Knowing our church history is one of our highest learning priorities after the study of Scripture itself. This fascinating and educational list of creeds and confessions from church history will be a helpful resource in the study of Christian doctrine, knowledge of church history, and identifying "modern heresies" that usually turn out to be recycled old heresies. The following list can also be found in the "store" section in the right hand column of this blog under the heading of Confessions and Creeds.
First Or Second Century AD
The Apostles' Creed is an early statement of Christian belief, possibly from the first or second century, but in its current form more likely post-Nicene Creed in the early 4th Century AD. The theological specifics of the creed appear to be a refutation of the early heresy of Gnosticism. The Apostles' Creed is widely used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical churches of western tradition, including Lutheran churches, Anglican and Episcopalian churches. Important note: the word catholic, as it appears in this creed, refers not to the Roman Catholic church but to the church universal.
The Nicene Creed is a Christian statement of faith accepted by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and most Protestant churches. It gets its name from the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), where it was initially adopted, and from the First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.), where a revised version was accepted. Thus it may be referred to specifically as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed to distinguish it from the original 325 A.D. version. The original Nicene Creed adopted in 325 ended just after the words, "We believe in the Holy Spirit..." Content was added at the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.; hence the name "Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed", which refers to the modified or updated creed. The Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus (431 A.D.) reaffirmed the creed in this form and explicitly forbade making additional revisions to it. There have been other subsequent creeds formulated to guard against perceived heresy, but this one, as revised in 381 A.D., was the last time both the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches were in united agreement on a Credo. This creed is not to be confused with the later Athanasian Creed.
340 - 397 AD
The Athanasian Creed is a statement of Christian doctrine traditionally ascribed to Athanasius (298 - 373 A.D.), Archbishop of Alexandria. However most of today's historians agree that in all probability it was originally written in Latin, not in Greek, and thus Athanasius cannot have been the original author. Its theology is closely akin to that found in the writing of western theologians, especially Ambrose of Milan (340 - 397 A.D.). It was designed to clearly affirm the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity as opposed to forms of Arianism. This creed really highlights the critical importance that the early church placed on defining God rightly. After all, anything else is idolatry!
COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON
The Council of Chalcedon was an ecumenical council that took place from October 8-November 1, 451 A.D at Chalcedon, a city of Bithynia in Asia Minor. It is the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils in Christianity. It repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism, and set forth the Chalcedonian Creed, which describes the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.
The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Reformed Churches is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation "Confessio Belgica." "Belgica" referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession's chief author was Guido de Bras, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567.
During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Bräs prepared this confession in the year 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would "offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire," rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession. Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and de Bräs himself fell as one of the many thousands who sealed their faith with their lives, his work has endured. The text, not the contents, was revised again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19 and adopted as one of the doctrinal standards to which all officebearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe. The confession stands as one of the best symbolical statements of Reformed doctrine.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confessional document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine. It has been translated into many languages and is regarded as one of the most influential of the Reformed catechisms. Elector Frederick III, sovereign of the Palatinate from 1559 to 1576, commissioned the composition of a new Catechism for his territory. Frederick wanted to even out the religious situation of the territory, but also to draw up a statement of belief that would combine the best of Lutheran and Reformed wisdom and could instruct ordinary people on the basics of the newfound Protestant version of the Christian faith. One of the aims of the catechism was to counteract the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and so it based each of its statements on the text of the Bible. The Catechism is divided into fifty-two sections, called "Lord's Days," which were designed to be taught on each of the 52 Sundays of the year. The Synod of Heidelberg approved the catechism in 1563. In the Netherlands, the Catechism was approved as well as the great Synod of Dort, which adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, together with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort. Elders and deacons were required to subscribe and adhere to it, and ministers were required to preach on a section of the Catechism each Sunday so as to increase the often poor theological knowledge of the church members. In many Dutch Reformed denominations this practice is still continued.
SECOND HELVETIC CONFESSION
The word "Helvetic" is Latin for "Swiss." The setting of the Second Helvetic Confession is Swiss-German Reformed Protestantism.
After the great Reformer Ulrich Zwingli died in battle in 1531, Heinrich Bullinger succeeded him as minister of the church in Zurich. Bullinger was a model Reformed minister. In 1561, Bullinger composed the document that later became known as the Second Helvetic Confession. The churches of Switzerland adopted Bullinger's confession as their new confession of faith. Soon finding wide acceptance throughout Europe and beyond, it was translated into French, English, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish. Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms the authority of the Scriptures for the church's government and reformation. By including an article on predestination, the confession asks the church to trust in God's free and gracious election of its membership in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the confession addresses the practical life of the gathered community, detailing matters of worship, church order and conflict, ministry, the sacraments, and marriage.
CANONS OF DORDT
The Canons of Dordt constitute the judgment of the Synod of Dordt held in the Dutch city of Dordrecht in 1618-1619.
These canons are in actuality a judicial decision on the doctrinal points in dispute from the Arminian controversy of that day. Following the death of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), his followers set forth a Five articles of Remonstrance (published in 1610) formulating their points of departure from the stricter Calvinism of the Belgic Confession. The Canons of Dordt is the judgment of the Synod against this Remonstrance. However, Arminian theology later received official toleration by the State and has since continued in various forms within Protestantism. The Canons were not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of Reformed doctrine, but only an exposition on the five points of doctrine in dispute. These Canons set forth what is often referred to as the Five Points of Calvinism. Today, the Canons of Dordt form one of the confessional standards of many of the Reformed churches around the world, including the Netherlands, Australia, and North America.
WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith, in the Calvinist theological tradition. Although drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly, largely of the Church of England, it became and remains the 'subordinate standard' of doctrine in the Church of Scotland, and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide. In 1643, the English Parliament called upon "learned, godly and judicious Divines", to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the confession of faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the confession and the catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible. The Westminster Confession of Faith was modified and adopted by Congregationalists in England in the form of the Savoy Declaration (1658). Likewise, the Baptists of England modified the Savoy Declaration to produce the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). English Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists would together (with others) come to be known as Nonconformists, because they did not conform to the Act of Uniformity (1662) establishing the Church of England as the only legally-approved church.
BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH
This is the Confession that has been adopted by my home fellowship in Denmark and of which C. H. Spurgeon said - 'Here the youngest members of our church will have a body of Truth in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them.' The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith was written by Calvinistic Baptists in England to give a formal expression of the Reformed and Protestant Christian faith with an obvious Baptist perspective. This confession, like the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Savoy Declaration (1658), was written by evangelical Puritans who were concerned that their particular church organization reflect what they perceived to be Biblical teaching. The creation of the 1689 Confession is linked to Early English Baptist history and the differences between the “General” and “Particular” brands of Baptist belief. In the early 17th century, English Baptists were mainly a loose organization of churches, rather than an established denomination. With the advent of Arminianism at around the same time, many Baptist churches adopted the Arminian concepts of Christ's atonement and man's free will. The General Baptists were so-called because they held to an Arminian general atonement, in which Christ died for all alike. On the other hand, many Baptists rejected the teaching of Arminianism and asserted that a Christian's salvation was ultimately the work of God and his sovereign choice. These Baptists were called “Particular” because they held to the Calvinistic particular atonement, in which Christ's atonement was limited to those whom God had chosen to save. Both General and Particular Baptists suffered severe persecution from the established Church of England. Virtually all Baptists had left the established church because they were convinced that the Bible did not support either an Episcopalian form of church government, nor the role of the Monarch in determining the affairs of the church. The assertion by Baptist churches that only adult converts could be Baptized also put them at odds with the Church of England. Though many of the Presbyterian Puritans also opposed the Baptist view of believer Baptism, this document did much to affirm the vital common ground they shared with the Particular Baptists in their understanding of Scripture and salvation.
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