creeds/confessions of faith

   Creeds (derived from the Latin credere, to believe) are summary statements of Christian beliefs, whether overall affirmations of Christianity or clarifications on a particular issue or set of issues. Several creeds became authoritative in the early centuries of the church as the "orthodox" stance was hammered out against alternative understandings of the nature of God and the salvation offered by Christ. These decisions were reached at the seven ecumenical councils that met between 325 and 787 c.e. The most widely used is the Nicene Creed promulgated by the first council that met at Nicaea in 325 and revised at Constantinople in 381. It superseded the earlier widely used Apostles' Creed, and was itself supplemented by the Chalcedonian Creed of 451, with its greater definition of the divine and human nature of Christ.
   The Western church also recognized the so-called Athanasian Creed. Named after Athanasius (293-373 c.e.), the statement is actually of later origin and is not recognized by the Eastern Orthodox churches. It deals primarily with the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the nature of Christ.
   The first generations of Protestantism affirmed their acceptance of the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as a basis for discussions with Roman Catholics. Their texts were included in the Lutheran Book of Concord, and both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds were widely used in Protestant worship services.
   Protestants also produced a new set of creedal statements, usually termed confessions in Lutheran and Reformed churches, by which they attempted to define their position in contrast to Roman Catholicism and later to one another. These confessions affirmed the traditional orthodox consensus, and added Protestant distinctions on the authority of the Bible, salvation by grace through faith, and the nature of the church.
   Lutherans issued the Augsburg Confession in 1530, followed by the Smalcald Articles in 1537 and additional confessional statements through the century. All of these documents, together with the longer and shorter catechisms written by Martin Luther, were collected in 1580 as the Book of Concord; they are still the defining theological documents of Lutheranism.
   Reformed Church confessions begin with the Sixty-seven Articles issued by Ulrich Zwingli in 1523, but became authoritative in the post-John Calvin era with the issuance of the Gallican Confession in 1559. Subsequently, different confessions would emerge in different segments of the Reformed Church, including the Belgic Confession (Holland and Belgium, 1561), the Second Helvetic Confession (Switzerland, 1566), the Second Scottish Confession (Scotland, 1580), the Canons of Dort (Holland, 1619), and finally the Puritan Westminster Confession (England, 1643).
   Among radical reformers, the Schleitheim Articles of 1527 and the Mennonite Dordrecht Confession (1632) stand out. Anglicans sought to define their wavering positions via a series of documents including the Thirteen Articles (1537), the Six Articles (1539), the Forty-two Articles (1553), and finally the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1563).
   Following the promulgation of the Westminster Confession, Congregationalists (who dissented from the Presbyterian form of church government) issued the Savoy Declaration (1658), and the Baptists, who dissented on a variety of issues from the sacraments to the church's ties to the state, issued the First and Second London Confessions of Faith (1646 and 1689).
   As the Protestant movement splintered over the centuries, each new group has promulgated a creedal or confessional statement to affirm its ties to historical affirmations, to clarify its unique doctrinal position for its members, and to define it as a separate body from other Protestant denominations. A few of these creedal statements, such as the Methodist Articles of Religion developed by John Wesley for the Methodists in the United States, have become widely used, often with variations.
   As Free Churches developed, the very idea of a creed was called into question. A number of groups saw them as divisive, and suggested that the Bible was a sufficient rule for faith and practice. The Baptists adopted a middle ground, affirming the Bible as their only authoritative creedal document, but issuing confessions and statements of doctrine over the years as useful summaries of their consensus of belief.
   in the 20th century, many Protestant churches found that their inherited statements no longer represented the consensus of belief among members and, more important, ministers. Different churches debated the authority that should be ascribed to creedal documents and whether or not they had to be affirmed by and adhered to by ministers and others in teaching positions (such as seminary professors). Many groups have refrained from changing the older statements, but have added new statements that place the old ones in a historical context that effectively limits their authority. Following the merger that produced the United Methodist Church in 1968, the church's general conference placed the doctrinal statement of the merging groups into its Discipline, and adopted a statement affirming theological pluralism. In 1967, the United Presbyterian Church adopted a new confession and then published a Book of Confessions that included a selection of ancient creeds and Reformation-era confessions. Future ministers were instructed to "receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our Church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do." This stance was continued in the new Presbyterian Church (USA), enhanced by an additional Brief Statement of Faith representing the consensus of the merging churches. A new statement was also promulgated in 1960 by the recently formed United Church of Christ.
   In the 1930s, the Evangelical Church in Germany split into two factions over their response to Nazism. One faction, the Confessing Church, issued the Barmen Declaration, expressing their dissent against the majority position of cooperation with the Nazis and setting forth a rationale for their action at the moment, given their new situation. The Barmen Declaration became a model for later statements dealing not so much with doctrinal teachings but with how a body of Christians must act in a crisis. The most notable post-Barmen statements are the Kairos Document and the Belhar Confession, both issued during the last days of apartheid in south Africa.
   Today, almost every Protestant and Free Church denomination and para-church organization has adopted a creedal statement at least minimally defining its doctrinal position. Given the rise of a pluralistic setting within the Protestant community and the existence of many Christian groups that deny what are seen as essential doctrines, the Evangelical community consistently asks groups who wish to join in fellowship to be upfront about their orthodoxy. Given that so many liberal Protestant groups continue to publish traditional statements of belief while allowing a wide range of interpretation or dissent, Evangelicals often look for additional affirmations such as beliefs about the authority or inspiration of the Bible.
   Further reading:
   ■ Bruce A. Demarest, "The Contemporary Relevance of Christendom's Creeds," Themelios 7, 2 (1982): 9-16
   ■ Sinclair B. Ferguson and Joel R. Beeke, Reformed Confessions Harmonized (Ada, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1999)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton, ed., The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994)
   ■ Jaroslav Pelikan and valerie Hotchkiss, eds., Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003)
   ■ Jack Bartlett Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster / John Knox, 1992).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

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