Can We Be Freed from a Need for a Creed?
Growing up in a small Presbyterian church north of Seattle, I was steeped in the faith (as a tea-drinker I truly mean “steeped”). As a child I absorbed the main elements of the Christian religion—and not just the Communion “elements.” Faith, like the water of baptism, was poured out and I was the sponge, soaking it in. At a young age, I knew the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father”), many hymns and selected verses from the Bible. I knew that Sunday morning was church, that we said grace before every meal, that I should keep my shoes polished and hair combed. Completing “Communicants Class” I learned the essentials of the Reformed Protestant faith, and I could proudly recite the most important creed—the Apostles’ Creed. After I was “born again,” I was still expected to respect the creed.
I knew this ancient statement was central to everything in the faith of our church. To be a Christian was to recite The Creed (one of many historic creeds) Sunday after Sunday to show it was my “credo”—my “I believe.”
No surprise, the Apostles’ Creed remains embedded in my head:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty.” God was (obviously) Male, like my Dad, who, in our household, was kind of almighty too.
“Maker of heaven and earth.” No need to give much thought to a theory like evolution. It didn’t matter how long ago or how it was made. God spoke; the universe was created.
“And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Exclusively makes us Christians, exceptional, unique in all the world. The Father has a Son and he’s our “Lord”—in other words, Jesus is God, God is Jesus, the Father is the Son, the Son is the Father. Creeds: if you don’t think about them, they make sense.
“Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost.” As a child, the idea of a “ghost” was pretty scary (except for Casper and costumes at Halloween). As a believer, I was supposed to believe in a ghost that was “holy”—God’s Ghost. And this ghost or spirit somehow made Mary in the Christmas Story pregnant. I didn’t ever want to think about that.
“Born of the Virgin Mary.” A young woman finds out she is going to have a baby and it was God’s Baby. Again, not something a child was supposed to think about, just believe.
“Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate—strange name; evil man!
“He was crucified, dead and buried.” Horrible, to be nailed on a tree! As a boy, I climbed living trees that gave me life, but this part of the story was terrible. In Presbyterian churches the cross is empty, but there was always this symbol hanging there, over the church, over the altar, around my neck, over my bed, reminding me Someone died and somehow died for ME. Another awful thought I tried not to imagine. And, it was never clear how God could die, but not really (?).
“He descended into hell.” I could never make sense of this, and through years of theological and biblical studies no one ever explained it. This odd phrase is found in only one brief passage in First Peter 3:19 about Christ “preaching to the spirits in prison.” What?
“On the third day he rose from the dead.” Probably the most important part. If I didn’t believe in anything else—Easter. Every Easter the minister would proclaim: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will never die.” But believers still died.
“And ascended into heaven.” Hard to imagine this. And where exactly is that, and why UP?
“There to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Also from First Peter 3, I always pictured Jesus sitting, wondering why. When I thought about it—and who actually does that?—it didn’t fit my faith, to have a God Who Sits.
“From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Not about love here, only judgment. I wanted to be “quick.”
“I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.” I think we Protestants whispered this with a wince, though many knew this refers to the “Church Universal”–no Papa in Rome necessary.
“The Communion of Saints.” A pledge of allegiance to the community, primarily one denomination.
“The forgiveness of sins.” If we continually confess, especially on Sunday.
“The resurrection of the body.” No one is ever sure how or when that would happen.
“And the life everlasting.” Life is eternal, until we die, then we live again. Once again, can’t think too much about that “spiritual recycling.”
Is the purpose of a creed to say, “I believe what these believers here today believe” or “I believe this because centuries of believers have believed this”? I believe I’m not sure.
⇒Do you have these ancient words burned into your brain?