Reciting Creeds in Worship

Several thoughts to help clarify our decision to include the recitation of historic Christian creeds in our Lord’s Day worship.

Over the last several years at ECC, we have made several reforms to our worship practices and weekly liturgy. We began to preach expositionally through books of the Bible; we began to be more intentional about the songs we sing; we added a time to confess our sins and hear an assurance of pardon; and we conclude our service with a benediction. More recently, we increased the time we spent praying in each service, incorporating a blend of both spontaneous and written prayers. All of these changes have helped our church continue to be reformed according to Scripture and “rehearse” the gospel in our weekly worship.

During this time, we have also become increasingly convinced of our need to be more intentional about connecting our local congregation to the universal church of Jesus Christ, throughout space, time, and across denominational lines. One practical way for us to do this is by incorporating the ancient, ecumenical creeds of the Christian church in our weekly Lord’s Day worship. These creeds include the Apostles’ Creed (2nd century), the Nicene Creed (381), and The Chalcedonian Creed (451). We believe that recovering the historic practice of reciting the ecumenical Christian creeds in our weekly Lord’s Day worship would be a healthy, formative practice that would be beneficial to ECC.

Reasons for Reciting the Creeds in Worship

Unfortunately, many evangelicals are suspicious of creeds. Some consider the creeds as being a “Roman Catholic thing.” Others see the recitation of creeds as being “dry” and “lifeless,” or as a contradiction to the Protestant cry of sola Scriptura. In light of the unpopularity of the creeds and the concerns that may arise in light of this decision, here are several thoughts that will hopefully clarify and justify our decision to incorporate the recitation of the historic Christian creeds in our weekly Lord’s Day Worship.

  1. Reciting the Creeds is a concise and simple way of confessing the Christian faith revealed to us in Scripture. The creeds accurately reflect and summarize what the Scriptures are all about: the Triune God and the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son for the salvation of the world. The Creeds take the core tenets of the Christian faith and put them in an easily digestible form that is easy to remember, especially for children. Like preaching and teaching, they help us pass down the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and guard the good deposit entrusted to us (2 Tim 1:14). Additionally, they can even help us read our Bibles rightly. Matthew Emerson notes, “[The Creeds] assist us in seeing both the nature of God and also the structure, or economy, of the salvation he accomplishes for us. These two – who God is and what he does – are crucial for a right reading of the Bible, and the Creeds in their structure and content teach us how to read well.”
  2. Reciting the Creeds can remind us of the corporate, global, and historical nature of Christianity. The creeds remind us that the Christian faith is not only personal, or even restricted to our local church, but a corporate and global faith. The creeds put the continuity of the Christian faith throughout the ages on full display. Pastor Jake Stone writes, just as the Lord’s Supper is “…an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.” In other words, they help us remember that the gospel isn’t just something about “me and Jesus” walking in a garden alone. We stand united with the one, holy, catholic (i.e., “universal”), and apostolic church of the past, present, and future.
  3. Reciting the Creeds can help us remember and celebrate the unity of the church. For all of the division and disagreement that marks Christians, it is astounding how much we actually have in common! Jesus promised that He would build His Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18;). We believe Jesus has kept His word and that evidences our Lord’s promise of the gospel bearing fruit in the world (cf. Col 1:5-6) are seen in the historical creeds and confessions that faithful believers composed to accurately define and defend God’s Word. By reciting the Creeds, we are reminded that, although there are disagreements among Christians (sometimes significant ones), there is still a core set of doctrines about God and the gospel that we all can agree on, that we can all stand together to celebrate, proclaim, and defend. And we should be eager to highlight the unity we have in the gospel when and where we can (John 17).
  4. Reciting the creeds is counter-cultural. We live an anti-historical, progressive, and individualistic age where tradition is treated as suspect at best and dangerous at worst. And yet, despite the rampant individualism and skepticism of tradition, people are still in search of authentic community and belonging to something bigger than themselves. What could be more counter-cultural than proudly identifying with the saints and martyrs who have run the race before us, rejoicing in our common faith, confessing our faith in the triune God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ? Carl Trueman rightly suggests that creeds can provide “the historical continuity for which so many people crave today and which is so crucial if they are not to be blown here and there by every puff of doctrine or every passing fad.”
  5. Reciting the creeds help recalibrate our minds on Truth. As I’ve written previously, we are immersed in a culture that is constantly (de)forming us. Rather than being shaped by God’s story of redemption and his purpose for our lives, we often buy into the narratives of individualism, consumerism, and nationalism. Whether or not we want to admit it, the world is teaching us and our children its own creed. This past year, we have begun to see a secular creed emerge that our world is rallying around:
    In this house we believe that:
    Black Lives Matter
    Love Is Love
    Gay Rights Are Civil Right
    Women’s Rights Are Human Right
    Transgender Women Are Women
    Reciting the historic Christian creeds can help us take a stand against the false religions of this world, provide a weekly recalibration for us, and remind the world of what God has revealed to us in his word about what is True and foundational for life, godliness, and joy.

Recommended Resources

Here are some excellent resources for understanding what the Creeds are, where they came from, and why they matter for the church today.

  1. Baptists and the Christian Tradition: Toward and Evangelical Baptist Catholicity, edited by Matthew Emerson, Christopher Morgan, and Lucas Stamps
  2. The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman.
  3. The Center for Baptist Renewal. A ministry which seeks to equip Baptists with the resources of the Christian tradition so they might incorporate these beliefs and practices into the life of the local church. Highly Recommended.
  4. The Value and Role of Creeds and Confessions, an outstanding essay by Carl Trueman
  5. The Reforming Catholic Confession.
  6. “The Contemporary Relevance of Christendom’s Creeds,” by Bruce Demarest
  7. Mark Dever’s lecture on “No Creed but Christ?” See also, Ligon Duncan on Why ‘No Creed But the Bible’ Is a Lousy Creed, as well as this article by Matthew Emerson and Lucas Stamps