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Modern Christianity in the United States has become so non-doctrinal that the common assumption is that just believing in Jesus is all that is necessary to be a Christian. But that begs the questions of who is Jesus; what is Jesus; and, why is it important to believe in Jesus. No one can be a Christian without believing certain things about the Christian faith and, particularly, Jesus. These things may be called doctrines, or teachings, but they are far more than just doctrines, they are actual facts. These facts are vital to the Christian faith and must be believed for one to be a genuine Christian. Belief in these facts involves much more than just an intellectual assent to them; it involves confidence in and reliance upon the facts. This kind of belief brings about regeneration of the soul and restores one to a right relationship with God. These facts expressed as doctrines, or teachings, are things to be believed, or, if you please, they are a creed—a credere.

In spite of the necessity of these doctrines of fact, there are those who are against the use of any and all creeds in the Christian church. It is felt that creeds limit what people believe concerning the faith and interfere with a Christian’s ability to discern deeper truths of the Scriptures. It is asserted that creeds were written by men; therefore, they must fall short of all truth and contain some degree of error or false doctrine. Yes, creeds were written by men and, by definition, they do not contain all the truth of Scripture; and, yes, some creeds contain error, or at least they contain denominationally distinctive statements of certain beliefs that some may consider to be error. For this reason, Christians should be very careful as to what creed or creeds they may accept and to understand exactly what is taught in the creed either by inclusion or by exclusion.


Primitivism And Creeds


Christian Primitivism, also known as Restorationism, is a church movement founded on the belief that a purer form of Christianity can be achieved by following the model of the Early Church. There are several denominations and church groups that grew out of this movement that have survived and are very active in today’s church world. In spite of the existence of these churches, the movement never consolidated or unified, the reason being that each group that formed around the movement had different views on what the Early Church model really is and how it should be expressed in the modern environment. The movement had a single philosophy but no unifying creed and was doomed to division from its inception.

Restorationism was birthed on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening (1790–1840). The Protestant Reformation succeeded in restoring the essential teachings of salvation through faith but it was not successful in calling out a united church. National Protestant Churches were established in Europe and those churches followed their members as they migrated to North America, where they found cause to divide along social and ethnic lines creating many denominations, each with their individual creeds or confessions. The Restoration Movement was altruistic at its inception having a two-fold goal to reform “the church” from within and to unite all Christians in a single body patterned after the New Testament Church. The most recognized body representing Primitivism was the Stone-Campbell Movement, which later morphed into the various factions of the Churches of Christ.

Among Primitivists it was believed that the various divisions within Catholicism and Protestantism were the result of the apostasy of Christianity in general. The different creeds of the various churches and denominations were seen as major impediments to any kind of unity among Christians as these creeds caused people to believe different things rather than to have a common faith. The Primitivists held that the Early Church as seen in the New Testament must be taken as the absolute model for the Christian Church and since the Early Church had no creeds, according to Primitivists, the Modern Church should have no creeds either. They believed that without creeds, Christians would have only the Bible, which would be sufficient to guarantee a united faith and a united Church.

The Church of God Reformation Movement, centering around the holiness paper “The Gospel Trumpet” and charismatic leaders such as Daniel Warner, began around 1880 and took the same attitude against creeds. It condemned creeds as the cause of division and strongly preached the Bible as the only rule of faith. Charles Naylor in his song The Church’s Jubilee articulates the position in these words: “The Bible is our rule of faith and Christ alone is Lord.” The implication is that creeds are not the Bible and they have no place in the faith of the Church; to accept a creed is to reject the proper lordship of Jesus Christ over His Church. D. O. Teasley expressed this belief even stronger in his song Back to the Blessed Old Bible: “Back from the land of confusion, Free from the bondage of creeds; Back to the light of the morning, Jesus our Captain leads.” The perhaps somewhat naïve conclusion is that creeds cause division and hold Christians in an ecclesiastic bondage that causes them not to follow Christ. Richard Niebuhr in his book The Social Sources of Denominationalism debunks this conclusion and ably shows that the propagation of denominationalism in the United States is largely a habitual pattern of new groups coming out of old groups, which, in turn, become old groups out of which new groups emerge. While doctrinal issues may be involved in forming new groups, the major factors were more ethnic and social factors.

E. E. Byrum in his book The Secret of Salvation proclaims the Primitivist’s prejudice against creed in strong language:


Hear what the Lord says: Come out from among such ones. These religious creeds and associations organized by men, make a regular spiritual confusion, which the Word of God terms Babylon; and the time has now come when God is calling his people out of such. And he says in Colossians 2:10, “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” And in Revelation 18:4 says, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” As the light and truth of God’s word goes forth it draws the line between God’s church and the creeds of men. God has many children in the various creeds, but from the scripture just quoted we find that he is calling them out, because their rules and disciplines and regulations so separate and divide the people of God that they do not dare to believe alike, and God in his word says it is his will that they be of one mind, one accord, one heart, and all speak the same thing. They will never do so as long as they stay in the various creeds of division! This is one of the yokes that needs to be taken off, or for a person to get out from under in order to get the experience set forth in the Word of God. People often think they must join some so called church or association in order to have a home, just as if the Word was not true where it says, “Ye are complete in him;” and he is our Father, Jesus Christ our elder brother, and all who are children of God our brothers and sisters; all belong to the same family, and are at home when we are in Christ Jesus.[1] (Italic added for emphasis.)


Byrum asserts that denominational Christians dare not believe alike because of their various creeds. He claims that those who are held in denominational sectarianism are held there because they have been lead to believe their specific creed and church are the only means of salvation and there can be no salvation in the creeds of other churches or denominations. Byrum’s solution was for people to throw off the yoke of their creeds and submit only to the Word of God; “God is calling people out of such.” This thinking was revolutionary and very powerful in its day, and it did help many people to come to a real experience of salvation from sin they otherwise might not have found through the teachings of, and membership in, their particular churches.


Attitudes Have Changed


Times have changed since the advent of the Restoration Movement and the attitudes of the denominations have changed allowing for tolerance and general acceptance of all Christians, regardless of their creeds or confessions. In our day people have very little loyalty to any church or denomination, let alone to a church’s particular teachings. People in general are less Biblically literate than they were 130 years ago and for this reason creeds are no longer an issue. Nevertheless, Christians do believe something, or at least they should believe something. Holiness churches and other such “Bible” churches like to boast that they have no creed but the Bible; but that tends to be more braggadocio than substance. 1 Peter 3:15 mandates that we not only believe the teachings essential for salvation and a right relationship with God, but that we must also be able to articulate these beliefs to others, our credere: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

To say we have no creed but the Bible obligates one to quote the entire Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 every time someone asks us what we believe. This may sound silly but it is the natural consequence of such a statement. Failing to quote every passage in the Bible would shorten or abridge what we say about the faith making our statement of faith less comprehensive than it really is. But then, this is the definition of a creed. Most devout and sincere Christians would never think of quoting the entire Bible in explaining what they believe; instead they would summarize what they believe to be the most crucial points. There is no doubt that they would quote some passages of Scripture at length, but most of what they would say would be summary statements in their own words of the important teachings. In other words, they are making a creedal statement—a credere.


The Problem Of No Creeds


Modern Christians may feel that doctrinal issues are no longer important, or that they are divisive, and choose to ignore them. Yet, there are those who are well versed in Scripture but have no concept of what is sufficient or essential to pass on to inquirers. Jesus commanded His church to “preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). These extremes present an evangelical conundrum in spreading the gospel.

It is one thing to tell inquirers to believe in Jesus but how can they effectively do this if they don’t know what it means to believe in Jesus or why that is so important? On the other hand, if inquirers are overwhelmed with biblical facts or with more information they can assimilate, it still presents the problem for them to know what it means to believe in Jesus or why it is so important.

Reciting a creed, such as the Apostles’ Creed, in a church service will not necessarily bring the unchurched to an experience of salvation but it can serve to inform them as to the essential points of the Christian faith and suggest why it is important to believe in Jesus for one’s salvation from sin.

[1] Byrum, E. E.,  The Secret of Salvation,  Gospel Trumpet Company: Anderson, IN,  1896,  pg. 111.