Why the Creed?

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A plethora of voices in our culture exhort us to have “faith,” to “believe.” Yet, upon reflection, what such “belief” signifies is less than obvious. I imagine the purveyors of pop-spirituality mean something like “The sun will come out tomorrow,” or “The Universe is on our side.” But such language is so expansive and vague any definition will do. Like the primordial abyss, we need the entrance of light, life, substance, and beauty. The Church’s creedal tradition testifies to this new creation narrative, a story birthed and beautified by the Holy Trinity.

Admittedly, embracing a creed sounds strange to many evangelicals. After all, creeds smack of Roman Catholicism, or the unholy trinity of traditionalism, formalism, and institutionalism. Yet, I’m convinced assumptions like these are misguided. They lead us to resemble the isolated pools I recall from treks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I see those mini-ponds now, dotting the creek bed, cut off from the stream’s source. Clear water and small fish give the impression of life apart from the stream, but over time the pools lose their vitality. Eventually, they cease to resemble the source at all, the fish die, the dust dries, and the pools reap the whirlwind. Just so, evangelicals who adopt autonomous, a-historical expressions of faith risk loosing touch with the original watercourse, the wellspring of apostolic truth (Jude 3). Embracing a creed can ensure we remain connected to the Church’s venerable form of sound words.

Clearly, a creed doesn’t include all we may believe, but establishes the essential narrative we embrace. It acts as a garden gate framing our life’s liturgy, ensuring that our different faith expressions remain catholic and apostolic. The great ecumenical creeds cultivate catholicity by reminding us we belong to the ancient, worldwide, cross- denominational communion confessing “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” (Eph. 4: 4-6). In our secular age, they draw our tribes together, helping us distinguish between our various theological traditions and the one faith we all confess. The creeds also preserve apostolic faith by ensuring our interpretation of Scripture is consistent with the apostles’ message. This is crucial because Scripture, like gems in a mosaic, can be used to construe radically different portraits of God. Yet, according to Irenaeus of Lyons, if this baptismal rule (i.e. creed) frames our reading, we may recognize the discrete scriptural gems in competing portraits of God, but we’ll never “accept a fox’s likeness instead of the King’s” (Against Heresies, 1.9, 4).

Evangelicals need the Church’s creedal tradition. In our age of fuzzy spirituality, trendy church plants, and consumer driven gimmicks the creeds call us back to rootedness in the historic faith. Postmodernity leaves many of us feeling adrift, but the creeds ground us in something venerable and enduring. The Creed imparts a sense of belonging to something bigger than our selves by fostering solidarity with the ancient church as well as the global church today.

In subsequent posts I hope to think through the Church’s Creed in detail, musing on its meaning and significance for our present context. So let me offer a closing word of clarification. By “Creed” I mean the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381).  It expresses my convictions best because believers from all the major branches of Christianity embrace it as the apostolic faith. As a believer who thinks in public I cherish the ability to say, “This is what We believe,” rather than just what I, my church, or denomination believes. Of course, contemplating the Creed won’t dissolve all our situated diversity, but perhaps it can foster a deeper unity centered around the beauty of the Holy Trinity.

 

 

 

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