    New question-What possible issues are going on that would warrant the production of a new formula (not a creed)?

    Also- Moffitt, congratulations on being my 50th comment. I will send you a prize. There will be another one for the 100th!

  6. Confessional statements seem to be drawn up at a point of crisis, when there is a need/desire to clarify and define orthodoxy. We’ve seen this in the statements that have been produced in the past century: the CICCU/IFES doctrinal statement, the Barmen Declaration, and the Jerusalem statement. All are trying to articulate what it is to belong to the German confessing church or the evangelical student movement 9at the time in England). And although they are useful and edifying, they don’t carry the same ecumenical influence and ability that the three historic creeds do.

  7. stephengardner Says:

    Moffitt–wait and see on the prize…I would love to give you Hanson’s book on the topic…but i’m not sure the blogging budet warrants prizes of that magnitude. You can borrow it if you want? I read it last year (most of it anyway) and it was gold. Chris also testifies to its goodness.

    Doug-thanks again and thanks for reminding us of the definition of creed.
    However, i still want to draw a distinction between current statements/confessions and creeds. As above, the Niceno-constantinopolitan creed was far more universal than anything since. It is a true, defining statement of the Christian church.
    Bring on other statements/confessions. The Jerusalem declaration is great, it deals with particular challenges facing the church, but, it is an Anglican declaration–not a creed of the Christian Church. This is a point, i think (hope) it recognises as the declaration itself points back to the creeds:

    “3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

    Again, I want to emphasise that the Nicene Creed, while refuting error, it is a positive declaration about the being of God. Specific challenges in the Anglican communion (for example) need addressing, but they are not challenges to the being of the Triune God in the same way.

  8. Greg Londish Says:

    Actually, the Nicene creed isn’t the same across all branches of Christianity.
    The Eastern Orthodox’s creed reads at one point:
    “And in the Holy Spirit,
    the Lord, the Giver of life,
    Who proceedeth from the Father,
    Who…”

    Whereas the Anglican creed reads:
    “And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
    The Lord and giver of life,
    Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
    Who…”

    So technically, the creed(s) divides us on a fundamental part of the Trinity.

  9. As above, the Niceno-constantinopolitan creed was far more universal than anything since. It is a true, defining statement of the Christian church.
    Bring on other statements/confessions. The Jerusalem declaration is great, it deals with particular challenges facing the church, but, it is an Anglican declaration–not a creed of the Christian Church.

    Would the Athanasian Creed fall somewhere in between those two, then?

    • Maybe…but we would need to recognize that the Athanasian Creed is one of the three historic creeds (and technically under canon law we’re ment to say it at church 13 times a year).

      • stephengardner Says:

        Guys, thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. Sorry for my slackness in not replying to you all yesterday, was home plumbing the depths of an essay.
        Particular thanks to Greg for pointing out the distinction between the Eastern and Western forms of the creed. Although, as Matthew alluded to I think there were other things going on that led to the split between the two branches.
        Also thanks Michael for chipping in. I would definitely include the Athanasian creed as a creed and not a formula of the church. Matthew is bang on…if you’re at an Anglican church, have you ever said it? If it is said at all it seems to be reserved for Trinity Sunday…
        Thanks again.

  10. I’ve been thinking bout this for a few years now. I think that if we absolutely had to com up with a new creed, then it should have a greater reflection on the biblical narrative. Particularly, it would need to say something about Israel…

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