Modern Christians do not like labels. Often, I encounter people who are simply "Bible belieiving" Christians who attend "Bible believing" churches. But, have you ever considered how unhelpful that is? Of course, all Christians believe the Bible, but many people, including the cults say that they believe the Bible too.
That is where the Creeds come in. Many Christians and churches dismiss creeds as "man-made doctrines" or "commandments of men." In the LRF, we believe the doctrines taught in the Three Forms of Unity (the Heidelberg Catechism; the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt).
A creed is simply a statement of faith. Every church and every Christian has a creed, a number of beliefs. The list may be small, or it may be long. It may not even be written. But a creed makes the statement of faith official. It is written down and published so that anyone can see what this particular church believes.
A confession is a creed which Christians confess together. To confess is to "say with," or "to say the same as." We say the same as God, we say the same as other Christians, and we say the same as the church of the past.
It is not enough to say, "I believe the Bible," but we must also say what we believe the Bible teaches on any number of subjects: on God, on man, on Christ, on salvation, on the church and on the end times, to name but six areas of belief.
Take the Jehovah's Witnesses. They claim to believe the Bible but what do they believe the Bible teaches about Christ? They believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus is a creature, the Archangel Michael, and not the Eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Take an Evangelical, no creed but Christ, Bible believing Church: go there and try to teach Calvinism; go there and ask for baptism of your child; go there and deny the Rapture, and you will soon discover that, although "they believe the Bible," they have firmly held beliefs on what the Bible teaches.
Creeds are necessary for historical reasons also.
In John 8:24 Jesus said, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." He added in verse 31 that being His' disciples includes abiding in His Word. Then in John 16:13 He promised the Spirit to the church (not to one man working alone but to the church as a community of believers) who would guide them into all truth.
The Spirit has done that and the fruit of that is doctrinal development against the background of the lie. In Acts 8:37 the Ethiopian is baptised on this confession: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Is that ENOUGH today?
The answer is that it is not, because two things have changed: First, the truth has developed. Now, we know more than the Ethiopian did. He had the truth in seed form, but the church had not developed the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the meaning of grace, the doctrine of sin, and many other things. Second, the devil's attacks on the truth have intensified. Today, a JW can (and does) say that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God. A Mormon will also confess those words. Now, the church must insist on a more detailed confession: the church must teach her members the truth of the Trinity, not by going back to square one, but by learning what the church learned in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, by seeing how the church struggled to define the Trinity and what the church has given us in the Creeds of Nicea (325 AD, 381 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD).
It is folly, arrogant folly, for modern Christians to ignore everything the church has discovered in the past.
Ths does not mean that the Creeds have higher authority than, or even equal authority with, the Bible. The creeds must be judged by the Bible, for the Bible has supreme authority. But, since the Creeds are faithful summaries of Biblical teaching, and have stood the test of time, they have real authority in the church.
A minister, for example, may not say, "I believe the Bible and I promise to teach the Bible," and then teach whatever he thinks the Bible teaches. That leads to chaos. Then one man preaches Calvinism one week, the next week another man teaches Arminianism; one week the preacher denies the Rapture, the next week his colleague teaches it.
Rather, the minister says, "I believe the Bible and I promise to teach the Bible as the teachings of the Bible are summarised in the creeds of the church."
With creeds, then, there are great benefits:
There is real unity. Every minister teaches the same doctrines, and all the members believe the same doctrines. This unity is not superficial, where people "agree to disagree." They actually DO agree in the faith. And these doctrines separate the members of the church from the world, and from other churches, which do not believe these same doctrines. That is why we call our three creeds "The Three Forms of Unity." They unite us not only with all Reformed believers, but also with all Reformed believers of the past.
It is safe for the church to have creeds. It is protection against false teachers. If a church can only say, "We believe the Bible," anyone can slip in unawares and start teaching plausible lies, which he says come from the Bible. And what can the church do? A church with creeds can (and does) say: "You may not teach that here. Not only is it unbiblical, but is goes against the creeds. The creeds have already determined what the Bible teaches, and you, as a preacher, have already sworn to uphold he doctrines of the creeds."
Of course, that is only true if a church actually believes her creeds, and does not simply admire them as venerable museum pieces. But a church which is honest has creeds, believes them, teaches them and defends them, as precious summaries of the Gospel of grace.
For a more detailed explanation of the importance of creeds, listen to the sermon, "Why Heidelberg Catechism Preaching?"