Why Do We Read Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms?
Is Jesus really the same as God or just the highest created being? Does true authority lie with the church or in scripture alone? How does the Trinity work together? Are we saved by grace alone or grace plus my belief? What is the purpose of man? These questions and more have been dealt with by the church over the centuries.
Often a controversial idea would begin to gain traction in some corner of the kingdom and over time more and more Christians would begin to adopt these ideas. In order to keep unity in the church, the church fathers would gather together in council, much like they did at the council of Nicaea in 325 or at the Westminster Assembly in 1646. After discussion, debate, prayer, and study, the council would declare its findings. Sometimes this came in the form of a confession or catechism. We trace our statement of faith back to the Westminster Confession and the Catechisms which came out of the Westminster Assembly. In other instances, a creed would be published, affirming what the church truly believed. Two very familiar examples of these would be the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
When we read creeds, confessions, and catechisms in our corporate time of worship we honor those who have preserved the doctrine of the church throughout the centuries. We also affirm our continued belief in the cornerstones of our faith. When we recite these things together we show our unity around these doctrines which clearly distinguish our faith from all other religions. The brevity of a catechism question or creed also gives us an easy way to remember the essentials of what we believe.
Theologian Kim Riddlebarger sums this up well at the end of his article on the Apostles’ Creed. He says that many churches still recite the creed because “there is great need to summarize the teaching of Scripture and to identify with the faithful who have gone before…” In a culture where beliefs seems to change as frequently as the weather, it is important for us to have ways to remind ourselves of what we believe and to remember that we do not stand alone, but rather stand together with the whole people of God upon the same beliefs which the church was founded upon 2,000 years ago.