Freed from a Creed


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?

Categories: faithTags: , , , , ,

10 comments

  1. I’d be happy to discuss the theological and philosophical defense of the orthodox tenets.

    • Been there and done that, Ron. Years of seminary, ministry, etc. I am curious why you would feel the need to defend the creed?

      • I’d be defending the Scriptures, which so happen to agree with the creeds. You’re choice. I won’t inflict myself upon you.

      • What are your “creed”entials to defend the word of god? And I think you’ve got it backwards–the creeds should agree with the scriptures. (Then we could discuss creeds of other faiths based on other scriptures. If you haven’t studied those, how would you know if they were true or false?)

      • Chris, philosophically you’re on the horns of an epistemological dilemma. There is always a possible creed from another faith that you won’t know. If that undermines your confidence in the Scriptures, then adjudication is not possible.

        The orthodox creeds are to have come from the Scriptures. Therefore, I’d defend those Scriptural doctrines that so happened to agree with the creeds. To say I have that backwards because I’d not be defending the creeds is to misunderstand that to defend the biblical teaching, which is found in creedal doctrine, is to defend the creeds. The point is, I’d be defending orthodoxy from the Scriptures, not tradition.

        What qualifies me? My arguments for one thing.

      • Sorry, Ron, I don’t accept your credentials to “argue” or discuss these matters. btw, did Jesus set down a creed?

  2. This is my most regretted hypocrisy. Singing in the choir, I feel some obligation to help lead the service…. the “Brief Statement of Faith” is not so bad for a group trying to hold libs & conserves together — http://www.overbrookpresb.org/pdf/ABriefStatementOfFaith.pdf — but we usually use Apostles’. I feel terrible propagating it and I’m looking down at my music when other people are saying “I believe.” Unsolved challenge!!!

    Interesting reinterpreting happened early this year by 2 process philosophers/theologians –. https://homebrewedchristianity.lpages.co/becomingchristian/ Phrase by phrase they attempted Bultmann’s “de-mythologizing” and then “re-mythologizing” – trying to say in today’s scientific worldview what the original writers indicated in their 3-tiered universe. Far from “God Almighty,” one has created a stir writing “God Can’t.” : ) I am so cross with the creed that I haven’t listened to many of the podcasts!! ….If a church uses Apostles’ today, “I believe” it should be prefaced with strong indication that this comes from a different thought-world. Much better, the practice of “saying some of what we believe,” and offering a variety of touchstones… or like the Baptists, eschewing them!

    Thanks for the kid’s-eye view of the Apostles : )

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. Oh yes, familiar with the “Brief Statement” and others. “Cross with the creed”–great line! Didn’t realize you’re still an “insider.” Peace and courage!

      • “and others”…. Yes – I’ve been thinking a lot about Barmen this past year!!!

        As it’s working out, I think of myself as part of this transition of Western Christianity to – whatever comes next. That comes with much uncertainty about what to say and do… so, “peace and courage” – is so encouraging…. thanks so much –
        verily, a freethinker blessing : )

      • Yes, the Barmen is historically significant. Other than this-worldly statements in the (infamous) Book of Confessions that relate to social justice, IMHO the rest can be shelved in the Museum of Meaningless Theologies (might go next to the Museum of the Bible?).

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