Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We Need the Creed

These things are written that you might believe (John 20:31).

Nine years is long enough. I should have it down by now.

I’ve been a Presbyterian long enough to have the Apostles’ Creed committed to memory. But whenever I’m in a worship service and the congregation is asked to “stand and say together what we believe,” I reach for the print version. I guess when it comes to the creed I still need a crutch.

The faith tradition grew up in did not say the Apostles’ Creed. In fact, the oft repeated boast in my tradition was that “The Bible is our Creed.” That’s all well and good, but it pretty much rules out any kind of congregational “recitation.” I was probably in seminary before I knew that there was an Apostles’ Creed. I’m sure I was 30 years old before I attended a church that used those words in worship.

But now I know what it is and what it says. And I like repeating those words even if I do self-consciously reach for the bulletin or the hymnal for some help. I like that we can actually say what we believe. And I like very much that when we say it we’re saying something that others before us have said for centuries. I am increasingly at home with the creed, with the rhythm of its language, the orderly movement from God the Father to Jesus the Son to the Holy Spirit and finally the church.

I have found my way to the creed rather late in life, but I’m learning to like it. More than that, I’m learning that I need it.

Ours is an age when everybody has an opinion and plenty of people are willing to tell you what they think. We also live in a time when emotions are highly regarded and all of us are regularly urged to explore and give expression to what we feel. But it’s a different matter to say what you believe.

I need the Apostles’ Creed. I need to stand with other believers and say together with them what we believe. I need it because sometimes, quite honestly, I need to be reminded. Maybe you do too.

Some months ago we began a series of reflections on the words of the Apostles’ Creed. In the weeks ahead we will pick up where we left off. We’ll take our beliefs bite-sized and linger with what they say and ponder what they mean – not as an exercise in theological posturing but as prayer.

My basic premise is that we need the Creed.

Some of us need it because we know what we believe but we take it for granted. We haven’t given serious thought to our beliefs in quite a while. They’ve collected dust or they’ve mildewed slightly in some dark corner of the mind. We know where they are; we just never pull them out and look at them very often.

Others of us need the creed because we’re not sure what we believe. We’re not sure if we believe. It’s time to get honest – not just with ourselves but with our tradition. We need to hear what it claims and then deal with what it claims of us.

Hopefully, in the weeks to come, you’ll realize that you also need the creed, even if you can’t say it from memory.

Grant us grace, O God, to believe with both humility and confidence. Make us bold in what we believe, not in order to win arguments but to bring others to you. Bless these weeks so that what believe may be clarified and strengthened by the power of your Spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Charlene said...

I sometimes futz and futz with what I hear as new age music in church. But I'm over 50, so that constitutes anything beyond "How Great Thou Art" or "His Eye is on the Sparrow". I struggle with sitting still while bass rhythms pound through speakers and drums thump out a beat. "There is a quiet place" and that space for me is when I recite the 23rd Psalm (and realize I am able to still recite it). The Lord's prayer is a similar anthem that soothes my ruffled feathers and calms my angst and it is as much for the words as the assurance recitation brings. Perhaps – as you believe with the Apostles' Creed, it is the commitment to memory, an act of awareness that builds confidence and I believe why He encourages us to commit to our memory His word. For when the battles come, and in those places where the darkness hides, there too will be; "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…".

Curtis Freeman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curtis Freeman said...

Hey Mark. Glad you learned to confess the creed. I'm hoping Baptists and other Free Churchers can realize that they don't have to become Presbyterians to confess the creed. (Not that being a Presbyterian is a bad thing!) I think some might be surprised and encouraged to see a renewed interest, not in creedalism, but in affirming the apostolic faith. A new book project I participated in to that end is coming out soon. You can see it here.


PS Sorry to delete my earlier comment. I had the wrong link--a picture of a pulled pork sandwich!

Steven R. Harmon said...

Well said, Mark! And Curtis is right, too--Baptists should be able to do this, too, without being untrue to any of the distinctive gifts the Baptist tradition has to offer the rest of the church. (And indeed some Baptist communities have--to name just one example, a covenant renewal service liturgy published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain includes recitation of the Nicene Creed.) Here's my own Baptist $0.02 on the matter: http://ecclesialtheology.blogspot.com/2010/10/do-real-baptists-recite-creeds.html

Grace and peace,
Steve Harmon

George Linney (aka Monk) said...

Thank you Pastor, for these words.
I celebrated a Eucharist with some men last Monday, most of them of a very evangelical, low-church formation, and as faithful a crew as I have ever read and prayed with.
Out of a common purse that is usually used for the offertory I had printed-out copies of The Apostles' Creed. We passed the purse around and each of us took from the common purse and then recited the creed together. It was good. We need more and more words spoken together, not less as we often think would make us more creative, or thoughtful, or something. Keep doing your thing.
Pastor, www.tobaccotrailchurch.com

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