Opinion—No Creed but the Bible?
By Ryan Scott Carrell
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
These are the words of the Apostles’ Creed. These words have been said by followers of Jesus for hundreds of years to summarize and articulate the essential beliefs of their faith. Likely written down around the fifth century, the roots of the Apostles’ Creed date back even further, most likely used as preparation for baptism for new believers. And like those new believers, we, as people called to remember our baptism, would all benefit from a deep study of each word and phrase as we learn to see how they can form us in our journey of following Jesus.
But before I get too far into that, let’s be honest about creeds. In the Church of God, we have an uncomfortable relationship with them. The following statement of history is found on the Church of God Ministries website (https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/our-history):
The Church of God, with U.S. offices in Anderson, Indiana, began in 1881 as a movement waving the banner of salvation in Christ alone, the unity of believers, and the holiness of God’s people. Early leaders, such as Daniel S. Warner and Mary Cole, sought to forsake denominational hierarchies and formal creeds, trusting solely in the Holy Spirit as their overseer, and in the Bible as their statement of belief….
The underline is mine to point to something popularly said throughout our history: “No creed but the Bible.” Now, we’re not unique in that emphasis. Many of the movements and denominations born out of the holiness camp meeting tradition share our posture toward creeds. We’re not alone in statements like “No creed but the Bible,” but we love to hold that phrase up for others to see. My concern is that we are focused on waving that banner while avoiding what actually makes us unique.
The word creed is from the Latin word credo. It simply means I believe. And, if we are talking about beliefs, we all have them. Yet, without an ecumenical and historical approach, we often create belief statements in a theological vacuum. Into this void, we end up crafting statements that borrow more from evangelical/fundamentalist tradition, moral outrage, and political posturing while forsaking our own unique banners we should be waving.
In light of that, let’s return to the statement of history on the Church of God Ministries website.
The Church of God, with U.S. offices in Anderson, Indiana, began in 1881 as a movement waving the banner of salvation in Christ alone, the unity of believers, and the holiness of God’s people. Early leaders, such as Daniel S. Warner and Mary Cole, sought to forsake denominational hierarchies and formal creeds, trusting solely in the Holy Spirit as their overseer, and in the Bible as their statement of belief. These individuals saw themselves at the forefront of a movement to restore unity and holiness to God’s church. Their aim was not to establish another denomination, but to promote primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and transcend denominational loyalties.
We can all agree on those banners of salvation, unity, and holiness underlined in the paragraph above. Those banners, intertwined throughout our short history, have allowed us to speak to the moment, focusing on the Good News of Jesus for all those who call on his name. They inspire and remind us we are united by the power of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into a life so changed by God’s love that we captivate the world around us with the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control this world so desperately needs to experience.
Yet, if those banners are the banners of our movement, the masthead upon which we begin the conversation, what is the foundation of the Christian faith that fills the space of that vacuum so easily filled with popular theological statements and words of moral outrage?
This is where I believe we must come back to our uncomfortable relationship with creeds, like the Apostles’ Creed. For, if we lack the fortitude to adopt that which is historical, orthodox, and uniting to those to whom we reach our hands in fellowship, we will create poorer versions of creeds, which is what I think we’re in danger of doing today.
Rather than avoiding the discomfort with creeds, I invite us to lean into it, accepting the theological foundation they provide. Some of the words and phrases might be unfamiliar, raise questions, or seem confusing, but for hundreds of years, exploring these words and their biblical connections has guided believers in their journey into the way of Jesus. Then, upon this foundation, we can, together, focus on the distinctive, beautiful banners woven throughout our history: salvation, unity, and holiness. As we move ahead into our future, let’s proudly pick up, intertwine, and wave them once again for all to see.
Questions or comments? Rev. Ryan Scott Carrell can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ryan is the founding pastor of The Southeast Project in Indianapolis, where he enjoys living with his wife Jill and daughters Emily and Maggie. They love to explore their city and the sports and culture of Indianapolis.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.