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Creeds: An Ancient Remedy for the Global Church

Should church leaders encourage non-western churches to use the creeds in worship and discipleship? Some say no. For them, the creeds are rigid, old-school, and irrelevant. Others add that the creeds smack of western colonial encroachment. But as I hope to argue, the church makes a grave error in shelving the creeds. On the contrary, more than ever, we need the ancient creeds to ground the modern church in sound, biblical doctrine. More than ever, we need the ancient creeds to ground the modern church in sound, biblical doctrine Click To Tweet

Recently, the Spirit has been moving in power, threatening old Satanic strongholds. The church is yet again expanding her tents to welcome new believers (Is. 54). This is especially true in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. God has promised these new believers that he will soon crush Satan under their feet (Rom. 16:20). Knowing this, Satan desires to neutralize new believers in their infancy.

Possibly Fatal If Ingested

Consider the problem. New believers are especially vulnerable to false doctrine because they have not yet learned what is food and what is poison. This was driven home to me in a very personal way. I was prepping my sermon in the most obscure nook of Gonzaga University’s library. The internet in that forsaken corner was terrible, so I wouldn’t be tempted to that distraction, and my phone was turned off. These were the conditions I favored for deep study. But somehow, thank God, someone found me. My wife had been desperately trying to reach me. While her back was turned our two year-old had crawled onto the kitchen table and chugged some lamp oil (why do they make it look so much like kool-aid?). Within minutes his eyes rolled back and he passed out. I was to meet the ambulance at the hospital. It was a moment of real terror for us. He’s okay now—a thriving teenage fridge-scourge. But at the time, if only he could have read the warning label. It said, “Possibly fatal if ingested.” But he was just a toddler.

What a joy when the church is jammed with new believers! But as the family grows, so does the responsibility to keep everyone fed. Though these newborns need the “pure spiritual milk of the Word” in order to thrive (1 Pet. 2:1-2), sometimes spiritual leaders unknowingly fill the milk bottle with lamp oil. They do this because 95% of pastors have no formal training in Bible or theology. Don’t read past that too quickly. 95%. Selah. Now if the pastors themselves are not nourished in sound doctrine, how can we expect them to nourish those they shepherd? The takeaway is that if we do not feed the children, Satan will. If the church neglects Christ’s call to discipleship, Satan will surely fill the vacuum.If the church neglects Christ’s call to discipleship, Satan will surely fill the vacuum. Click To Tweet

Historically, one of the most basic ways the church has nourished believers and protected them from error is through creeds. The word “creed” comes from the Latin verb credo, which means “I believe.” Thus, a creed simply states what the church believes the Bible to teach. Indeed, much of the language of the Apostle’s Creed is itself drawn directly from Scripture. And creeds are inevitable. Everyone has one. Everyone believes something about God—even atheists, who deny him. But to confess a creed is to state what you believe openly, and thus to invite accountability. Some creeds, like the Apostle’s, were proactive creeds. Others, like the Nicene Creed and others, were written to thwart specific heresies.  Thus, creeds serve as doctrinal warning labels. Danger! Arianism! Possibly fatal if ingested!

Consider how potent are creeds as an antidote to error. Combine their brevity with their weekly use in worship and the result is that, across the world and across the ages, the whole Christian church is affirming, confessing, and memorizing the same doctrinal statement. Think of it as a weekly inoculation against error, combined with a powerful cocktail of doctrinal mega-vitamins. Creeds impart both discernment and nourishment.

Western encroachment? 

Some might object that to encourage the use of creeds by majority world churches is just one more instance of western colonialism. But this charge of colonialism cannot stand. On the one hand, the ecumenical creeds were not hammered out in the West, but in the Middle East and Asia Minor. After all, delegates to many of the early councils were more likely to come from Africa than Western Europe. And at the same time, creeds work directly against some of the worst Western exports: individualism and postmodernism. Believers coming to faith in majority world contexts are far more oriented to their new community than we westerners, and the creeds—being deeply communal—encourage this connectivity. Through them, the worldwide church across the centuries confesses what is “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Confessing ancient creeds shows honor and respect to our fathers (who were themselves grounded in Scripture), presents unity in the midst of modern fragmentation, and provides each believer with a summary of major Bible truths. It is just the inoculation needed for Western, postmodern “my truth is not your truth” hoo-ha. It identifies a truth that is objective, unchanging, and immoveable.

Pakistan has once again made it into the Top 5 countries where Christians are most persecuted. But on a recent trip there, I was astounded and encouraged by how the use of creeds had helped preserve the health of the churches we visited—despite the prosperity gospel ravaging many of their neighboring congregations. Along with God’s people all over the world, these dear Pakistani brothers and sisters confessed their common faith from memory. For them, it was not capitulation to western colonialism. To them, it was robust, biblical truth which bound them together with their spiritual family all over the world, and across millennia. To them it is life, and health, and community.

Joost Nixon

Joost Nixon is the Director of Formal Education at Training Leaders International. He leads efforts to plant and nurture pastoral training schools in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He served as a missionary in South Africa, and then pastored and planted churches in the Northwest for fifteen years. Joost and his wife, Kristen, have six boys and two daughters.

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