Church History, Sound Doctrine, and the Creeds


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As late, I have been studying the four most well-known and broadly affirmed creeds from Church History - the Apostles' Creed (abt. 180AD), the Nicene Creed (325-381AD), the Chalcedonian Creed (451AD), and the Athanasian Creed (abt. 500AD).

What do they explicitly say? And how or why do they differ from one another? Why were they written and then handed down? And can we learn from them, through compare and contrast, important truths about the expression of Christian life and thought in our time and place?

At between 1500 and 1800 years old, their ancientness can be mind-boggling for many moderns - only all the more with each passing year and decade. For that matter, the repetitiveness of the creeds can seem redundant to a cursory glance and casual observer.

Especially when you come to the creed commonly called Athanasian from a millennium-and-a-half ago, there seems to be a kind of pedantry and almost irritation hinted at in how explicit and emphatic the repetition of details becomes.

Yet delving even just a little into the history of why these creeds were written down in the first place reveals interesting and important insights into what has traditionally been the responsibility of the Church, particularly her shepherds, since the outset.

That is, these creeds serve not only to unite all true Christians on what constitutes sound doctrine, as well as serving as the basis for that sense of purpose and belonging to be found by God's design in the Church. They also serve as refutations and rejections of unsound doctrine. Such comes up frequently as well in studying the creeds, which since the beginning has proven by its recurring challenges to the Church the veracity of the warnings Christ and his apostles gave us:

"Beware of false teachers."

And why ought we to beware of false teachers? Because they bring false teaching. But why ought we to guard ourselves against false teaching? Because it at a minimum impedes our fruitfulness and joy, and at worst gives us a false assurance of salvation which we do not and will not enjoy.

That is to say, our ancient forebearers in the faith formulated these creeds, and held to them, from the conviction that such were really a matter of spiritual life or death for the Church. As such, I have been thinking quite a lot lately about whether I am, and we are, as serious also about the importance of each word and phrase handed down in these creeds.

If I am, and if we are, then what are the implications for what is understood to be a truly Christian manner of both relating and relaying? There is much to consider on this point. But first things first, I set myself to studying the creeds themselves and trying to apprehend them.

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