“No creed for me! Just the Bible! Churches that confess creeds are holding to man’s word, not God’s!” These are some of the arguments sometimes leveled against confessional Lutheran churches for our use of confessions and creeds. So why did the Christian Church write them, and why do we still confess them today? Isn’t the Bible good enough? Absolutely it is! But that is exactly why we need creeds.
Creeds are not meant as a replacement for Scripture, or even an interpretation of it. We also do not hold to them insofar as they align with Scripture. Rather, as with all of the Lutheran confessions, we hold to them because they are clear and faithful witnesses to what Scripture itself says and what we believe. (The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo, which means “I believe.”)
As confessional Lutherans, we read the Bible knowing that Scripture interprets Scripture. We absolutely hold to God’s Word and wish it was all that was needed. But we also recognize that, as some have said, “The Word of God is like an ocean, so shallow a child can play in it, yet so deep an elephant could drown.” And so, because of its depth, as well as the deceitfulness of men’s hearts, and the devil’s ongoing attempts to infiltrate the Church, we must provide clear witness as to its meaning.
And so the Lutheran Church is a “creedal church.” Confessional Lutheranism has always held to the three ecumenical creeds that date back to the early Christian Church—the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. The Apostles’ Creed was compiled almost directly from various Scripture passages and served as a “baptismal” creed, confessed by early Christian converts as they were baptized into the Christian Church. The Nicene and Athanasian creeds were both written in response to heresies that were threatening or infiltrating the Christian Church.
Today, congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod still confess either the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed almost every Sunday. The Athanasian Creed is often confessed on Trinity Sunday. The continued confession of these creeds today serves to define and defend our fellowship. In his first letter to the Romans, Paul warns us to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). Along with the Lutheran confessions, creeds mark out what the Bible teaches so we can more easily recognize these divisions and obstacles.
But creeds do not only guard against divisions. They also signify our unity in belief with the early Christian Church for, as Peter writes in his second epistle, we do not follow “cleverly invented stories” (2 Peter 1:16). Furthermore, they unite us with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ today. Paul urges us to “be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10, emphasis added). The creeds help show our united confession. Along with the other Lutheran confessions, they are used in determining fellowship.
As one can see, creeds do not replace the Bible, speak for it, or interpret it. Instead, they lay out how the Bible interprets itself, they defend against errors, and they unite us as members of a confessional Lutheran church. May God always keep us in the one, true, saving faith. Soli Deo Gloria!
Reverend Peter Heyn
Peace Lutheran Church