What is a creed?
A creed or confession of faith is simply a summary of Christian beliefs. According to Michael Reeves, "the creeds and confessions [of faith] of orthodox Christianity are the necessary, written responses of the church to the revelation of God in the Bible."
The earliest summaries of faith were in the Bible itself. Sometimes they were brief (Deut. 6:4-5; 1 Thess. 4:14; 1 Tim. 3:16) and sometimes longer (1 Cor. 15:3-5, 11:23-26).
Later, and especially in times of doctrinal controversy, the church produced more detailed creeds and confessions (which do not have the same authority as summaries in Scripture—more on that below). The early church produced the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed, while the Reformation brought about statements of faith like the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). Churches of the Reformation also trained and discipled Christians by using catechisms like the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Westminster Catechism (1647) which summarize Scripture's teachings in question/answer format.
Why use a creed in worship?
God's Word is the center of UCC services. Whether we are praying, preaching, or singing, all of the words we use are intended to faithfully summarize and expound truth of the gospel as revealed in the Bible. We then seek to apply them to our lives and hearts by the power of the Spirit.
A creed or confession of faith that accurately summarizes Scripture is no different. As a summary of the Bible's teachings, creeds should lead us to worship as we together declare the truths God has revealed.
While most agree that we should sing in a church service, many may not realize that singing words on a screen is essentially the same (without the music) as a reciting a creed. Just think of the song "This I Believe (The Creed)":
What glorious truths! The power of this song in a service—itself a summary of a creed, which is a summary of Scripture—helpfully demonstrates how edifying it is to declare the incredible truths of the gospel together, whether in song or readings.
Written creeds and confessions of faith, when recited in church, remind us that our church is part of the universal church of God's people which has existed for thousands of years. We are not an isolated group preaching our own interpretations of the Bible, but instead are connected to the rich traditions of God's people across history. They are powerful in reminding us of our unity with the universal church, just as Jesus' prayed for in John 17.
Creeds also keep us humble, reminding us that we don't determine our own truth and instead submit to God's Word and what it reveals. Michael Reeves writes that
"Holding to a confession is an act of humility, admitting that we are not, as we would wish, the final arbiters of truth. Instead, in our confessions we proclaim that God has given us absolute, nonnegotiable truth. Confession is our obedient response to what God has spoken. It is an acknowledgment that God is God, and that we are not."
John Witvliet (Worship Sourcebook, 151) has helpfully summarized some goals of reciting a creed together in a service. Reading a creed is at once:
a fitting response to the Word of God as proclaimed.
an expression of the unity in the church across time and space.
a witness to our individual participation in something greater than ourselves.
a summary of the whole gospel to amplify the portion of the gospel preached in a particular service.
a recollection of our baptism and of the faith into which we have been baptized.
an expression of the common faith of the church, whose unity we affirm at the Lord’s Supper.
The importance of creeds today
Our culture emphasizes that, as individuals, we are all able to define truth for ourselves, that no authority can tell us what to believe. This tendency has affected Christian churches, many declaring they have "No creed by Christ" or "No creed but the Bible." While the intention may be good, this is misguided. Many people and cults today who claim to believe the Bible deny many of the clear teachings of Scripture. Creeds ensure that God's people are not deceived by every wind of doctrine that they encounter (Eph. 4:14). They are "guardrails" of the gospel.
Modern people are also very attracted to innovation, of always equating the new with the better. When it comes to the Christian faith, there is a temptation to see ancient truths as outdated and no longer authoritative. As sinners, we recognize our weakness in being tempted by these parts of our culture. Reeves helpfully explains that "Written confessions presuppose that we are fickle people. We naturally stray from what God has said to follow the siren voices of our imagination and our culture. If we want to remain loyal to the gospel, we must bind ourselves to it. This is what confessions do."
What authority does a creed have?
Like everything that we say, sing, or pray in a Sunday service that is not the Bible itself, a creed does not have the same authority has God's Word. We acknowledge it to be true only insofar as it reflects truths revealed in Scripture. This is an important limit we must recognize.
Think of a full moon on a clear night. Though the moon is not the source of the light, it is bright as it reflects the light of the sun to us in a clear and vivid way. In the same way, a creed is not the source of truth, but it clearly and accurately points us to the ultimate source, God's Word.