Why Should Modern Pastors Study Ancient Creeds?

The historic creeds of the Church are an indispensable resource for communicating the essence of the Christian faith across cultures.

In today’s digital landscape, believers in Christ find it increasingly difficult to discern what is trivial from what is eternally significant.

One moment, we’re scrolling past a celebrity divorce; the next, the news informs us of a massacre where hundreds of Christians are killed. The news feed treats both as if they are of equal importance, leaving us to wonder: what should we sink our minds into?

Are our minds becoming numb to noble, life-changing truths? Are we being led away from eternal things and towards that which merely shocks or entertains? The good news is that God has given us his eternal, unchanging Word and unique structures to guard our hearts and minds. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). We don’t read the Bible as isolated individuals but in communion with the universal Church, enriched by tradition and the wisdom of saints who have been theologizing for millennia.

The role of creeds in preserving truth

One of these unique structures is the historic creeds of the Christian Church. These documents, forged through the early universal councils of the Church, represent formal statements of beliefs that Christian bodies across various movements, both East and West, have accepted. The Apostles’ CreedNicene CreedAthanasian Creed, and Chalcedonian Definition are among these important statements originating from the early centuries of Christianity, formulated to clarify and codify the core tenets of the Christian faith in response to heresies of the time.

From a Protestant perspective, these creeds—representing the best thought of the church fathers—serve as indispensable tools for believers today. They help us set our minds on noble, eternal truths regarding the person and work of God and discern what is unchanging from what is fleeting and should be forgotten. The creeds are a providential gift, helping us guard the deposit entrusted to us—the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

1. Creeds are summaries of essential Christian doctrine, not exegetical blueprints

Creeds serve as summaries of essential Christian doctrine. They define orthodoxy for us, clarifying the nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and other foundational beliefs.

They are the answer key, providing us with a framework for understanding the essentials of our faith.

However, they are not exegetical or expository grids. They don’t offer an exhaustive inductive Bible study to show how they reached their conclusions.

While creeds give us the answer key, we still must do the math and show our work. It’s necessary to wrestle with the texts of Scripture, study history, and delve into the original languages. We must also pray through a text and understand how the Spirit has moved collectively among his people in the past to reach conclusions that represent correct and accurate interpretations of Scripture.

2. Creeds are guardrails of Christian orthodoxy, not exhaustive compendia of doctrine

Creeds act as guardrails, keeping us on the right theological track. They help us read Scripture in the context of what G.K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead”—the voices of the past that should shape our reflection. Like bumpers in a bowling alley, they keep us rolling in the right direction. However, they are not exhaustive compendiums of theology. They don’t answer every nuanced question we might have today.

In setting our minds on first things, creeds train us to see Christ’s kingdom in its global scope, united by all who savingly believe in the triune God contemplated by the church fathers and confessed through the ages. Without these theological guardrails, our interpretations could vary widely and veer far from our biblical starting point. The creeds and later confessions act as trellises on which the vine of the Church may grow, giving necessary structure and shape to our faith.

3. Creeds are teachers of timeless truths, not instructional manuals

Creeds are designed to emphasize what is important to know. They help us discern what is essential from what is trivial, filling us with right knowledge.

Christianity is a thinking faith, logically and rationally informed.

The fact that one can systematically plot all its doctrinal points and put them into a cohesive whole reveals the logical nature of the Christian faith. However, creeds are not handbooks on orthopraxy.

As the Apostle Paul writes, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). To argue that creeds are insufficient because they don’t mention loving the poor or reaching the nations is to misunderstand their function. Only once we are thinking rightly about the things of God can we walk in his ways. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are both essential, but to pit one against the other is to starve ourselves of the riches preserved for us in the creedal documents of the Church.


Both authors of this article come from backgrounds—baptistic and evangelical—where creeds and confessions often receive little emphasis. Because we affirm sola Scriptura, we tend to shy away from formal creeds. Yet the creeds themselves help us guard the content of Scripture. They serve as invaluable summaries of the Christian faith, providing a framework that helps us understand the essentials. They do not oppose Scripture but work in harmony with it, allowing us to guard the deposit entrusted to us—the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

In addition to our denominational backgrounds, we both serve in a missions agency committed to discipling the nations. This makes us people not merely of thought but of action. The pressing question then is: into what faith are we to disciple the peoples of the Earth? While contextualization and cultural nuance are important, our task becomes even more challenging if we neglect the Church’s historic, ready-made summaries of our faith. The creeds offer a distilled, effective manner to communicate the essence of the Christian faith globally. They set Christianity apart from other worldviews and philosophies, offering theological richness that we owe to the world to share.

In an age of changing opinions and endless debate, let us be a creedal people—not just for our own edification but for the fulfillment of our global mission to make disciples of all nations. In a world awash in the trivial, let our minds be filled with unchanging truths regarding the character and nature of the God we serve. And let us anchor our souls with the clear articulation of biblical truths that the creeds offer us.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Focus on the Family on October 8, 2023. Used with permission.

Paul L. Davis & Alex Kocman

Paul Davis is president of ABWE. Prior to his appointment in 2017, Paul served as senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Holland, MI. He attended Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a master’s degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Paul and his wife, Martha, have been married for 28 years, and have both served in numerous roles in Christian ministry and education. They have four young-adult children. Follow Paul on Facebook.Alex Kocman is the Director of Advancement and Communications for ABWE. He serves as general editor for Message Magazine and co-hosts The Missions Podcast. After earning his M.A. in Communication and B.S. in Biblical Studies, he served as an online apologetics instructor with Liberty University and a youth pastor in Pennsylvania, where he now resides with his wife and three children. He was also Director of Long-Term Mobilization for ABWE from 2016-2020. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter.