Creeds, Affirmations and Statements of Faith
By President Timothy C. Tennent
The corporate recitation of ecumenical creeds (Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed) has been a standard practice in churches around the world for hundreds of years. These are rich treasures for us as followers of Jesus Christ. However, this practice is increasingly being neglected. I would like to encourage our alumni/ae around the world to continue the practice. There are several important reasons for this.
First, it is an important link with the global church, both around the world, as well as back through time. There are many aspects of our modern worship services which would be unrecognizable to Christians from previous periods in history, but the creeds represent a rare place of unity and we should celebrate that. We often focus on what makes our churches different; whether it be forms of church government, or speaking in tongues, or how we baptize, and so forth. There is a place for all of that. But it is comforting to know that there are certain truths which are foundational to Christian identity whether you are a Roman Catholic, an Eastern Orthodox, a Pentecostal, an Anglican, or any number of the myriad of Protestant or independent churches around the world. The creeds spell out for us how we are mystically linked to Christ and to Christians throughout the world and back through time.
Second, the creeds remind us of our common confession as Christians. The creeds do not represent all that the church embodies in the world, but they do spell out the doctrinal core, the absolute essentials of Christian identity. They remember our Trinitarian faith. They recall that God is the creator of “heaven and earth.” They rehearse for us the great redemptive acts in Jesus Christ. They remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit. They recall for us the key elements of the gospel: the gathered church, the power of forgiveness, the anticipation of our bodily resurrection, and out eternal destiny. In short, there is no greater summary, or more condensed statement of distinctively Christian statements than that which is found in the ecumenical creeds.
It is also important to recognize the difference between a creed, a confession, and a statement of faith. The word creed should be used exclusively for the ecumenical creeds which have been endorsed by the church throughout time. Thus, it was inaccurate, for example, for earlier editions of the United Methodist hymnal to refer to the Korean affirmation as the “Korean Creed.” Although it has many noteworthy phrases, it has not been received by the global church and therefore it cannot be properly called a creed. Furthermore, the Christology of the statement is not sufficiently robust. The Korean statement does not affirm, for example, the bodily resurrection, the ascension or the final return of Jesus Christ. The current UMC hymnal appropriately refers to it now as a “Statement of Faith of the Korean Methodist Church.”
Christian “Affirmations” can focus on very specific concerns of the church, such as concern for the poor, the need for global missions, or even the importance of stewardship and can appropriately be used in worship on occasions which demand it. But, it is important to call it a general affirmation, not a creed. The UMC hymnal has a “modern affirmation” and a “social affirmation” as well as various affirmations from the New Testament selected from Romans Colossians and 1 Timothy.
Finally, a “statement of faith” refers to the faith of a particular branch of the church. This is the place where a church can appropriately insert phrases which may not be globally ecumenical, but are, nevertheless, an identifying marker for our particular church. This is the place for statements regarding what it means to be filled with the Spirit, or particular views of sanctification or baptism.
In conclusion, “creeds,” “affirmations,” and “statements of faith” are all important in the life of the church. However, it is important to be clear on what it is we are asking our church to affirm. The language of “creed” means we are speaking with one voice with the entire church through space and time. A “statement of faith” means we are speaking within the particularities of our denomination. These statements help a church to understand why they are called Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, and so on. A “confession” may be shared by Christians all over the world, but rather than focus on the grand narrative of redemption, it allows us to highlight an area of particular concern or a needed focus. All three are important, but they are different and should be understood as such.
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