For most of my life, I’ve been connected to Vineyard churches, a unique movement of churches that has historically identified itself as the “radical middle” between Evangelicals and Pentecostal/Charismatics. I don’t think I’d even heard of a “creed” until I was in university and I can state as a matter of fact that I never attended a church that would have pointed anyone to the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or any historic creed. It just wasn’t what we did. We were really good at discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit and responding to God’s activity, but when it came to theological reflection, that wasn’t a very common practice! To be honest, we were pretty theologically naive, but the good news is that we didn’t know it! You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
When I started studying theology in a more formal setting, I started to learn more about the Protestant Reformation’s commitment to Ad Fontes, the Latin phrase meaning “back to the sources.” In many ways the Protestant Reformation sparked a massive return to the Bible as it pointed the Church to start reading and engaging Scripture more. But guess what? All of that interaction with the Bible led the various traditions (denominations?) that came out of the Reformation to… wait for it… develop more creeds and confessions!
Why? Why does engaging with the Bible tend to lead Christians to develop creeds?
That’s a great question. I think one answer is both pastoral and practical. Creeds are often simply summaries of Christian faith. When someone asks me, “What do Christians believe?”, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed and that’s partly because I’m not sure if I should include a summary of the various eschatological approaches one has, what baptismal formula to use, or whether or not to talk about churches singing hymns only! I mean, there are a LOT of things that Christians have different approaches on and many of those issues, while important and fun to engage, aren’t central to the Christian faith.
Enter the usefulness of the Creed.
As I’ve engaged with Scripture, done my best to do theology well, and pastored people within the context of the Church, I’ve increasingly become convinced that we need a return to what I refer to as “creedal Christianity.” This is especially true in the world of charismatic churches because we have, at times, a tendency to lose our moorings. There are, in my opinion, some things that could only happen in a Charismatic church, ha ha! It’s probably because we have a strong value on spontaneity and fresh revelations, but not everything spontaneous or fresh is… well… biblical. Right? Too many negative illustrations come to mind, but you probably catch my drift.
For my part, the Apostle’s Creed is a great anchor for our faith. It’s a great summary of Orthodox Christianity and helps keep us focused on what John Wimber called “the main and the plain.”
Being a Charismatic Means Being Trinitarian.
Charismatics have long waved the Holy Spirit flag, asking the wider Church to return to welcoming and responding to the Spirit’s work. Theologically, this flows out of our deep commitment to what really is just great trinitarian theology. And I think we should own it. While much of the Church has fallen guilty of anemic, shallow, or even non-existent pneumatology, we “evangelical charismatics” have been quick to point out that the Holy Spirit is God! We’ve been reminding the Church that the Spirit is a person and has a sovereign will and works in the Church!
So when I think of being a Creedal Christian, I can’t help but think that this also means I’m a trinitarian creedal Christian. To be “creedal,” I think, means to be “fully charismatic” because it’s a theological commitment to the trinitarian truths raised in the Creeds (I should mention that while I start with the Apostle’s Creed, I also love the Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian Creeds).
At the end of the day, I guess what I’m really getting at is that we need to reflect on how we do theology. While we would probably all agree that the Bible is our final authority, we need to also recognize that our experiences with God also shape our theology… not to mention how we think and the church traditions we inherit. This, by the way, is our “theological method,” the how we do theology. We are influenced primarily by Scripture but also by our experiences and our thinking and the local church traditions that we inherit. These four influences are what shaped John Wesley’s theological approach, what has been deemed the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” Since I’m Vineyard, I have articulated it as “Quadrilateraling in the Vineyard.”
What do you think? What stands out as helpful? What do you disagree with? Or what do you have more questions about? Do you think Creeds matter? Which Creeds have been most helpful to you? What is the negative aspect of Creeds?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.