The Place of Creeds in Christianity
I was privileged to speak to the BJU student body yesterday as part of our semester chapel series on the creed. Creeds have played important roles in helping the Church articulate the content and boundaries of orthodoxy at given times in her history. They have also served the Church to define and proclaim key doctrinal truths presented in Scripture when they were contested or questioned. So creeds are important and helpful instruments that have served believers for almost the entire history of the Church. Some believe creeds were used as early as the first century, being established by the Apostles themselves and preserved in our New Testaments. One of the clearest possibilities is the stunning confession stated in 1 Timothy 3:16: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
The BJU Creed
Every day in chapel students, faculty, staff, and administrators stand and affirm the BJU Creed. Any present student or alumnus knows the familiar words of that creed and can recall affirming them in concert with thousands of fellow believers yes—“I believe in the inspiration of the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments); the creation of man by the direct act of God; the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; His identification as the Son of God; His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb; His power to save men from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.”
The term “creed” comes from the Latin credo which means “I believe.” When I say the creed each day, I am affirming my personal belief and present commitment to nine important doctrines that are foundational to who I am and what I believe. Everything about my life is shaped by my belief in those foundational beliefs. In fact, my eternal destiny rests on my believing in statements in that creed, such as “His identification as the Son of God,” or “His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross,” and “the resurrection of His body from the tomb.” To deny any of these doctrinal truths is to depart from the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith preserved in Scripture and proclaimed in the Gospel. In other words, the creed I say every day is an affirmation of the essence of what it means to be a Christian.
The Doctrinal Axiom
The Christian faith is not Christian if any of these doctrines are denied or eliminated. Each are important and essential. However, while one doctrine is not more theologically true or important than the others in the creed, one statement in the creed has primacy of place in this sense yes—without this one doctrine, none of the other doctrines could be known or believed with any certainty.
Inspiration is the axiom on which the rest of the foundational truths are known and established, upon which the Christian life is built. Any profit that we will gain from Scripture (doctrine, reproof, correction, instructions in righteousness) is directly tied to the fact that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Verse 15 even ties our “persistence” in the Christian life to our “assurance” in the Scriptures. But consider, how else could we have this confidence in the Scriptures unless it is what it claims it is—breathed out by God?
Why is inspiration essential?
Once inspiration is taken away, the whole wall of theological doctrines begins to crumble. No longer would Scripture be infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient. It would be misleading, untrustworthy, irrelevant, and powerless—ultimately pointing back to a God that should not be believed.
The reality of inspiration and the implications that follow are what provide the hope essential for Christian living. We can confidently believe we have an accurate and authoritative record of what God wants us to know, what God wants us to believe, and how God wants us to live. Because these “holy scriptures” are inspired, they are also reliable and authoritative and therefore have unique and powerful ability to shape who we are, what we believe, and how we live.
It’s because God breathed out these words they are trustworthy and powerful. It’s because God breathed out these words we have hope. So, cling to the Bible. Be like Peter. When others doubted and turned away from God, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
What if a Christian doesn’t understand inspiration?
One final consideration about this foundational statement—one does not have to understand or even know about the doctrine of inspiration in order to be saved. For example, when my children became believers they could not have articulated or explained the doctrine of inspiration. However, I believe that a genuine believer who comes to know and fully understand what the Scripture claims will embrace the claim made by Paul (2 Tim 3:16) and Peter (2 Peter 1:21). To deny inspiration is to undermine the very foundations of the certitude of the Christian faith. Everything we know about the Christian faith and the Gospel are revealed only in the Scriptures. Creeds are not inspired, but good ones anchor me deeply to the inspired Word!
So each time I say the creed, I not only affirm my belief in these doctrines, I submit myself fully to them because they are preserved for me in an inspired record given by God Himself. And those inspired writings teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me so that by them I am enlightened to salvation and equipped to acceptable service to God. God’s inspired words determine my eternal destiny and are the difference between a life that is merely successful on human terms or one that is significant from an eternal perspective.