I was raised in a Southern Baptist tradition that rejected creeds, catechisms, and councils. Yet the denomination conducts denominational meetings much like a council that lays out the representation of its beliefs on a regular basis in a type of confession. In a tradition of rejecting tradition, I was unfamiliar with the Apostle’s Creed and the Christian calendar until I went to seminary. Courses in Christian history and systematic theology opened my eyes to the connection we can have with Christians over the centuries and the richness that can come from creeds and confessions.
Here is a basic definition of each (as described by Justin Holcomb):
- Creeds – Set forth the basic beliefs of the church, the faith entrusted to God’s holy people, drawn from Scriptures and connects all Christians in all places and time.
- Confessions – Distinguish orthodoxy from heresy and draw the boundary around what is Christian and what is not. Confessions can also define a group’s beliefs on secondary issues, applying faith to the here and now.
- Catechisms – Outline of teachings on the basic principles of Christianity in a question and answer format to make them easy to understand.
- Councils – Bring Christians together from all over the world to work out solutions to questions.
Knowing about these four C’s can root us in the foundation of why we believe what we believe as Christians. They can help us process the divisions and differences between Protestants and Catholics, why this big split in Christianity occurred, and whether or not it was right to split. While we should not look for reasons to divide, we know that there are issues worth disagreeing about. Overall, we must recognize that it is with humility that we must approach knowing God and that His ways are a mystery.
If you are unfamiliar with the four C’s and the history of Christianity, I highly recommend Justin Holcomb’s book Know the Creeds and Councils. In the introduction, he explains the purpose of creeds and how they were used, the purpose of confessions, the usefulness of catechisms, and the councils that shaped Christianity. His succinct summaries bring each of these to life as he shows how the essentials of the foundations of the faith were established and preserved, and their importance to Christian life. Each chapter has a bibliography of references for further reading if you want to go deeper. (I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review).