From the simplicity of the Apostles’ Creed spawned an ever-increasing number of doctrinal statements, with ever-increasing length and complexity. Some of the more well-known and famous doctrinal statements of church history include the following:
- The Nicene Creed (325 AD)
- The Second Nicene Creed (381 AD)
- The Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD)
- The Canons of Constantinople (869 AD)
- The Augsburg Confession (1530 AD)
- The First Helvitic Confession (1536 AD)
- The Council of Trent (1542-1563 AD)
- The Belgic Confession (1561 AD)
- The Thirty-Nine Article (1571 AD)
- The Canons of Dordt (1618 AD)
- The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646 AD)
- Vatican II (1962-1965 AD)
- The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978 AD)
These statements and creeds are only some of the more well-known and widely accepted by large segments of Christianity. We are at the point today where there are thousands of different doctrinal statements for the thousands of different denominations, churches, and ministries. While the vast majority of these doctrinal statements were created primarily for the purpose of defining one group’s distinctive beliefs without condemning those who believe differently, nearly every statement contains points that are considered “non-negotiable” and which will cause churches to separate from others who believe differently, and even condemn these other groups as “unsaved.”
Why Have Creeds?
Ultimately, the reason behind the development of all of these statements remains the same. While on the surface, people claim that the statements are so we can know the truth, the statements ultimately come down to a desire to control and condemn others. If you disagree with this, just suggest to you pastor that the church discard its doctrinal statement and then see what he says. He will most often say something along the following lines:
We need the doctrinal statement so people know what we believe, and so we can take a stand on the truth. If we got rid of it, how would we know who could teach Sunday school, and who could lead Bible studies, and who could preach sermons? What is stopping a Mormon, or a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Universalist, or an Arminian from becoming a member and teaching their heresy to others?
People want to know who is a true Christian, and who is not. They want to be able to divide the saints from the sinners. The Orthodox from the Heretics. They want to know who is in, and who is out. Creeds and doctrinal statements help do this.
On the surface, this is commendable. Taking a stand for truth is always commendable. And I admit that those who write doctrinal statements are hoping to define and defend the truth, to protect it from all the lies and false teaching that is out there.
But there are several problems with the development of doctrinal statements as a way of protecting the truth. First, they set us up as judge instead of Jesus. Second, they end up destroying the truth and destroying people, rather than defending the truth or protecting people. And finally, they completely miss the entire point of the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus.
We will look at each of these problems in later posts, before turning to suggest a solution for how we can know and live the truth as Jesus intended. I am not against right doctrine; just against the improper use of doctrine.