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No Creeds in Original Christianity

Today we have lots of creeds to refer to in Christianity. The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are ones that are popularly known. But there are many creeds. For example, the Athanasian creed affirms the trinity. In fact creeds, confessions, affirmations, and statements of faith have proliferated over the ages. Almost every church now publishes a statement of beliefs. With the growth and spread of heretical teachings like Marcionism it’s easy to understand why creeds, written statements of belief, became popular. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that original Christianity didn’t have any creeds. That isn’t to say there weren’t what looked like creeds in biblical writings. We have in first Corinthians chapter 15 what looks like a creed:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also. 1Co 15:3-8

The first two verses above give an essence of the Christian faith:

  1. Christ died according to the Scriptures
  2. he was buried and raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

But the more you read these verses the more they appear to be less of a creed and more of a substantiation to show that Paul’s ministry was real. Because in verse five Paul writes that Christ appeared to Cephas, Peter. Then in verse six he writes that Christ appeared to more than 500 brethren at the same time. Then the next verse he writes that Christ appeared to James, then to all the apostles. And finally, in verse eight, he writes that this same Christ, killed and resurrected according to the Scriptures, appeared to him. If a creed is a written summary statement of Christian beliefs that encapsualtes all that is important then this section, as well as any other creeds since, falls far short. There is a written statement of beliefs that is referred to in these verses and that is the Scriptures. And again, the Scriptures, when this was written, are the law and the prophets. The standard for the written statement of believers is the law and the prophets. There is no short, concise, “in a nutshell” series of statements that really suffices for the law and the prophets. On the other hand, first Corinthians chapter 15, versus three and four encapsulate the basic belief system of original Christianity as well as any other. In this newly birthed faith simplicity was the key. As I’ve written in other articles (See Simple Doctrine), there weren’t any doctrines like predestination, eternal security, the Trinity, or any of the host of issues that Christians have divided over since. The essence of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and was raised according to the Scriptures, the law and the prophets. All of the creeds written since original Christianity were written to emphasize the position of one stance over another. The Nicene Creed is a prime example of this. The Council of Nicaea was formed with one goal in mind; to once and for all establish the doctrine of the deity of Christ. About 300 years after Christ died Christians were undecided over the nature of Christ. Constantine in his effort to unify Christianity as part of his establishment of Christianity as the national religion of the Roman Empire pushed this agenda. Not understanding how volatile this process would be, Constantine convened his council of bishops at which the options were to agree or be excommunicated. What many don’t know is that there was a bloody bath as a result of this move by Constantine. What many also don’t know is that the other position, that Jesus is subordinate to God the Father slowly became the dominant position by 357A.D. At the council of Sirmium the creed produced there said:

There is no uncertainty about the Father being greater: it cannot be doubted by anyone that the Father is greater in honor, in dignity, in glory, in Majesty, in the very name of “Father,” for he himself witnesses… [that “He who sent me is greater than I.”].[i]

And now, while this “anti— Nicene Creed” was certainly labeled blasphemous in later times, it must be noted that just as there was a Nicene Creed that stated Jesus is God in effect for a while there was also a creed later that opposed this doctrine. In reality, the issue was never really resolved. What happened was the issue was again reversed by the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in later years. Later statements or creeds further established new doctrines. Of course the doctrines weren’t introduced by these creeds. Rather they had been written and talked about earlier and got to the point that that they were widely accepted by significant people and were ratified by a council. Mary as mother of God was ratified at the council of Ephesus in 431 although the term “mother of God” was in the writings of Origen a couple of centuries earlier. The belief in Mary developed to the point where she became recognized as the mediatrix, an intercessor. Thus praying to Mary, which may have started as early as the third century, developed to the point where she became the intercessor for many, in stead of just going to Christ directly. This happened despite verses like:

For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, 1Ti 2:5

Creeds continue as a tool to this day. During the reformation, creeds and confessions were established as a way to establish denominational doctrine. The Westminster Confession, written mid seventeenth century, contains nearly 17, 000 words, and starts with a focus on the supremacy of the bible as the source of doctrine, has sections on major doctrines such as the trinity, the fall of man, covenants, Christ as mediator, free will, the assurance of Grace and salvation, religious worship, and the observance of the Sabbath. Especially interesting in this “creed” or confession is that the pope is declared the antichrist:

There is no other Head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God[ii]

Conclusion

Original Christianity was a simple doctrine that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and was raised according to the Scriptures. Over the years as theologians argued over this doctrine or that creeds developed. They develop to the point where many significant doctrinal positions are stated to be the truth in opposition to other groups who hold opposing views. In this sense creeds are the tools of division. [i] Richard Patrick Crosland Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 AD, Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 056703092X, 9780567030924, p345 [ii] The Westminster confession, chapter 25, of the church, number six.

(c) copyright 2009, Mark W Smith, All rights reserved

June 15th, 2009 Posted by | Original Christianity | no comments

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