In my previous post, I argued that Jesus instituted the gospel as a living proclamation, not as an idea to be summarised in a formula.
So is there any benefit in having such formulas? As St Paul might say, “much in every way”. First, teaching people a summary of the gospel helps them understand it when they encounter it in the church’s proclamation of it in word and sacrament. Second, it helps guard against errors that might otherwise muffle, contradict or supplant that proclamation.
Here are examples of each from the Lutheran tradition:
Teaching the gospel
Here is Luther’s exposition of the second article of the Creed from the Small Catechism:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Defending the gospel
From the Smalcald Articles,
Here is the first and chief article:
That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25); and he alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); and “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6); furthermore, “All have sinned,” and “they are now justified without merit by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus by his blood” (Romans 3:23-25).
It will be noted that each of these is not only a formula summarising the gospel but (like all such formulas worth bothering with) is also itself a proclamation of that gospel, one that warms the heart and is used by the Spirit to stir up faith in us as we read or hear it.