Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why the Creed? A Disciple Pastor's Reflection


Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety, but I've begun to wonder whether in our pursuit of orthopraxis (right action), some of us have jettisoned too quickly orthodoxy.  I agree that to believe or have faith involves putting trust in God, but I also want to affirm that these beliefs do have content and substance, even if we are not in a position to understand the confession we make with any completeness.

I write this reflection as a pastor within the Christina Church (Disciples of Christ).  We are a non-creedal church.  We simply ask new members to make the good confession -- Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).  I'm actually fine with that, but I'm wondering if Christian maturity demands more?

I was driving to the church the other day and caught just a few minutes of Krista Tippett's On Being interview with the late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan.  I've not listened to the entire interview, but something he said resonated.  He noted that the Creed isn't necessarily a statement of what I believe at that moment in time, but is a statement of what the historic church has confessed over time.  It is a signpost, in essence, that we can point to and say -- that's my community.

When my denominational tradition was in the process of being born early in the 19th century, the founders began with enlightenment beliefs in the ability of Christians to use reason to discern the true gospel from Scripture and that this was all we needed to bind the churches together in unity.  Our slogan was -- "No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible."  The questions never resolved include who this Christ is and what in this Bible is definitively authoritative.  Of course, if we look back, it wasn't the Apostles Creed that the Founders struggled with -- it was much more expansive creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.

So I'm wondering -- how might the Apostles Creed, one of the simplest of the Creeds, speak to me and to my journey today?  I do not seek to make it a test of fellowship.  I don't seek to require anyone, let alone myself, to take literally every phrase in the creed.  I just ask -- how might this statement serve as a marker of faith for the journey through a pluralist world?  Or as Addison Hodges Hart suggests in Strangers and Pilgrims Once More, might we embrace dogma, without dogmatism?  Such a step involves a certain pragmatism.
Pragmatism is, as I've said, a position of humility and open-mindedness before the truth we can never fully embrace; and this is the case for the simple reason that human beings can know only a mere fragment of reality, one that fits the small abilities and meager perspectives of a very tiny creature in an incalculably vast universe. (p. 44). 
With that in mind, I wish to close by sharing the historic Apostles Creed, which I would say often as a child growing up in the Episcopal Church.

 I believe in God, the Father almighty,  creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

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