“No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible” is something that comes up a lot in Churches of Christ. We have resisted having any documents outside the Bible that operate in any official capacity for the life and doctrine of the church. I think that is a good intention and I am not one to advocate a Church of Christ creed but I do want to offer two points that should be kept in mind that are related to our position on creeds.
Creeds established orthodoxy. The problem is everyone had different opinions on what needed to be in the list. I have a book of creeds in my office and it is several hundred pages long. This is why the Bible is so important. This means creeds force you to determine which matters are essential and most important and which matters are of lesser importance and liberty to come to varying conclusions on. More on that in a moment.
The reality is we have our own creeds. We just don’t write them down. We all know what they are. They are unofficial in that they aren’t documented but they are quite official in their consistency across autonomous congregations. You would think we had a creed even when we don’t in an official capacity.
Second, the thing we rarely worked out very well comes as a bi-product of our lack of creeds. We never wrestled with what constituted matters of first importance. Creeds force you to do that. We just say it’s the whole Bible (by that we mean the whole New Testament by that we mean Paul’s letters). I am being a bit silly but it isn’t far from the truth.
With our lack of emphasizing that not all things are of equal importance (1 Cor 15:3 – things of first importance and Romans 14 – the disputable matters) we made all things of equal importance. That has not worked in our favor. Because we don’t differentiate which things are core and which things are peripheral we elevate all things to the highest level of importance (even tradition, unfortunately). This approach lacks discernment and is actually not biblical.
Even if we don’t have a creed, we still need to work out which things are essential, core to the faith and which things are in the Romans 14 category of disputable matters. It is actually healthy (and again biblical) for us to conclude that some things are more important than others rather than make all matters DEFCON 1. Just try passing communion backwards and see what happens. The creed pops up again.
We never wrestled with what the groups with creeds wrestled with. One doesn’t have to have a creed to do this, mind you, but we just never did it and it has harmed our movement as a whole.
We need to spend time in our local congregations having some conviction about what it means to be a Christian and which things are essential to being identified with Christ. We have done a poor job of this, in my opinion, and if we can do this on a local level (not all churches will agree) we will be better for it and our standard for this must come from what the Bible itself says is most important (1 Cor 15:3-5 for example). It does not require having every teaching perfect to be “in” or else Paul wouldn’t have addressed any of his audiences as God’s church.