Have you ever found yourself wondering: So what exactly do Christians believe?
Maybe you have heard people talk about “being saved by God,” Jesus dying for peoples’ sin, or God’s unconditional love—but what do such people believe about God and Jesus?
Confessions and creeds serve as helpful, straightforward resources for discovering what Christians believe about God. Both creeds and confessions are formal statements of faith, but they have differences.
Let’s look at creeds and confessions and discover how they are used today.
What Is a Confession?
Simply put, a “confession” is a written statement that clearly articulates Christian teaching about a particular problem. Sometimes it also clarifies Christian teaching for the people who live in a particular place. Nowadays, it’s most commonly used to describe “formal statements of the Christian faith written especially by Protestants since the time of the Reformation.”
For instance, the Augsburg Confession, written in 1530, clarifies Christian teaching on the doctrine of justification, or how we become right before God.
At the time of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformation was gaining momentum across Europe. Many Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic notion that good works merit salvation.
So, a group of Reformers wrote the Augsburg Confession stating (among other things) that, “our works cannot reconcile us with God or obtain grace for us, for this happens only through faith, that is, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.” Thus, they clarified this important doctrine for the people of their time through this confession.
Why Use Confessions?
Unlike the Bible, however, confessions can err. They are human documents that are liable to error and subordinate to the Bible. So why do we use confessions?
We use confessions because the Bible implies that we should. Consider Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (ESV).
The Apostle Paul tells us that there should be a standard of teaching that we as Christians should commit to and live by, which is first and foundationally determined by the Word of God. Confessions are the very things that help us rehearse and remember each and every day what Scripture teaches.
What Is A Creed?
Creeds are a close relative of confessions. Like confessions, creeds are formal statements.
Unlike confessions, creeds most frequently refer to statements that Christians in all times and in all places have affirmed.
Creeds originated in the early church in the first five centuries AD, while confessions, as said before, refer mostly to the statements of faith from the Reformation onward.
Throughout the early church, creeds often instructed new believers in the teachings of the faith at the time of their baptisms.
Why Use Creeds?
Over time, people used creeds to guard the church’s teaching against heresies, or false beliefs, about God. They became important instruments in preserving the true message about Jesus.
For instance, the Nicene Creed, written in 325, states, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
This creed became like a strong fortress, defending the truth that God is all-powerful over both the material and immaterial world, from surrounding heresies that would say God does not have authority over both realms.
Creeds aid believers not only in understanding their faith more clearly but also, as Peter instructs in his letter, they prepare us to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).
Christians should be interested in creeds for the same reason they ought to be interested in confessions. The Bible encourages us to be ready to clearly articulate our faith. This is exactly why people have written these formalized statements of faith.
What’s the Difference Between a Confession and a Creed?
Confessions were written and affirmed by a particular group of Christians at a particular time and place. Whereas creeds have been accepted by Christians in all times and places.
If you’d like to understand the difference between creeds and confessions, take a moment to read the Nicene Creed (or any creed) on our site here, and reflect on what is being affirmed in the creed by all Christians.
Then, take some time to explore our page on the Westminster Confession and think about what these authors were trying to clarify at their cultural moment for their readers.
What differences do you see between the two statements of faith?