The Usefulness of Creeds
I was recently talking with an old friend of mine, who has been a Christian for many years. He and his family had grown up in the Episcopal Church, faithfully going to service and going through the motions, saying the creeds and singing the hymns. However, going through the motions was all they did. The teaching was not solid, and it did not contain basic truths about salvation. Because of this, there was no growth, no faith in Christ, and no repentance. My friend was the first in his family to realize his need for a savior, and he ended up repenting and putting his trust in Christ. His family followed suit soon after, and were also saved. They then moved to a different church, where they could more effectively grow in faith. This happened over 50 years ago. Now after all these years, he asked his family what they remembered about their early years in the old Episcopal Church. Most of them couldn’t remember much specifically about the Church itself, the service, or the people. But there was a common thread running through their answers: they all clearly remembered the Creeds, and were able to recite them on command. After all the time they spent every week in the Church, the Creeds were one thing that was constant in each service. While they weren’t being fed spiritually by the teaching of the Church, the basic Christian truths that can be found in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds are a part of Church tradition that has always been useful. The early Church fathers wrote the Creeds to be a helpful tool to provide a short and concise summary of the most basic truths of Christianity. They acknowledged that it was a creation of man, and was therefore always to be subject to the Word of God, but was easily memorized for quick access to Biblical truth. Many people, while they don’t learn much from the teaching of the Church itself in their early lives, have the Creeds burned into their memories and are able to recall them decades later (like my friend and his family). “Vain repetition” is a term often levelled at old-church traditions like the Creeds. It is said that just repeating something over and over creates a sense of “same-ness” that allows for wandering minds, and can distract from constructive and enlightened thought. If people are encouraged to get into a rhythm, they will stagnate and go through the motions without much thought. Because the Creeds are learned by recitation week after week, they are prime candidates for becoming vain, or so the thought goes. The counter-argument, however, is that absolutely any form of worship has the potential to become vain repetition if a person’s mind is not actively engaging the worship material. Creeds are just as likely to become stale as the worship music that so many people use in more contemporary services. What matters is that truth is being conveyed, and that the listeners’ ears are receptive to that truth. Again, the writings of man are no replacement for the Word of God. The creeds are a poor substitute for the reading and memorization of Scripture. The Creeds are easy and short, and just deep enough to get the very basics into hearts and minds through repetition. Even if the repetition is vain at the time, those small seeds may someday grow into fruit that will bless the bearers for the next 50 years.