the weblog of Alan Knox

Development of creeds and confessions

Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in unity | 44 comments

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?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-31-2010

    I’m mostly just commenting so I can get other comments on this post emailed to me. 😉

    I have very strong feelings about this topic. And while you may be correct that later confessions are not used to separate between believers and non, the earlier creeds still are, in my experience.

  2. 3-31-2010

    A great deal of the material in the reformation era confessions and creeds was aimed at contrasting between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which is certainly understandable given the era they were written. The way they are used now is more like a sign post: we hold to Confession X so that gives you a snapshot of what we believe without setting foot among us.

  3. 3-31-2010

    I find creeds/confessions helpful because they challenge me to know why I believe what I believe. However, if they are used to cause division within the church, then this is a serious problem.

    Galatians 1:8-9 is helpful when discussing this topic. Paul wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” For Paul, the dividing line was the gospel. It should be for us as well.

    Once creeds/confessions start to divide Christians, those creeds/confessions need to be thrown out.

  4. 3-31-2010

    I dunno. We still stick with the Nicene Creed.

  5. 3-31-2010

    It is of great interest that Robert Baillie records that the document was completed in December 1646, but it was simply the text of the Confession alone. Parliament, which Baillie accuses of consisting of mostly Erastians (believed the state ought to control church matters), refused the document ordering Scripture proofs be added.

  6. 3-31-2010


    I’m comfortable starting with “Jesus is Lord.”


    Every creed or confession was written in response to something… even the early creeds.


    I think they can be helpful. Is there a confession that you agree with completely?


    Only the Nicene Creed?

    Aussie John,

    That is interesting. I think if we understood the context in which all of the creeds/confessions were drafted we would understand them better.


  7. 3-31-2010

    Alan, well, that and the Apostles’ Creed and the Creed of St. Athanasius which are certainly not at odds with the Nicene Creed.

  8. 3-31-2010

    Are you all aware of the circumstances behind the formation of the Nicene Creed? One of the problems I continue to voice with regard to creeds and confessions is that many people are not aware of the historical events that took place. In fact, I have often heard people voice the opinion that the creeds were formed by godly men operating in a godly manner to interpret scripture and protect doctrine. Unfortunately, history contains a much-different scenario.

    I think it is important to understand the context and culture in which the creeds and confessions were developed before blindly adopting the creeds or confessions themselves.

    As for me, I am not only comfortable starting with “Jesus is Lord”, I’m quite comfortable leaving it at that.

  9. 3-31-2010

    Steve, I am aware of the circumstances behind the development of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is Lord happens to be the basis of the second part of the Creed. It is also the reason that most Christians are not Arians today.

  10. 3-31-2010

    Brian, the second part of the Nicene Creed does use the word “Lord”, but it doesn’t really say anything at all about his Lordship. So I’m not completely sure I understand what you’re saying.

    The early statement of “Jesus is Lord” addresses aspects of who Jesus (with regard to his position in the world and our lives) that are not touched on in the creed.

    So, Brian, I’m curious. If you are aware of the circumstances behind the development of the Nicene Creed, do you not see any problem with how it came about and what it was intended to do?

  11. 3-31-2010

    The entire creed was an answer to the heretic priest, Arius, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. As to his Lordship, I think you are splitting hairs. To say that there is on Lord Jesus Christ, True God from True God pretty much defines that Jesus is Lord over all creation and that includes all aspect of our lives.

  12. 3-31-2010

    The entire creed was an answer to the heretic priest, Arius, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. As to his Lordship, I think you are splitting hairs. To say that there is on Lord Jesus Christ, True God from True God pretty much defines that Jesus is Lord over all creation and that includes all aspect of our lives.

  13. 3-31-2010

    Brian, I’m not trying to split hairs at all, and I certainly don’t want to frustrate you by my comments. Lordship and divinity are two separate issues, however. Jesus is Lord because the Father chose him to be Lord. For some reason, we equate “Lord” with “God” (perhaps because translators of the KJV and others have chosen to use the word “Lord” to translate “Yahweh” in the OT). But if you read 1 Corinthians 8:6, you’ll see Paul uses “God” and “Lord” in distinct ways.

    By the way, let me say the record straight before anyone jumps all over this and misinterprets the point I’m making: I’m not saying that Jesus is not God. I’m saying that the question about the divinity of Jesus is quite a bit less relevant than the question of his position as “the man that God chose”–truly, the Anointed One of the Father. (The phrase “man that God chose” is based on Peter’s speech in Acts 2, Paul’s speech in the Areopagus in Acts 17, and 1 Timothy 2:5.)

    With regard to the background of the Nicene Creed, I was not referring to Arius, but rather was referring to the political motivation of Constantine to demand that the differences between the various bishops be worked out to avoid the kingdom splitting. It was not a theological or spiritual motivation by his own admission. Furthermore, the environment of the council itself leads to many questions about the spirituality of the bishops who attended and their view of the teachings of Jesus. In short, there was nothing “Christlike” about the emperor calling for the council, the council itself, or the actions of its participants. So I find it interesting that so many highly revere the document that came from such an environment. Furthermore, very few Christians (at least people outside of Roman Catholicism) would agree with some of the other conclusions reached by the very same council. Arianism was only one thing addressed in that council.

  14. 3-31-2010

    make that “let me set the record straight”, not “say the record straight”! LOL

  15. 3-31-2010

    Steve, first of all you aren’t frustrating me (but darned if my iPhone isn’t 🙂 ). That Constantine called Nicea to maintain the Pax Romana doesn’t bother me at all. Divine Providence will use whatever means he will that Truth is preserved, would you not agree? After all, Constantine has gone to his eternal reward and the Roman Empire is defunct, but the Church remains,

    As to the spirituality of the bishops, exactly which ones do you question and why?

    So, you admit the divinity of the Lord Jesus, but you question how the Creed defends the orthodoxy of saying kyrios and theos are the same thing? I am not sure I am following you. If Jesus is God then he reigns as Lord. Right?

    Let me ask you this, Aside from your feelings about the political circumstances of the Council, in what way does the creed deny the Lordship of Jesus?

  16. 4-1-2010

    Divine Providence will use whatever means he will that Truth is preserved

    I personally find that statement to be more of a conversation stopper than of any other use to a discussion. It’s a convenient way to ignore things when it serves our purpose to ignore them. Note that you are approaching this from the direction of “the creed must be truth and correct, and therefore the creed must be defended”. I think that’s historically backwards, and logically weak.

    The comment I made about spirituality probably then would be viewed in the same way. But to continue my side of the discussion, I am referring to the fact that the atmosphere of the council (by historical accounts) was one of honoring Constantine (i.e., he sat on a gold chair and all the bishops stood to honor him when he arrived), and was one of wielding power. Jesus made it very clear that we are not to exercise power over one another, yet that is exactly what the council chose to do.

    Furthermore, one of the discussions at Nicaea related to the date of Easter, and it was decided not to correlate it with Passover because of a strong anti-Semitic attitude prevalent among the bishops. Hardly Christlike.

    The rest of your comment reads too much between the lines of my comment. I actually did not comment on the divinity of Jesus at all, but rather stated that I was not saying he was not God. I didn’t state that he is or isn’t. What I said was that the question of his divinity is not nearly as important as we have made it to be.

    You said that saying kyrios and theos are the same thing is “orthodox”. On what basis? The council in question? If so, that is circular reasoning. What of Paul using them in different terms? “God” refers to a being while “Lord” refers to a position. They are not one and the same. Paul says that the Father is God and Jesus is Lord. He does not say they are one and the same.

    Your last question also turns my words around. I did not say the creed denies the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, it calls him Lord explicitly. That is very clear. What I said is that it does not comment on his Lordship. It comments on his divinity, atoning work, etc. It simply uses the word “Lord” as part of a title, or description.

    If “kyrios” and “theos” are the same thing, then there are many statements in scripture that become very bizarre and unclear, such as the one I already referenced.

  17. 4-1-2010

    I’ve enjoyed this discussion. It is interesting that the two of you (Steve and Brian) are miles apart doctrinally, yet you are discussing what could be considered foundational statements about Christianity as brothers in Christ. This is what we need… we need to accept one another, then discuss our disagreements. Thanks for the example.


  18. 4-1-2010

    “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of
    demons.” (1 Tim. 4:1)

    Only those abiding in the doctrine of Christ have the Father and the Son (2 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit is warning us of apostasy in these last days. Depart means to reject, sever, or fall away. Christians are departing from their faith in Jesus by believing in doctrines of demons being spread by deceiving spirits. Yet, Pastor Charles Stanley teaches falling away is never about losing one’s salvation. [3. Charles Stanley: Can You Recognize False Teaching 1, T. 6:30-7:27] He insists a Christian cannot be lost; they simply become useless. Is useless mentioned in this verse? And how can a useless believer heeding doctrines of demons serve Christ? Dr. Stanley claims only unbelievers can fall away. Seriously, how can unsaved people fall away from a faith they never had? A partaker of Christ is someone saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). One cannot continue to receive grace if they choose to deny their faith in Christ (2 Tim. 2:12, 2 Pet. 2:1).

    “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Heb. 3:14)

  19. 4-1-2010


    If this is not a drive-by comment, perhaps you can tell us which “doctrines” are the “doctrines of Christ” and which are the “doctrines of demons”? In other words, what is the “teachings about Christ” that John mentions in 2 John 1:9?


  20. 4-1-2010

    “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7)

    The triune nature of God is the cornerstone of the doctrine of Christ. John declares the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, are one God. Paul taught the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus (Col. 2:9) Benny Hinn denies this by teaching there are nine Gods in the Godhead. [46. Benny Hinn Crazy Trinity World, T. 0:04-1:15]

    “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

    Can you imagine how many are being deceived by this false prophet because they refuse to test what he is prophesying?

    “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” (Mat. 24:10-11)

  21. 4-1-2010

    Paul, a couple of notes in response:

    1 John 5:7 is generally agreed by NT scholars (of all stripes) to be a later addition to the text. Therefore, it is probably not the best verse to use as a proof text.

    Furthermore, you quoted 1 John 4:1 encouraging us to test prophets, yet John gives us the “test” to apply in the very next verse: Do they deny that the Jesus came in the flesh? He does not ask if they believe that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.

    It would seem to me that this test had more to do with a belief that somehow Jesus was a spirit or that he was something other than human. Quite a different test to apply than whether or not he is divine.

  22. 4-1-2010

    I would pose a question to anyone reading this: Can anyone point to one instance in the New Testament where someone was asked to affirm the deity of Jesus? Or can anyone point to an instance in the New Testament where someone said that belief in the deity of Jesus was a requirement for salvation?

  23. 4-1-2010

    “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.'” (Luke 1:35)

    An angel told Mary the baby she would conceive will be called the Son of God. Joseph and Mary were instructed to call Him, Jesus (Mat. 1:20-25). He is Immanuel; God with us. This is the incarnation; the Word of God becoming flesh, the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14). Jesus was born to save people from their sins. Anyone believing in Jesus as the only begotten Son of God will receive everlasting life.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

    As we speak the assault upon the divinity of Jesus is raging. What is Satan planning? During the days of the Great Tribulation the world will be worshiping a man instead of God (Rev. 13:3b-4).

    Larry Huch is pastor of New Beginnings Church in Dallas, Texas. He is a frequent speaker on Trinity Broadcasting Network. In this interview with prosperity teacher Paula White he declares Jesus is not the only begotten Son of God. [11. False Prophets In The Last Days, T. 0:01-0:17] White agreed with Huch when he claimed to be a Son of God too. Saints, there is only one begotten Son of God. His name is Jesus!

    “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

    Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). He was the first to rise from the dead and never die again. At His coming, the elect will be resurrected, receive incorruptible bodies, and never die again (1 Cor. 15:52, John 5:28-29, 1 Thes. 4:15-17). As believers we are filled with the Spirit of God (Acts 2:4). We will reign with God (Rev. 20:6). We are heirs of God through Christ (Gal. 4:7). But we never become God!

  24. 4-1-2010

    In my experience this is one area where how the church meets and functions changes focus of the leadership. When the leadership functions like it does today focusing on the Sunday sermon doctrine takes center stage, and it is what differentiates one church from another. So things like creeds become of great importance. However when the gathering of the church looks more like a family gathering doctrine is not the most important thing. Loving one another becomes the most important thing. The Bible becomes a guide to life rather then a text for profound theological debate.

    How the church meets has real important consequences.

  25. 4-5-2010

    Darrell – Well said. That has been our experience too.

  26. 4-12-2010

    If you you don’t believe in the doctrine of Christ you don’t have the Father nor His Son (2 John 1:9, 2 Tim. 4:3-4). Anyone denying Jesus as the only begotten Son of God is will never enter the kingdom of God (John 3:16-18). The doctrine of Christ is under attack. There are famous leaders coming in Christs name that are denying Jesus as Messiah, denying the lake of fire for the wicked, teaching cults (Mormons) will be saved and go to heaven! The Holy Spirit will never bear witness to such evil.

  27. 4-13-2010


    Thanks again for comment. I don’t know anyone here who would deny what you wrote. My concerns about creeds/confessions are when they deal with issues that are not related to the gospel.


  28. 4-13-2010

    Thanks Alan. I see now and I totally agree with you.

  29. 6-8-2011


    My Most Basic Statement of Faith: I believe in the rule of the ascended Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

    Abbreviated Confession of Faith: I believe in God, who is my only Father, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, my only Teacher and Leader and Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified to pay for the penalty of sin, was dead, and buried; and on the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated and reigning at the right hand of God the Father, those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ receive forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and the resurrection of the body, one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit who indwells and seals all believers unto the day of redemption and who through His power and presence leads God’s children into all truth and conforms them into Christ’s image.

    If you are in Christ, then you are my equal brother and sister and belong to the same church that I do as there is only one church, My communion with the saints occurs whenever and wherever I meet with the saints around Christ as His church, I respect and keep no special days, My giving is done in order to help the needy, I learn from whoever accurately holds forth the Word of God as lead by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is the only true authority in His church, my only law is the Law of Christ, I will make no vow to any organization and expect none from my brothers or sisters, I love and respect all people (Neighbor, brother and enemy), honor my spiritual brethren and give double honor of respect to older and wiser believers who are known as sacrificial servants to all, I owe no man anything except a debt of love.

    My 200 Pg. COMPREHENSIVE CONFESSION OF FAITH available upon request-For the bored and the morbidly curious…Lol.

  30. 6-8-2011

    BTW, how much doctrine or information did/does a person need to know and understand in order to come to Christ/be saved?

    A study of the “gospel presentations” in the gospels and Acts is very interesting.

  31. 6-8-2011


    I think I’ve read most of your long version. Yes, it is interesting to read what was proclaimed, especially in the Gospels and Acts.


  32. 6-8-2011

    My long version changed. But I won’t bore you with it, I don’t bore myself with it. Lol!

    Yeah, understanding how much doctrine or information someone needs to know to come to Christ should give us great pause about what we will divide over. Does it mean doctrines like the Trinity are unimportant? No, it just means someone can be in Christ and not even know about the doctrine of the trinity, someone can even be in Christ and have been taught a doctrinal error and currently believe something in error. Good news for all of us! 🙂

  33. 11-7-2011

    I want To take this in a slightly different direction. Where do you think contemporary statements of faith play into this?

  34. 11-7-2011

    Have you read ‘Your Church is too small?’ by John Armstrong? He calls for unification around the early Creeds.

  35. 11-9-2011


    I believe that contemporary statements of faith can be beneficial, but they can also be divisive, used to separate one group of God’s children from others.


    Yes, I’ve read Armstrong’s book. I appreciate the fact that toward the end of the book he states that he has stopped trying to figure out who is in and who is out, even with the ancient creeds. I do agree with him that those creeds are good starting points.


  36. 11-21-2011

    Alan, thanks for the blog; very interesting!

    In respect of “saving faith” (for want of a better term) I believe that it is enough to say that “Jesus is Lord” (To affirm His nature and His saving work on behalf of those who believe in him.) That is enough to define what it is to be a Christian. But generally differences arise in the interpretation of the Scriptures in other areas: Nature of church, church government, Free will etc.

    So the fundamental issue at stake is one of biblical interpretation. This is one of the major legacies of the Reformation, once the text was put in the hands of the people. Note how quickly the anabaptists arose, the differences between Luther, Calvin and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper. Confessions arose to state what a church or a group of churches believed the Bible to say on all the critical doctrines.The question is whether these differences warrant division in the church.

    What cannot be denied is that some of these divisions are on major issues: Free will vs Sovereignty of God for example cannot be relegated to a minor sideshow (in my humble opinion). Having said that I don’t believe that either group has the right to say that the other is not a Christian. In this respect the earliest Creeds are the most straightforward for Christians to agree to no matter what background they come from.

  37. 11-21-2011


    You said, “Having said that I don’t believe that either group has the right to say that the other is not a Christian.” I agree. If we agree that the “other” is Christian, do we have a responsibility to treat the “other” as a brother or sister in Christ regardless of our disagreements in interpretation?


  38. 11-21-2011


    Yes, I agree with that and on an individual level acknowledging the standing of one as a brother or sister in Christ and treating them as such is right and proper. Christians have enough battles with the critics in the world without turning upon each other!


  39. 11-21-2011


    Very well said! As I’ve said before, Christians tend to spend most of their time and energy and resources separating the sheep from the sheep.


  40. 12-9-2011


    Interesting post. I wish we could simply go by the confession, “Jesus is Lord.” But, unfortunately many people who say Jesus is Lord are not believers. Nowadays, people change Jesus into whatever idol fits their life and philosophy. A family left our church cause they do not think Jesus agreed with original sin. So, the Jesus they follow is changed from the real Jesus. So, confession statements (in my opinion) are needed and are good to have. But, you bring up a crucial point that they should not divide believers. We are obligated by THE unity of THE Spirit to treat ALL brethren, who hold to other Christian confessions, as family.

    Now, I do think there should be honest dialogue where confessions differ on the major issues. Determining the major issues is tough though. I do not think we can make a list, but deal with it on a case by case kind of thing.

    I have seen a few churches begin to place their view of creation as part of their statement of faith. Example, “We believe God created the earth in six, 24 hour, days.” They want a church that holds to the popular view of creation, pre-Darwin. With all that is being taught today, that might be a good step. But, I think they must be careful not to call one a false believer for holding a different view of creation. It may be that the person has not thought about all the implications for holding a non-traditional view. Maybe they need someone to come along side them, without condemning them, and walk through Scripture together on that issue.

    So, confessions can be great. But we must use them wisely. Personally, I like the creation statement. But, having it officially in a church or denominations statement of faith might cut the opportunity to disciple a person who will not engage due to the statement. So, for that reason, I do not think I would ever include in my own church’s statement of faith.

  41. 10-2-2012

    It seems to me historically that the canon of Scripture and the creeds developed out of a need for more uniform teaching about who Jesus was and how Christ related to God and to mankind. There was division within the Christian movement about the origin of evil, the divinity/humanity of Christ, etc. Marcus, Valentinus, Marcion, Montanus, and others held views that were at odds with the episcopacy and defining the Scriptures that were canonical and creating credal statements that refute gnosticism was important at the time in defining orthodoxy and the rule of apostolic succession. What do you think?

  42. 10-2-2012


    I think you’re correct about the reason for the earliest creeds (i.e., to distinguish between Christians and nonChristians). As time progressed, especially after the Reformation, it seems that creeds and confessions were used more and more to differentiate between one group of Christians and another group of Christians.


  43. 5-17-2013

    Hi Alan, first time commenter here. I think one thing that your post overlooks is the purpose of the creeds. As you know, as time developed it became necessary for increased articulation of the Christian faith in the face of detractors. So I think they lay an important foundation.

    However, the question you ask at the end is important. Are they used to segregate Christians? If you’re talking about the earlier creeds, e.g Nicean, then no because the purpose was to establish a marker of non-negotiables of the Christian faith. For this reason, we should not spurn them as many do. However, the later confessions (Ausburg,Heilberg, WCF) were used to distinguish Prostantism from the papists. Based on the split with the RCC this because essential though certainly there are negotiable elements within Protestantism. Unfortunately, I have seen them used in a divisive manner to distinguish the “real” Christians from those who aren’t.

  44. 5-17-2013


    Actually, I did discuss the purpose of the different creeds and then the confessions in my post. For example, after reviewing some of the earlier creeds, I said this: “Thus, the creeds up to this point were used to divide Christians from nonChristians.” Later I talked about how the different confessions were then used to divide one group of Christians from another group of Christians.

    Of course, there are some parts of the early creeds that I disagree with. For example, I do not believe that Jesus “descended into hell.” According to the “Apostles’ creed,” I am not a Christian, if that is a litmus test for what it means to be a Christian.



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