Ponderings: Another Look at the Creeds

The use of historic creeds in corporate worship, common prayer, and private devotions raises the question about the place and role of doctrine in Christian formation.

The conversation begins with the first two words, “I believe….”

The use of the personal pronoun reminds us that doctrine is always connected with our personal profession of faith.  Catechesis, Confirmation, or any other initiating moments in the Body of Christ are for the purpose of leading us “into” a personal declaration of and adherence to the Faith.  This is what persons are today referring to as “lived” theology.  It is the recognition that faith can never be second-hand.  It cannot be abstract.  The role of theology is always to be transformative, so that we can say, “I believe.”  Creeds do not allow us the luxury of standing outside of the Christian faith.

And then we say “believe.”  Here is the word of objectivity, tradition, and community.  No one can believe alone, because a person in isolation doesn’t know what to believe.  A privatized Christianity leaves us with no vantage point for knowing if our convictions have any basis.  We may be “sincerely” wrong.  To recite the Creeds is to agree that there is (and must be) an exterior and normative dimension to faith.  And so we say, “I believe.” Creeds do not allow us to make it up as we go along.

So, before we even get into the specific affirmations of faith, we have spoken the two words which set the rest of what we confess in context:  personal commitment and life in community.  With respect to personal commitment, the Creeds make us brothers and sisters with every other Christian.  And with respect to community, they remind us that we are not the author of our belief system; it is a gift rooted in God and offered to us by the Body of Christ.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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