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The Need for the Creed

Friends, I call your attention to a significant moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. Next month four Southern Baptists, Andrew Brown, Stephen Lorance, Steve McKinion, and Malcolm Yarnell, will move that the Messengers amend the BFM with the article, “The Creed.” The creed they are referring to is none other than the Nicene Creed and in the essay below they provide three reasons why they believe the time to do so is now. May I ask that you pray for these men and please consider supporting this move for the sake of the church.

-Matthew Barrett, editor-in-chief, Credo Magazine


For the sake of doctrinal clarity and increased unity within the Southern Baptist Convention, we recently announced our intention to move that the Messengers meeting in June 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana amend the Baptist Faith and Message by adding an article entitled, “The Creed.” Therefore, we wanted to share a few reasons why we believe it is necessary for Southern Baptists to adopt this ancient universal statement of the true Christian faith without delay and without qualification.

First, the Nicene Creed authoritatively articulates the primary doctrines of the Christian faith from the Christian Scriptures. After the meeting of the Nicene Council in 325, widespread agreement developed to faithfully articulate biblical truth against gross heresies that falsely portray who God is, reaching its dominant form in 381 at the Council of Constantinople. The ecumenical Creed has since provided a brilliant summary of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Based on extensive, careful, and thorough exegesis of Scripture, the Creed establishes once and for all that God is Trinity, that the Father is Almighty, and that he is the Creator of all things. It continues by defending at length the full deity and full humanity of the one Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel of his death and resurrection, and that his Kingdom is eternal. It also affirms the deity of the Holy Spirit, our need to worship God the Spirit with the Father and the Son, and the reality of the church and the resurrection.

The oldest generations of Baptists quoted the Nicene Creed verbatim. Click To TweetAs such, the Creed was more substantial than a mere confession. Even the various framers of the Baptist Faith and Message understood some truths were so fundamental they must be called a “creed.” Creeds, they believed, encapsulated the teaching of Scripture required for Christianity, whereas confessions denominated one Christian church or group of churches from another. What is more, The Preamble’s five limiting statements, which have been rightly and repeatedly stated through the last century, need a creed to help center the confession and simultaneously demonstrate that our faith is truly Christian.

For those nervous about “creedalism,” please recognize that The Preamble to our Baptist Faith and Message describes confessions as limited in purpose and utility, and the first article wisely places Scripture as the judge of “all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions.” The 1963 Committee affirmed creeds even as they limited confessional statements: “Such statements have never been regarded as complete, infallible statements of faith, nor as official creeds carrying mandatory authority.” In other words, the authority of the Creed, while more pronounced than our multiple confessions, is itself ruled by Scripture.

As Baptists we have the opportunity to use this moment to go farther than those who locate authority within a confession, council, or creed. Baptists have always been a people who were not confused in Whom our authority rests. Our authority is the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in his holy, infallible, and inerrant Word. The value of the Nicene Creed is its faithful and culturally appropriate retelling of the story of Scripture with Christ as the centerpiece of Scripture’s intention, as he explained to the disciples on the Emmaus way (Luke 24:13-35). As Baptists we can make our contribution to the ongoing symphony of faithful theological dialogue by insisting the Creed is useful insomuch as it faithfully articulates our authority: our one Lord and Mediator, Jesus Christ, who has revealed himself and his will through his inspired and inerrant Word.

Second, for nearly two millennia Christians have universally used the Creed for both teaching and worship. It should be noted, therefore, that in proposing the Creed’s inclusion within the confession we are simply following established precedent both within the church more broadly and specifically in Baptist life. In fact, the oldest generations of Baptists either quoted the Creed verbatim (cf. The Orthodox Creed, art. 38) or otherwise used its excellent teachings to provide doctrinal clarity for their own confessions. Moreover, the usefulness and necessity of the Creed is assumed in our younger Baptist Faith and Message. We cannot, however, assume familiarity with the Creed as prior generations of Southern Baptists could.

To that end, the Creed has helped many Christians throughout the ages to learn and confess the faith even as it has kept others from falling into many heresies and errors. At the time of Nicaea, it was crafted to address ancient heresies such as Arianism, Marcellianism, and Pneumatomachianism. But many of those dangers still plague true Christian confession to this day. A case in point occurred when evangelicals recently came to realize that Modern scholars had tampered with the Trinity, even denying the eternal generation of the Son. Many have since regretted that error, for which we praise the Lord. But following precedent in both exposure to and humble reception of this universal Creed’s clear affirmations might have kept Baptists from denying a vital aspect of the faith in the first place. What is more, it may prove a needed boundary marker against future temptations to false doctrine.

The necessity of the Creed is assumed in our younger Baptist Faith and Message. We cannot, however, assume familiarity with the Creed as prior generations of Southern Baptists could. Click To Tweet Third, and most importantly, the Creed is a robust and indisputable summary of orthodox Christian belief in the two most central and indispensable dogmas of the universal Christian faith: God the Trinity and the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes very clear that God the Lord is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It affirms all three Persons are one Lord and share one essence. It explicitly states both the eternal generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. It preaches the gospel well: The Son, who is “God from God,” descended to become a man in the Virgin Mary, suffered and died, and arose from the dead on the third day. We are also reminded that the Son ascended to sit on the throne of God, that he will come again, and that his Kingdom is never relinquished. Furthermore, the Creed recalls the fundamental gospel truth that Christ came for us and for our salvation, that God is for his creatures as demonstrated through the cross of Christ. It helps us see that a missional intent to our witness flows from the very essence of God. Therefore, God’s very missional enterprise, his identity in the way he makes himself known to us, becomes the very heartbeat of our missional endeavor.

Some of these indispensable truths may have been assumed by our confession’s original framers, but they were, unfortunately, not included. As the Dean of Southern Baptist theologians, James Leo Garrett Jr. noted, even the most recent version of the Baptist Faith and Message remains “underdeveloped” regarding the Trinity. With so much at stake in the churches and in the culture, we Southern Baptists must not allow such underdevelopment to wait another term. We simply cannot assume agreement with these fundamental, universal, and ecumenical dogmas anymore, lest in our assumption we cede the ground to those with appealing yet careless arguments.

If we do not speak with certainty about the truths with the church throughout the ages, we will invariably find that our faith and message, no matter how well-intentioned, diverges from that once for all delivered to the saints. Click To TweetBaptists, we would be wise to offer an affirmation of the biblical Faith summarized and articulated clearly in the Creed. The Creed is a robust and indisputable summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ embraced by all true Christians in all places. At a time when denominations are abandoning the faith at an alarming rate in favor of gender ideologies, secularist politics, and universalistic dogmas, we as Southern Baptists must restate in clear and unambiguous terms our singular, unifying, Christ-honoring, God-exalting, Spirit-empowered faith. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, is our one Lord. If we do not speak with certainty about the truths with the church throughout the ages, we will invariably find that our faith and message, no matter how well-intentioned, diverges from that once for all delivered to the saints. We can, and must, learn to offer with full understanding this biblical, Trinitarian benediction to one another: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

Andrew Brown, Stephen Lorance, Steve McKinion, and Malcolm Yarnell

May 30, 2024


Article XIX: The Creed

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. By him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he descended from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again, in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom shall have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], and who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the Prophets. And in one holy universal and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

__________

At the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June 2024, Lord willing, we plan to move, and pray the Messengers will agree unanimously, that the Baptist Faith and Message be amended by the adoption of this article, which is also known as the Nicene Creed.

Andrew Brown, Stephen Lorance, Steven McKinion, Malcolm Yarnell

Malcolm B. Yarnell III

Malcolm B. Yarnell III (PhD, Oxford University) is Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and teaching pastor at Lakeside Baptist Church of Granbury, Texas. He is the author of three widely-reviewed books, the first on systematic theology, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (B&H Academic, 2007); the second on biblical theology, God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (B&H Academic, 2016); and the third on historical theology, Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation (Oxford University Press, 2014). He recently published a treatise on philosophical theology, John Locke’s ‘Letters of Gold’ (Oxford, 2017), and co-authored a book on covenant ecclesiology, The Fourth Strand of the Reformation (Oxford, 2018).

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