American evangelicalism, which has boasted in creedlessness, is failing chiefly through the lack of them. In one sense, of course, fixed creeds are inescapable. The moment you take a stand against creeds, you’ve firmly fixed your own. You stand by it, under it, and for it. You identify with it. This is what creeds do. They establish a framework consensus.
One misconception about creeds is that they produce narrow Christians. The reverse is the truth. G.K. Chesterton explains, “For while men are and should be various, there must be some communication between them if they are to get any pleasure out of their variety … If we all start with the agreement that the sun and moon exist, we can talk about our different visions of them.” In other words, we can’t talk about our differences until we espouse our agreements.
When Christians agree on a core, they may respect differences elsewhere. Chesterton said, without the “liberty of dogma, you have the tyranny of taste.” In other words, without the creed, it becomes about the tyranny of preference, which, in evangelicalism, is announced through catchphrases. Evangelical jargon—doing life together, God spoke to me, God laid it on my heart—is the replacement for the creeds. The cocksure pride of evolving past creeds foreruns a paralyzed inability to get beyond clichés. This is why the ubiquitous tyranny of personal preferences stalks the American church.
Why does it happen like this—that the creedless impose the “tyranny of taste” (as Chesterton called it)? Consider the effects of those who embrace a creed and those who don’t. In the case of those who profess a creed, they pronounce openly and unabashedly. This creates a big tent for all confessors—birds of a feather flock together, so the saying goes, even if the birds lack identical appearance. The creed determines the essential DNA that connects them all, allowing for cooperation between all the different-looking birds of that feather. But for the creedless, whose creed is pretended tolerance, the tyranny of unwritten rules causes the birds of the scarlet red feather to form a clique and the birds of the ruby red to form another. Once the cliques are formed, with their podcasts and protests, they shun heresy or disagreement. They cast stones at the candy apple red clique, chirping about tolerance in a strongly-worded Relevant Magazine article.
The lack of a creed means the different groups are always competing to establish the essential DNA. Without the recurring figures of church history, their ballast is their whims. The problem is there is no such thing as a corporate whim. By quoting the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed you embrace the bond that held together Augustine, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lest you misunderstand, that bond is Jesus Christ. Without that bond, each church—No! each professing Christian—gravitates to his own idea. This doesn’t work for the simple reason that we were told to be the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31). We were told to be the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:9, 16f). That’s part of the reason we recite an ecumenical creed every Lord’s Day, because a people without root beliefs aren’t a people.
In 2022 we will change from reciting the Apostles Creed to reciting the Nicene Creed, which can be found below.
Christian, what do you believe?
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
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Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.
 G.K.Chesterton, The Miscellany of Man (New York; Dodd, Mead and Company, 2017 Orig. 1912), 47ff.