Friday, May 28, 2010

Just What IS the purpose of a Creed?

I hope PS doesn't think I'm picking on her but her response to my blog on the Athanasian Creed was so modern but so NOT what the original purpose of the creeds were it got me thinking...

PS says she is not familiar with this creed and she doesn't like to confess something she hasn't read before because she doesn't know if she believes it or not.  It reminds me of a former parish that only used the Apostles Creed and became peeved with me when I would drag out the Nicene creed.  Their complaint?  The "we"  "Pastor, how can I say 'we believe' when I don't know for sure what others believe?"

First of all I'm very sympathetic to PS's complaint when it comes to all these new fangled made up creeds ("I believe in the pink goddess who dances across creation showering us with love and chocolate sprinkles" ~you know what I mean).  I don't know who said it but I agree with whoever it was that said "If someone didn't die for this creed, I'm not confessing it" or something like that.

But historically creeds are about not what we or the fellow next to us personally and individually believes or doesn't believe.   The three ecumenical creeds - The Apostles, Nicene and Athansian Creed are what define a Christian church.  They are the teaching of the church.  The idea of professing the creeds is not so much for you to proclaim what you personally believe but for you to learn and accept what the church teaches.  I know how that sounds to modern individualistic ears - Who decided THAT?  Why don't I get a vote?

Maybe the creeds could use some updating.  And there are Christian churches who eschew creeds because they think it is about YOUR personal profession of faith.  Lutherans are still catholic in that it is about what the church professes and we believe there is something about the liturgy that shapes our faith, so that even if I don't personally agree with every  sentence in the creed, I am part of the of the great communion of saints who have professed this faith throughout the centuries who may or may not have personally agreed with every line.  And saying the creed changes and shapes me and my faith. 

I wish we could update the creeds but without an ecumenical council to agree we'd just end up with that pink chocolate fairy....


  1. Thank you for your insightful comments on the creeds. I completely agree. I do not, however, use the Athansian creed. The polemic against the heresies he was fighting is sooo apparent that to me it just makes it less a confession of what I believe and more a confession of what I absolutely do not believe and those who believe them are forever doomed. I know that the the other creeds also came out of the disputes with the various early heresies, but the Nicene and Apostles creed do not reflect that quite as bluntly - in my view.

  2. I thought I'd better try to reply now because I'll have less time for the next week. No, I don't feel picked on. I think that blogs are a good place for honest give and take. I have felt picked on after I've posted my comments on blogs of another Lutheran persuasion; I guess that some groups believe only in the party line, as expressed by male pastors. And that is another story.

    Our pastor's sermon on Trinity Sunday, was, in part about the creeds. She started out saying that she isn't comfortable with churches that say that they are non-denominational, with no creeds or other statements of what they believe. Then she went on to tell about the origin of the "testaments" and the creeds: they were a bringing together of what people knew about God and God's revelation to his people, also weeding out the heresies.

    One of the things she said was that some Sundays, we may recite the creed with whole hearted agreement and faith and other Sundays, we maybe aren't so sure what we actually believe, but we are being taught and reassured by the creed. [That is a VERY loose repetition of what she said.]

    I do agree: the creeds that I've learned and the liturgy, are statements of what we, or I believe, at least when I'm at my most faithful moments, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy "tells the story" in the same way that people with oral traditions learned who they were by the repetition of the stories of their people.

    I guess I just reacted to what you wrote about the Athanasian creed. If this was so important, why haven't we been taught about it? Why would is just be dragged out on one Sunday/year? Well, I will grant you that I was never taught about the Niaceen creed in confirmation class either, but I've seen it enough to know what is in there.

    So even though I agree with what you wrote about the creeds defining the Christian church, or at least that part of the Christian Church that I would recognize, I still would have problems with something showing up in my bulletin on a Sunday morning that I'm supposed to confess if I'd never seen it before. If I visited a church that had a whole different form of worship and confession of faith, I wouldn't blindly "confess" what they told me to confess.

    BTW, one time we visited my husband's home church. My mild mannered husband almost had a public fit right in the pew when he saw on the back of the bulletin that "it would be unloving of us to invite you to partake of the Holy Communion with us" because you aren't part of their group and haven't had a chance to learn what they believe about the sacrament. Of course, I have been part of a church which tells us that the Lord invites us to the table.

    But that is the other side of the same idea, I guess: Do we ask a stranger to confess something that they have never heard of before? Well, yes, I guess we do, but that person is free to say the words or just listen and learn, or close his ears.