I intend to follow up the exploration of the Ten Words with an explanation of the Apostle's Creed. For those paying attention, I am following the order presented in Luther's Small Catechism. But why? Why do we need creeds? We have the Bible. Isn't that good enough?
The word 'creed' comes from the Latin word credo which means "I believe." If Christianity were merely an exercise in reading various Scripture passages without believing anything about them, then we could abolish creeds. Or could we?
Deut. 6:4 Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our Elohim, Yahweh alone.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is a creed. So to be anti-creed is to be anti-Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the Shema and is considered to be the central creed of Judaism. The Shema also stands as the basis for the central teaching of Christianity and as the basis for the early Christian creeds.
Matt. 16:16: Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Peter gets his creed on when Jesus asks Peter who Peter believes that Jesus is. Peter responds with a statement of belief. I could produce many other examples of creeds in the Bible but hopefully you get the general idea.
The slogan "No Creed but Christ!" or "I don't believe in creeds" are self-refuting absurdities. When you say that you don't believe in creeds you are making a statement of belief--you are saying a creed!
The truth of the Gospel was first transmitted orally. The New Testament church existed prior to the formation of the New Testament Canon. Even after the New Testament was written, the Apostolic Doctrine was also transmitted orally. People did not have Bibles in their homes until very recently.
2 Timothy 1:13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
Paul instructs Timothy to hold fast to this oral Apostolic teaching.
1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
Paul tells the church in Corinth to keep the traditions that he has orally transmitted to them.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
Paul explicitly tells the church in Thessalonica that they are to hold to both the oral and written traditions that Paul taught them.
Paul is making reference to what is referred to as the regula fidei or rule of faith. The regula fidei is what separated Christianity from paganism. The regula fidei is not a particular creed--it is a way of life and an entire body of doctrine. We have evidence that baptismal creeds began to be developed very early in the church. These baptismal creeds were creeds that had to be memorized and confessed by adult converts prior to being baptized. These baptismal creeds were derived from the regula fidei. Eventually, these baptismal creeds which varied by region became standardized and in the west they took the form of what has come to be known as The Apostle's Creed. The Apostle's Creed was not written by the Apostle's but it faithfully summarizes the Apostolic teaching of what it means to be a Christian. The church faced controversies in their interpretation of Scripture and appealed to the regula fidei as providing the correct understanding of Scripture. Problems arise when people either dismiss the regula fidei which leads to interpretational chaos as we find it in today's evangelicalism or expand the regual fidei to include non-Apostolic doctrine and confuse it with the Scriptures as we find it in Roman Catholicism.
I'm indebted to Dr. Voelz for the following analogy. The Scripture is like an expensive dress that comes with swatches. The swatches exist both to repair the dress and to test the authenticity of the dress, but they are not the dress. If you took the dress to the dry cleaners and became suspicious that the cleaners gave you a different dress back than what you took in, you could compare the swatches with the dress to confirm its authenticity. The creeds allow us to determine which books are canonical. The early church didn't just arbitrarily dismiss various books from the canon. Books were not included because they contained doctrine which was contrary to the known Apostolic teaching. The Roman Catholic church is like the factory that used to produce the old dress. The dress looks similar but the fabrics and the colors have changed. The changes have occurred bit by bit over a long span of time. The new dress of Roman Catholicism is related to the old dress but is not the old dress.
The creeds are also helpful in determining the core teachings of Christianity. The Bible contains a lot of doctrine and without a guide it can be easy to get focused on some obscure passage and miss the point. The creeds are focused on Christ and the Trinity. The creeds are focused upon the Lamb on the Altar who suffered and died for you. The creeds don't say anything about tithing, the antichrist, or the power of positive thinking. The creeds are Christ-centered because all Biblical interpretation must be Christ-centered or it is not Christian.
Modernism has fooled the world into thinking that Scripture must be interpreted completely objectively and by someone standing outside of the story. Evangelicalism has added to the problem by encouraging everyone to study the Bible in their closet. Evangelicalism says we should do away with creeds because all we need is the Holy Spirit. In doing so, evangelicalism makes a mockery of the Holy Spirit because all these closet-interpreters are contradicting each other.
The Scriptures were written to a particular audience. If you read the letters of Paul, you will find that they are addressed to the church. They are not addressed to the seeker or the atheist. They are written to the Christian community. Correct interpretation of the Scriptures can only be achieved if you are part of that Christian community and hold to the regula fidei.