Rationale for Reciting Creeds and Catechism in Worship

Further research revealed confirmation and clarification of previous findings of the historical uses of the confession in worship. The two ways we have hypothesized as biblical uses of the creeds in worship are 1) “occasional elements” of vowing the Gospel as in professing the faith at baptism and reception of members as in WCF 22.1, and 2) catechetical teaching of the congregation of the pure milk of the word as in Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiasticus page 32-33.

The second use would be a mode or form of the element of preaching, not a circumstance. We had discussed on the subject of the latter that catechetical preaching and catechesis in the service were modes and not merely circumstances of the preaching elements. The reason for this was that it did not meet all the criteria for a circumstance, and there was Biblical and historical evidence that it is a form of the element of preaching.

Bannerman in the Church repeats Gillespie’s argument from Disupte of English Popish Ceremonies on page 334pp answering the question of circumstances with three criteria

  1. The Circumstance Must not introduce anything of religious import to the service of worship
  2. The circumstance must be done decently and orderly
  3. There must emerge from the local situation a reason for the use of the circumstance

Catechesis, creeds, and confessions in worship would introduce something of religious import, thus it does not meet all the criteria for circumstance.

Here are my new findings which seem to explain the issue. In John Knox’s Liturgy page 157 regarding the subject of baptism he instructed that prior to baptism there should be a confessional recitation of the creed followed by an explanation. This amounted to a Gospel sermon outlining the basic information in the creed.

Formerly we had entertained the idea that using creed was an occasional element of worship in the mode of oath and vow (WCF 22.1). What deterred us from this argument was that one would only then be authorized to recite the creed once in the Christian lifetime at conversion, or corporately with the congregation only at baptisms. That seems on the face far-fetched.

There is evidence (example, Knox’s Liturgy page 157) that the creed was used at baptism and when vows would be made. However, our question remained, why else could the reformer have done this? Is there another explanation that makes more sense than the “occasional element” answer. What accounts for this, thanks to Knox and the above mentioned resources, is that we may distinguish what we had formerly conflated- namely, the use of creed must be separated from lawful oath and vow as distinct elements.

What is the relationship to the baptism and creedal recitation? The creed should not be considered as the same thing as the vow, but as a catechetical instruction in the Gospel to the congregation by the minister preceding the vow. The vows of church membership and/or baptism are appropriate times of catechetical instruction (and perhaps not the only time in the life of the church, as Calvin also in Geneva). This better accounts for the data. Some elements of which are outlined here. We know that:

  1. The reformers recited the creed in their worship services (Knox before Baptism, Calvin after the post sermon prayer, Muller and Ward Scripture and Worship page 116 show it in the liturgy of Alexander Henderson at the end of the service after the post sermon prayer. They also note that the Apostles’ Creed was not removed from the Directory by the Presbyterians, but the Independents- though I don’t know where to look to find this out other than historian like Muller and Ward).
  2. We know they considered recitation of the creed and subsequent teaching on it as a catechetical mode of preaching (Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiasticus, 32-33)
  3. We know they used the creed in conjunction with occasional elements such as baptism (but not that they limited it to those instances, cf #1)
  4. We also know that they’d give some explanation of the creed in the worship service. (see Knox Liturgy 158pp, and the Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiasticus, 32-33, This may also explain the rationale of the continental reformed on the subject of catechetical preaching in the PM service.)

What accounts for this data? That creedal recitation is a catechetical method of teaching is a mode of the element of preaching.

The best way to explain the use of the creed by Knox and the Westminster Divines responsible for Jus Divinum Regiminus is that the creed and exposition of the creed is a mode of preaching. Is it, however, Biblical? I think it is, as I will show below.

Catechism is a question and answer method of education. The New Testament commands to catechize, to instruct, to indoctrinate, and the examples of “trustworthy statements” and creeds, and those who’d been catechized such as the receiver of the Gospel of Luke and Acts (Luke 1:4), and as was seen in the verses propounded in Jus Divinum Regiminus Ecclesiasticus page 32-33. When referring to the general method of how to conduct worship in a catechetical fashion they wrote

  1. The catechetical propounding or expounding of the word, viz. a plain, familiar laying down of the first principles of the oracles of God, is an ordinance of Christ also. For, 1. This was the apostolical way of teaching the churches at the first plantation thereof. “When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat,” Heb. v. 12. “Therefore, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on unto perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God,” &c., Heb. vi. 1,2. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able,” 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2. 2. And this is the sense of pastor and people which the Holy Ghost useth, setting forth the reciprocal relation and office between them, with his own approbation. “Let him that is catechized in the word, communicate to him that catechizeth him, in all good things,” Gal. vi. 6.

It makes sense then to use this mode of preaching in conjunction with baptism, as well as in regular church education and evangelism, in church planting situations, and any other time when the minister may find a reason in the local context to so preach on a specific doctrine.

Still, I am a little allergic to the concept of reciting the creed without a purpose in mind in the worship service. For example, if we just did it every fourth Sunday as a rule. I’d rather we recite the creed or catechisms with purpose, rather than set liturgy. I.e., After the reading of the Decalogue we could recite relevant catechism passages. Prior to baptisms and the supper we could recite and explain sections of the catechisms, confessions, or creeds.

In short, we feel that we have reached a plausible solution that the use of confessions and catechisms are an acceptable mode of the element of preaching. This has warrant from the New Testament in example and command, the reformers called for the same action and followed suit, and because it fits the criteria for a legitimate circumstance.