The Development of the Creeds

The nature of God is perhaps the most difficult doctrine to communicate. Our language is a communication in words of shared understanding - but God is far beyond our understanding. The character of God (e.g. goodness) we can share in, though imperfectly; the attributes of God (e.g. omnipresence) we can describe, but only begin to imagine the implications of what they must be like to have; but the nature of God (what He is in essence) is a step even further away from our understanding.

It is worthwhile, when examining the nature of God, to look at the formulations, or creeds, made by the early church. This is not because these are more foundational than the Bible itself, but instead to see and hopefully avoid the mistakes which others have made.

At first glance, you would imagine that the creeds arose as the early church leaders gathered to solve the mystery of God's nature. However, the truth is almost the opposite. Inadequate attempts were made to explain some aspect of God's nature, often resulting in heresy (from 'hairesis', a choice or party). If these heresies were popular but possibly damaging to the gospel, then sometimes an ecumenical council would be called (a very rare event), the matter discussed, and orthodox doctrine expressed as a creed in opposition to the heresy.

The creeds were not an attempt to solve the mystery of God's nature. In response to heresies, they summed up the biblical evidence, defined the boundaries of the mystery, and thereby excluded the heresies which had strayed beyond the biblical boundaries.

The following two sections give a brief outline of the development of heresy and orthodox doctrine in relation to the Trinity and the incarnation.

< The Trinity The Development of the Creeds - The Trinity >

"Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine" - modern, scriptural, worshipful: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine