Articles of faith are the summary statements of foundational beliefs held by individuals, churches, or ministries. They set forth the essential truths which guide every area of belief and practice. Sometimes articles of faith are called a doctrinal statement, statement of faith, or statement of belief. Believers throughout the ages have crafted these statements which have often been memorized in the form of creeds. One of the earliest articles of faith was set forth in Deuteronomy 6:4-7: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This is known to Jews as the “shema,” and is the foundation of all the commandments of God. It establishes the unity of God, the supremacy of God, and the priority of serving God. The Ten Commandments are another part of those early articles of faith.
An early Christian creed is set out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This article of faith declares the bare essentials for saving faith in Christ. Statements like this set up a common core around which people can gather and have unity in the faith (1 Corinthians 1:10).
In the early church, the development of creeds and articles of faith was often driven by the rise of false teachers. Simple statements of faith are lacking in detail, and as a result, allow for wide variance in their application. As questionable teachings and practices appeared, the leaders of the churches gathered to search the Scriptures and set forth the true, or orthodox, beliefs of the church. This process is seen in Acts 15:1-29, when some teachers said that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem met to discuss the issue, and wrote a letter to inform the churches that keeping the Mosaic Law was not necessary for salvation. The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and others were created in response to similar challenges to orthodox beliefs.
Today, most articles of faith are arranged in topical order, listing the primary areas of doctrine with pertinent details below. Some of the key topics usually included in Christian articles of faith are: Bibliology – Doctrine of the Bible; Theology – Doctrine of God; Anthropology – Doctrine of Man; Hamartiology – Doctrine of Sin; Christology – Doctrine of Christ; Soteriology – Doctrine of Salvation; Pneumatology – Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; Ecclesiology – Doctrine of the Church; Eschatology – Doctrine of Future Things. Within each of these categories are many sub-categories, and churches vary significantly on their beliefs in each area. Sometimes the articles of faith are written in very simple form, allowing for a wide spectrum of specific beliefs, and other times the articles are very detailed, so as to narrow the scope of accepted beliefs and practices.
Church history has taught us that the more open and general the articles of faith, the more likely that false teaching will appear and gain a foothold. History has also taught us that no matter what the articles of faith say, they are essentially useless unless they are known and followed by churches and individuals. In the past, it was common for believers to memorize catechisms and creeds, giving them a solid foundation from which to examine new ideas. Today, the prevailing trend seems to be openness or ignorance regarding doctrine. Most Christians would be hard pressed to express what they believe in any depth, and the result is a patchwork of beliefs which are sometimes contradictory. The Word of God tells us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This means to examine things for soundness, in order to know whether to receive or reject them. This is what led to the great creeds and articles of faith in the past, and it is what will help us know what we believe and why we believe it today.