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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, February 27, 2004


Tripp is thinking about creeds. This is a big deal for Baptists, in a different way than I'm used to, being a "cradle Episcopalian." As I understand it, they do not object to sayng creeds, to the idea of professing one's faith. Goodness knows the Baptist tradition is way comfortable with confessions of faith, with Christian testimony, in ways that Episcopalians could learn from, at points. What they have a problem with is "forced assent," and for some very good reasons.

I had not thought of the way we recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday morning as forced assent, not in the way that is meant historically. No one is standing at the end of my pew, gun at the ready. I will not be fined, or arrested, or otherwise persecuted if I skip a part. Nor should they be used as some sort of litmus test, to determine whether one is "right-thinking."

In part, I see the historical creeds as summations of faith, as a telling of the Christian story. When we say them together, we are, among other things, outlining the basics of what it means to be Christian, for ourselves and for those around us.

I believe in God, who created everything.
I believe in Jesus as the Son of God, who lived, and died, and rose again.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, who guides us still.

If I don't believe these things, then am I in fact Christian? I don't mean that to sound perjorative, in the sense that some people have with equating "Christian" with "Good." I know plenty of decent people who are not Christian, and not a few Christians who are jerks. But a Christian is one who professes faith in the God incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is a basic definititon, is it not? So if one does not believe in the the outline of the story, then whatever else may be true, one is not Christian. Which, as I see it, is a starting point, not a reason for disdain or disregard.

The issue then becomes more complicated at the end of the creeds. Both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed list things rather quickly that are less about belief in the Trinity, and more about belief in church and doctrine.

I believe in the holy catholic church
communion of saints
forgiveness of sins
resurrection of the body
and life everlasting.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins
I look for the resurrection of the dead
And the life of the world to come.

How many of these things do we actually think about when we say them? Do we really believe them? Do we even know what they mean? This gets trickier. Not only, are we Christians, but what sort of Christians are we?

Now, if there is some part of a creed that someone does not understand, or believe, does that mean he or she should be drummed out? Certainly not. In fact, I think that is a fine basis for the start of what can be really healthy theological discussion and dialogue. An opportunity to share faith, and understanding, and to learn from one another. What we are supposed to be about is talking about our faith, especially with those around us who do not share it.

So yes, I'll keep saying the creeds. And if you have questions, holler. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I'm happy to work on finding them with you.


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