Confessions and Creeds 2, TTP Sept 18 2011

TTP Sept  18th 2011

The Need for Creed:

Last week I introduced term confessional church. I talked about the benefits of having creedal and confessional standards. This week I am interested in showing that we need them from a Biblical perspective. We don’t simply need creeds practically, but the Bible teaches us to formulate creeds and confessions to guard the faith. I am going to begin this section this week and finish it in the weeks to come.  

Need for Creed, Part 1.

We need creeds and confessions because they define terms biblically. The church has its own definitions of terms which are separate from the secular philosophers. Think for example of the distinction between the ancient Greek and Christian meanings of the term hypostasis or persona.[1]  If this is so, we have to define philosophical terms based on the way the Bible describes them.

The church has historically had to use pagan philosophical categories (or human language) in order to describe Biblical concepts accurately. However, very often, human language was limited by the meanings it carried in its contemporary context. For example, the church adopted the term homoousias to describe that the three subsistences of the Triune God share a common substance. This met with opposition from eastern delegates to the council of Nicaea because the term was interchangeable for the Greek term for subsistence (hypostasis). The eastern ministers eventually gave into the use of the term because it was properly reinterpreted with the Biblical definition of the person.[2] Letham quoted R.P.C. Hanson, who pointed out the irony of this use of language, “Tertullian may have certainly supplied the West with its Trinitarian vocabulary; he certainly did not supply the east with its Trinitarian Theology.”[3] Terms and meanings are not statically connected, but are changed through usage. Thus the church was able to use Tertullian’s accurate categories, yet not all of his theology.

So the church has historically used human language, Biblically defined, to describe Biblical beliefs. Of course, this is not without its problems, as we shall see next week.


[1] See Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 89-184. Letham shows the historical development of the doctrine of the Triune God as it was apprehended by the early Church.

[2] Letham, The Holy Trinity, 119

[3] R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 184