Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What are the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements?

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1 Corinthians 8:6-7 "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled."

Introduction: Creeds, Confessions and Doctrinal Statements
Today's post aims to offer an introductory discussion on the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements. The point: to better understand why some Christian church bodies use these similarly related terms. Undoubtedly, there may be some who would desire further improvement upon whatever explanation is offered below. With that said, the following thoughts aim to convey a possible starting point for considerations of how Christians through the millennia has expressed the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (see Jude 1:3).

To begin, when Christian refer to "creeds", "confessions" and "doctrinal statements", what exactly is being discussed? Although all three terms sound similar, there are distinctions. For sure, all three terms have great overlap and are often interchanged with one another. Still, there can be some distinctions drawn that can be instructive in understanding what Christians believe and how they communicate such. 

Creeds The term "creed" comes from the Latin credo meaning one's statement about what they believe. When we refer to "the creeds", most mean the three main historic creeds of the 4th, 5th and into the 6th centuries (Apostles' creed, Nicene creed and Chaledonian creed). In many churches throughout the world today, such creeds are recited by Christian to convey what they "believe" upon the basis of scripture. Such creeds providing a historical framework by which Christian confess the faith "once for all delivered to the saints". Below is what is called "The Apostles' Creed": 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. 

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic (or universal) church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.


The second term, "confession", is like a creed, only with additional explanatory material including proof texts. Confessions are used more in teaching or doctrinal instruction settings to bolster the faith of new converts and the faith of congregants so as to supplement Biblical instruction that derives primarily from the exposition of God's Word. 

Sometimes, possible questions and answers (also called "catechisms") may be connected to such confessions. Catechisms serve to instruct new converts (called in the ancient church "catechumens"). Churches such as various Reformed churches (deriving their history from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century), some earlier Baptist bodies and Lutheran churches (historically traceable to Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer and claiming of course earlier roots back to the early church fathers) have confessions. Examples of confessions would include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Lutheran Formula of Concord and the Baptist Confession of 1689.

Doctrinal Statements With creeds used by some congregations to recite what they believe in worship services and confessions of faith functioning to impart doctrinal instruction in one form or another, what about that third category: doctrinal statements? Doctrinal statements aim to not only instruct people who are already Christians, but serve as written summaries of what Christian bodies teach for all to read. Doctrinal statements, like creeds and confessions, derive their material from the Bible, but their particular subjects or headings are attempting to communication Christian doctrine to the culture. 

Hence, in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we find articles such as Article 18 entitled "The Family" to summarize the Biblical teaching on marriage and the family in light of what has been the seismic shift in culture concerning the family. Typically, doctrinal statements (or what are sometimes called 'statements of faith') will not be as exhaustive as confessions, since doctrinal statements tend to be somewhat evangelistic as well as summaries of Christian teaching for instruction in churches. 

Closing thoughts
It is important to understand Church history and how Christian people of every generation have developed their understanding of God's Word in interactions with one another and culture. Discerning the distinctions between creeds, confessions and doctrinal statements can aid Christians in perhaps understanding other believers that derive from various denominations and which use slightly different terms. This post aimed to hopefully shed some light, recognizing that what was written only provides a very general thumbnail sketch. May God be glorified as Christians everywhere continue to confess the living Faith handed down by the Prophets, Christ and the Apostles through the inerrant Old and New Testaments. 

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