The Importance of Creeds in Christianity: A Critique of Jaroslav Pelikan’s “The Need for Creeds”

1. Introduction

Jaroslav Pelikan’s “The Need for Creeds” is a thought-provoking essay that delves into the importance of creeds within the Christian religion. By discussing how creeds have served as a political tool, a means of making Christianity more accessible to laypeople, and a foundation of religious faith, Pelikan makes a compelling argument for why creeds are essential to Christianity. However, his essay is not without its flaws. In this paper, I will first summarize Pelikan’s argument before critiquing it from both a historical and theological standpoint. I will conclude by offering my own thoughts on the usefulness of creeds within Christianity.

2. Pelikan’s Argument

Pelikan begins by discussing the political power of creeds. He notes that when Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century, he did so in part because he saw the potential for using Christianity as a tool for unifying the Roman Empire. By elevating Christianity to the status of official religion, Constantine hoped to gain legitimacy and support from Christians throughout the empire. In order to do this, he needed a way to make Christianity accessible to as many people as possible, and creeds served this purpose perfectly. By distilling the essential beliefs of Christianity into concise statements, creeds allowed even those who were not well-versed in Christian doctrine to understand and affirm their beliefs. Pelikan goes on to discuss how creeds continued to be used as political tools throughout history, often serving as rallying cries for different groups during times of upheaval (e.g., the Reformation).

Pelikan then turns to the theological significance of creeds. He argues that creeds are not simply philosophical or intellectual statements; rather, they are expressions of religious faith. This is seen most clearly in the Apostles’ Creed, which describes Jesus’ miraculous birth, death, and resurrection as historical events that have taken place “in time and space.” For Christians, these events are not just abstract concepts; they are real, tangible things that have affected our world in profound ways. Similarly, the Nicene Creed describes the Trinity not as an abstract philosophical principle, but as a real relationship between three distinct persons. In affirming these truths, Christians are not simply assenting to certain ideas; they are affirming their belief in a real, living God who has intervened in our world in powerful ways.

Finally, Pelikan discusses how creeds have served as a source of stability and unity within the Church. He cites the example of howduring the Arian controversy of the 4th century, bishops who held different beliefs about Christ were able to reach an agreement by affirming the Nicene Creed. This allowed them to put aside their differences and focus on what they held in common: their shared faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Similarly, Pelikan argues that creeds can help Christians maintain unity in the face of other divisions within the Church (e.g., over social issues or Interpretation Of Scripture). By reminding us of our common beliefs, creeds can help us see past our differences and come together as one body in Christ.

3. Criticism of Pelikan

Pelikan’s essay makes some valid points about the importance of creeds within Christianity; however, it is not without its flaws. First, Pelikan downplays the role of creeds in causing division within the Church. He argues that creeds have served as a source of unity during times of controversy, but he fails to mention how they have also been used to justify excommunication and persecution. For example, during the Arian controversy, those who refused to affirm the Nicene Creed were branded heretics and exiled from the Church. Similarly, during the Reformation, those who refused to affirm the doctrines of the Protestant churches were often persecuted or killed. It is important to remember that creeds have not always been used as a tool for unity; they have also been used as a tool for division and exclusion.

Second, Pelikan’s discussion of the theological significance of creeds is somewhat limited. He argues that creeds are expressions of religious faith, but he fails to discuss how they can also be used as a tool for theological reflection and exploration. For example, the Nicene Creed is not just a statement of belief; it is also a rich theological document that has been subjected to centuries of interpretation and debate. By affirming the Nicene Creed, Christians are not just affirming their belief in certain doctrine; they are also engaging in a process of theological reflection and inquiry. Similarly, the Apostles’ Creed is not just a statement of historical fact; it is also a powerful symbol that can be used to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In short, while Pelikan is correct that creeds are expressions of religious faith, he failsto mention how they can also be used as a tool for theological reflection and exploration.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, Jaroslav Pelikan’s “The Need for Creeds” is a thought-provoking essay that delves into the importance of creeds within Christianity. While Pelikan makes some valid points about the role of creeds in unifying the Church and expressing Christian beliefs, his essay is not without its flaws. In particular, Pelikan downplays the role of creeds in causing division within the Church and fails to mention how they can also be used as a tool for theological reflection and exploration. Nevertheless, his essay provides an interesting perspective on the importance of creeds within Christianity and is worth reading for anyone interested in exploring this topic further.

FAQ

According to Pelikan, the need for creeds arises from the fact that Christianity is a historical religion. Because Christianity is based on events that happened in history, Christians need to be able to articulate what they believe in order to preserve and transmit the faith.

Creeds function in Christianity as summaries of what Christians believe. They provide a concise statement of Christian beliefs that can be used for teaching and evangelism.

The benefits of having a creed include providing a common language for Christians to communicate their beliefs, and serving as a basis for unity within the Church.

The drawbacks to having a creed include the potential for division if people interpret the creed differently, and the danger of making creeds into idols if they are seen as more important than Jesus Christ himself.

Pelikan's view on creeds compares favorably with other Christian thinkers because he emphasizes the importance of creeds as summaries of Christian belief, while also recognizing the potential dangers associated with them.