PMT 2014-019b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is my third article on the function of creeds within Christianity. I will take up at my fifth argument for the purpose of creeds.
Fifth, creeds offer a witness to the truth to those outside the Church.
In many ways the Church is to be the “light of the world” (Matt 5.14). Various methods are available by which to carry the light of the truth into the world. The framing of a well-composed creed is one significant means.
Basically the question which outsiders ask the Church is: “What do you believe?” Non-creedal churches reply: “We believe the Bible.” Creedal churches respond further: “We believe the Bible, and we have written out exactly what it is that we believe the Bible teaches, which is….” The primary question, “What do you believe?” (to which the proper response is “the Bible”) must be followed up by the more searching question: “What do you believe the Bible teaches?”
Creeds witness to the truth to those outside the bounds of the covenant community by: (1) clearly outlining and explicating the fundamental assertions of Christianity; (2) seriously warning against misbelief; (3) vigorously defending the truth from corruptions; (4) boldly witnessing to the unity and order of the Christian system; (5) carefully demonstrating the continuity and immutability of the historic Christian faith; (6) publicly demonstrating the rational, objective content of Christian truth (as against mis-perceptions such as a belief that Christian faith is a mystic, blind leap); and so on.
Sixth, creeds provide a standard by which to judge new teachings arising within the Church.
This function obviously relates to ideas embodied in several of the above-mentioned functions. But its usefulness in an age prone to cultism deserves separate and especial emphasis. “Christian” cults are a particularly dangerous phenomenon in that they proselytize by appeal to Scripture. Cults have been called “the unpaid bills of the Church.” Creeds guard against cultic aberrations by clearly providing a proper interpretation of essential truths. The more clearly, systematically, and concisely truth is stated, the less likely people are to stray from it in the fog of deception.
Maintaining a standard of truth in the Church is in keeping with apostolic example. 1 John 4:1 warns: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they be of God.” Immediately following this John provides a specific test point or standard of judgment (creed): “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from, God.” This credo was formulated in response to a particular error infecting the early Church: docetism taught that Christ was really not a material person, but only seemed (Gk.: dokeo) to have a material body. We could cite numerous references following the pattern of 1 John 4 (e.g., Gal 1:8, 9; 2 John 10; Rev 2:2; etc.).
Because of the relentless assaults on the Church from without and the internal buffetings from within, creeds are crucial defensive instruments. As Bannerman aptly observes: “Had the adoption of confessions and creeds not been a duty laid upon the Church by a regard to her own members, it would have been a necessity laid upon the Church by a regard to those not her members, but her enemies.”