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Creeds

by W. John Walsh

“…all their creeds were an abomination in [the sight of God]…” (Joseph Smith History 1:19)

Creeds are “authoritative formulated statement[s] of the chief articles of Christian belief.”[1]  They are “an attempt to give articulate, intelligible expression to the Christian faith…”[2]  Since Latter-day Saints believe the truth discovering process is limited by creeds, the Church has no creed itself and takes a negative view of the historical Christian creeds in general.  Gillum said:

 

“Truth and the things of God are comprehended by study, faith, reason, science, experience, personal revelation, and revelation received through the prophets of God. Creeds, on the other hand, tend to delimit this process.”[3]

 

The creeds have been used to define what is acceptable Christian belief and what is heresy for most of history.[4]  The word define itself comes from the Latin de-finio which means “to bound, limit.”[5]  The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

 

“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’; which I cannot subscribe to.”[6]

 

Latter-day Saints believe in continuing revelation and an ever expanding body of knowledge:  We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”[7]  Furthermore, the Church accepts the view that we all see through a “glass darkly,”[8] meaning that our perceptions of eternal truth are imperfect due to our mortal limitations.  As mortal human beings, we cannot understand absolute truth as God understands it.  Therefore, any creed constructed by the Church would be both incomplete and imperfect. 

 

In addition to being unnecessarily limiting, the historical Christian creeds are “unauthoritative,”[9] meaning they do not contain truths revealed directly from God or his authorized messengers (See Authority).  Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

 

“The most charitable thing that can be said of them is that they are man made. Neither their authors, the councils which adopted them, nor those who presently accept them, make any claim that revelation or inspiration was present in their formulation and promulgation, although attempts are made to show that the various articles in them conform to the teachings of the scriptures.”[10]

 

Latter-day Saints do not believe the attempts at making the creeds conform to the scriptures were successful.  In fact, the Church teaches that the creeds contain many incorrect doctrines which contradict the Bible, which the Church considers authoritative (See The Bible home page).  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

 

“‘Wherein do you differ from other sects?’  In that we believe the Bible, and all other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds.”[11]

 

Church leaders have expressed the view that the creeds bind their followers under false traditions and prevent them from accepting the true gospel—and hence limit their opportunities for salvation in heaven.  President Brigham Young taught:

 

“…their consciences and feelings are bound up in their systems and creeds, whereas if they felt as independent as they should feel, they would break loose and receive the truths; but they will live and die in bondage…”[12]

 

Latter-day Saints also believe the incorrect doctrines in the creeds cause their adherents to persecute non-believers.  Church leaders have taught that there is a strong correlation between belief and action.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: 

 

“Society has much more of a stake in values than many realize. Creeds do count. Concepts do have consequences. Both affect life-style.”[13] 

 

For example, Augustine “argued that loving attention—the intention of correcting sin and bring sinners back into the fold—could justify the use of force”[14] or military action against nonbelievers.  This type of thinking led to the various crusades, the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, the Catholic-Protestant wars of the late Middle Age, and similar episodes. 

 

Latter-day Saints acknowledge that some contemporary Christian denominations have rejected the creeds of the past or at least no longer demand that their followers believe them.  For example, in 1902, the Presbyterian General Assembly declared that “any officer is left free to reject any part of the Confession of Faith which, in his judgment, is not taught in the Holy Scriptures.”[15]  It has been suggested that the continual confrontation between Latter-day Saints and the ministers of other denominations—and our very successful missionary efforts among adherents of other faiths—has at least been partially responsible for driving some denominations closer to our theological views.  President Lorenzo Snow said:

 

“The influence of Mormonism upon religious thought in general is a noteworthy feature of its career. The preaching and publishing of its doctrines has had a marked effect in molding and modifying Christian views and sentiments, and in changing the creeds of the churches. Infant damnation and the never-ending torture of the soul (doctrines controverted by Mormonism) are not insisted upon by the sects as emphatically as they once were, and the ‘larger hope’ of repentance beyond the grave—an ‘out-and-out’ Mormon doctrine—is gradually coming to the front in the reformed conceptions of orthodox Christianity.”[16]

(See Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relations home page) 

 



[1] “Creed,” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1991.

 

[2] Leith, J., Ed., Creeds of the Churches:  A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present 3rd Edition, Louisville, Kentucky:  John Knox Press, 1982, p. 2.

 

[3] “Creeds,” Gary P. Gillum, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

 

[4] For example, the creed of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563, “is still in force and is a creedal test to which, upon demand, every faithful Catholic must subscribe.  (Leith, J., Ed., Creeds of the Churches:  A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present 3rd Edition, Louisville, Kentucky:  John Knox Press, 1982, p. 439.)

 

[5] Langenscheidt’s Universal Dictionary Latin-English, English-Latin.

 

[6] Smith, J., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 327.

 

[7] Articles of Faith 9, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

 

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:12, The Holy Bible, The King James Version, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987.

 

[9] McKay, D., Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953, p. 24-25.

 

[10] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 171.

 

[11] Smith, J., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 119.

 

[12] Young, B., Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. by J. Widstoe, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1941, p. 402-03.

 

[13] Maxwell, N., Deposition of a Disciple, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 78-79.

 

[14] Keen, M., Chivalry.  New Haven, Connecticut:  Yale University Press, 1984, p. 45.

 

[15] Quoted in McKay, D., Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953, p. 26.

 

[16] Snow, L., The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow.  Compiled by Clyde J. Williams. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1984, p. 16.

Copyright 2001 by All About Mormons

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