It seems that the earliest Christian creed was, “Jesus is Lord.” As time progressed, this profession became insufficient for one Christian to accept and recognize another as a brother or sister in Christ.
Supposedly, the next Christian creed was the Apostle’s Creed. This creed was eventually expanded by the Council of Nicaea into the Nicene Creed which focused primarily on the trinitarian nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This creed, as was the case of the statement “Jesus is Lord,” was considered necessary for one to be a Christian. In other words, if someone could not agree with the Nicene Creed, then that person was not considered a child of God… i.e., not a Christian.
Eventually, the Nicene creed was expanded slightly by the Councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon. But, the creed remained a litmus test for Christianity. Thus, the creeds up to this point were used to divide Christians from nonChristians.
At some point, something changed. Perhaps it happened during the Reformation, perhaps slightly earlier, perhaps afterward. But, at some point, creeds and confessions were no longer developed in order to separate Christians from nonChristians. Instead, these new creeds and confessions began to separate Christians from one another.
For example, consider the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a very famous and popular confession written in the 1640′s. But, there are few people (perhaps a few extremists) who would claim that disagreeing with parts of this confessions would indicate that a person is not a Christian. The same could be said of many, many confessions written since the Reformation.
So, what’s the purpose of these confessions? We’re no longer interested in differentiating between Christians and nonChristians. Now, we’re more interested in differentiating between one Christian and another. In other words, these confessions separate brothers and sisters in Christ from one another.
Of course, every creed and confession claims to be “biblical” and claims to use proper hermeneutics and claims to describe what all Christians should believe. But, they differ – just as we differ in our beliefs and understandings and practices.
But, are these differences reasons to separate from one another? Some are… some aren’t. Which ones? Can we tell the difference?
What benefits are gained from creeds and confessions? How do we maintain unity in spite of them?