Why should we say or sing the creeds in public worship? Surely creeds are something you keep in your back pocket—just in case. They’re a kind of yardstick to ensure our churches and their leaders stay on track.
But if that’s it, why not keep them in a drawer until they’re needed? Everyone recognizes you need a set of rules to play football, but fans don’t chant those rules in the stands. So why sing the creeds? Here are three reasons.
1. The creeds celebrate the gospel.
The Apostles’ Creed, for example, is in the form of a story. It begins with God and creation. It moves to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as looking forward to his return. And it tells the story of the Spirit’s involvement in our lives now—speaking through the Bible, gathering the church, reassuring guilty hearts, and filling us with hope.
To say or sing the Apostles’ Creed is to retell the story of salvation. Yes, creeds refute error, but they do so by declaring the glories of the gospel story.
2. The creeds unite us to the worldwide church.
Of course, many of the songs we sing in church tell the gospel story. But the creeds do so as a shared affirmation. It’s not just me, or even my congregation, who believe this. This is the faith of the church throughout the ages and across the world. The Apostles’ Creed is perhaps the earliest creed we have outside the New Testament. Here are truths both ancient and always fresh. They’re hundreds of years old, yet as relevant as ever.
Creeds refute error, but they do so by declaring the glories of the gospel story.
We’re part of a chain that spans the pages of history. We received these truths from those who proclaimed them to us, and the people who proclaimed them to us received them from previous generations. This should humble us, for it reminds us the gospel didn’t start with us.
Reciting the creeds also reminds us we, too, are links in this chain. “What you heard from me,” says Paul in 2 Timothy 1:13–14 (NIV), “keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
A few verses later, he adds, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2, NIV). It’s our responsibility to guard these truths and pass them on to future generations. And that challenges us. We shouldn’t let the gospel stop with us.
3. The creeds are subversive.
By declaring these convictions, we’re disavowing the ideologies of our culture. We’re saying, “The triune God proclaimed in the creed is our God, and we will not worship the gods of this age.”
We say this to the world as an act of defiance. But we also declare this allegiance to our own hearts. That’s one purpose of worship: to call one another not only to the worship of God but also away from the worship of the destructive ideologies of the world and its empty priorities.
By declaring these convictions, we’re disavowing the ideologies of our culture.
So in the Apostles’ Creed, every “I believe in God” implies a corresponding rejection of false gods. And every “I believe in God” is laying a firm foundation for the ups and downs of life.
In the face of materialism, we declare, “I believe in God, the Father almighty”. To those who claim we’re self-made, we declare, “I believe in God . . . creator of heaven and earth.” When pluralists claim all religions are essentially the same, we declare, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son.” Amid the moral relativism of our culture, we declare, “I believe . . . he will come to judge the living and the dead.” When the church seems powerless, we declare, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” When guilt threatens to overwhelm our souls, we declare, “I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins”. And when death comes knocking at our doors, we declare, “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
Sing of Victory
We’re like people singing their national anthem during a time of occupation, confident liberation is coming because we believe “Jesus Christ . . . who will come again to judge the living and the dead.” In this sense, a creed is also a victory shout. The song I cowrote with Emu Music sets the Apostles’ Creed to music, helping your congregation to proclaim the victory of the gospel.
So let’s take the ancient creeds out of the drawer, dust them down, and let them be heard in our congregations—said, sung, and celebrated as shared affirmations of the gospel story.
This article originally appeared on the Gospel Coalition's website, May 3rd.
Tim Chester is a senior faculty member of Crosslands Training and the author of over 40 books. He has a PhD in theology, a PgDip in history and 25 years experience of pastoral ministry. He is married with two grown-up daughters and lives in rural Derbyshire where he’s part of a church plant.
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