There was a time in my life where I claimed the motto, "no book but the Bible; no creed but Christ." A self-described "biblicist," I used this motto to justify my anti-credal bigotry. Ironically, this very motto functions as creed. It defines an anti-intellectual, anti-historical prejudice that has no part in the rigorously logical and deeply historical Bible. The "biblicist" who rejects creeds and theological works of the church ends in the folly of repetitive work.
As we think about the use of creeds in worship, the topic begs three questions: what are creeds, where did they come from, and should they be used in worship. Let us look at each question in turn.
What are creeds?Creeds occupy the level we call secondary authorities. The only primary authority is the Bible. Secondary authorities systematize what the Bible says. This distinction appears in the first two questions asked of those authorized to preach. "Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?" This places the Bible alone as infallible and incontrovertible. The second question reads, "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?" Instead of infallibility, secondary authorities present a system of doctrine. Creeds summarize what the Bible teaches.
Creeds help us understand the Bible. Think of it this way. You have probably heard the proverb, "let's not reinvent the wheel." It isn't wise to replicate proof unnecessarily. We should waste time reproving basic, generally accepted concepts. If you choose to ignore the work of Bible thinkers of the past, you must reinvent the wheel of biblical understanding. Creeds allow us to stand on the shoulders of the giant thinkers that came before us. We certainly should examine the creeds and any other secondary authority to determine its conformity to scripture, but we need not rewrite what already was written, accepted, and thoroughly determined orthodox by those who came before.
Where did they come from?The creeds come from a number of sources. The two most common named "The Apostles'" and "The Nicene" come from very different sources. The Apostles' creed derives from bits and pieces found in baptismal confessions of the first and early second centuries. We don't know how it came to be in its final form, but the creed clearly reflects the confession of the early church. This creed as with all creeds represents a de minimus confession. It is the minimum understanding required to be called a Christian.
The Nicene Creed was born in adversity. During the third through fifth centuries of the church, a number of divisive heresies arose to threaten orthodoxy. The church gathered in councils to address these issues and denounce heresy. The focal point of these controversies concerned the incarnation, the union of the divine and human in Jesus Christ. Thus, in this creed, the section on the person and work of Jesus takes the largest part of the confession.
Both creeds share a commonality though from diverse backgrounds. They both present the collective opinion of the church at whole. That is why these creeds are used by the church at large. They are so basic, that no one calling himself "Christian" should ever object to confessing such a basic system of belief.
Should they be used in worship?If, as we have asserted, we should base our entire liturgy on the Bible, what justification have we to include an extra-biblical confession? No more than we have for using any song other than the Psalms. Worship is not restricted to the text of scripture, but may also use expressions drawn from scripture. So long as the creed properly, clearly, and unequivocally restates only that doctrine found in the Bible, it may be properly used in worship.
What benefit does the church gain from the use of creeds in worship? We forget. We need the reminder. We fall into either of two errors. We either live in the world so long we forget the basics of what God has done for us in Christ, or we live so wrapped up in the depths of theology that we forget the basic truth that defines our identity. Satan would have us pursue either course. He would have us distant from "Mere Christianity." Whether we lapse into Christianity "minus" or linger in Christianity "plus," creeds refocus us to Christianity "period."
There is a vital addition to this reminder function. We say the creeds TOGETHER. Living in a world diametrically opposed to the things of God, we often feel dreadfully alone, isolated from any who believe or think as we. Even when we come to church, we can retain this sense of isolation. We say the creeds together to remind us that the congregation as a whole share this basic doctrine. Not only us, but the historic church as a whole shares our confession. We did not come to this faith singly. That is, we have a history. We have spiritual ancestors. We are the people of God, stretching back through the centuries.
Many may think these benefits slight in modern philosophy. Such opinion only demonstrates how deficient we are in such matters and how important the creeds are to us. Perhaps, when we remember our common history, we would develop more congenial conversations between one another. Remembering our history and union with one another gives us confidence and peace regardless of how the ungodly rage against us.