Living Faithfully with the Creed

Living Faithfully with the Creed

I can hear my homiletics professor now . . . “Whatever you do, do not preach on the Creed . . .” So I am going to preach on the Creed . . . The Creed is one of those texts that we recite every week, and those of us who follow the daily office, every day. The Creed is also closely associated and forms the opening part to our Baptismal Covenant. I have also never met a bishop who consents to having the Creed removed or replaced at the principle weekly Eucharist. To add to the complication, many people find the Creed difficult to understand or even believe. But there it is, the opening lines: “I believe . . .”

So what does it mean if, “I don’t believe . . .” Clergy themselves are also divided on the question. Some clergy, like others have a great deal of difficulty with the Creed and will try, by whatever means necessary, to avoid using it. So if we are to use this doctrinal statement, how do we reconcile some of the difficulty we may have with the creed? I remember when I was in seminary, in my second or third year. A student came up to me who looked greatly distressed. She had just come from the fateful class where the Creed and its merits are taught. She wanted to know how I could in good conscious recite the Creed every day and every week.

For her, the creed was very troublesome. Everything from virgin birth and God as a male felt foreign and alien. It was too black and white for her comfort. I mean on one hand, what is one to say to that? The Creed is what it is, it was written a long time ago by a group of religious leaders during the Council of Nicaea and for better or for worse it forms a central part of our teaching, identity and liturgical life.

But, on the other hand, I did recall what has helped me with the Creed. Barbra Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and Biblical Scholar, has tried to address this very question. How can we in good conscious recite the creed when there are parts, or all of it, that we don’t or can’t believe? For Barbara Brown Taylor, myself and others, the most important word in the modern version of the Creed is: “We”. “We believe in God etc.” This is a subtle, yet critical understanding of the Creed. “We believe” implies that this is not a personal creed, but rather a corporate creed. It is the Church’s creed. “We believe” means that we as the church believe this; however individuals may not necessarily ascribe to this as their personal creed. Here is a helpful piece of differentiation; a corporate creed as opposed to a personal one.

Further “We believe” means that in the context of the community when I don’t believe or can’t believe there are others who do believe and can support and uphold me and those who struggle with the creed and its implications. While in our context and for baptisms we use the traditional formula: “I believe” this is still said in the context of a community of faith where we as individuals help to support and uphold each other. This is in part why I have at times had us use a different compilation of the creed during our BAS services which has a call and response formula. The purpose of this is essentially to help us focus and concentrate on the essential elements of the creed.  

The creed and promises are neatly broken down into a question and answer format and precedes the other questions around the apostles teaching, resisting evil and respecting the dignity of all people and the earth. As the baptized community when renewing our baptismal vows and baptizing new people make this convent in the context of community. It is our responsibility as individuals to hold and support each other in the life of Christ. When we may be struggling with our faith, we lean on the strength and support of our community to carry and sustain us to a place where we can once again confidently live into this covenant and support and uphold others who may be struggling.

When our Lord was baptized in the river Jordan he was baptized by John, another member of the community. Again this points to the importance and need for our Christian life to be in community with one another. When Jesus came up out of the water, Scripture says that “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”” (Mat. 3: 16-17). When we came up from the water at our baptism that same voice said to us and the gathered community, “This is my son, my daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” God is pleased with us and chose each of us before we ever chose God.

When we emerged from the waters of baptism God did not expect us to suddenly have all the right answers. Because we live out our faith in community, it does not matter how many times we struggle with the tenants of our faith, but rather that we are faithful to our calling as a baptized community. That faithfulness, the getting up and trying again nature of our faith, this is what makes us pleasing in Gods eyes and how continue to live into being the Beloved Children of God.