I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his 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 (or hell).
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 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.
Today I begin a series on the Apostles’ Creed. Traditionally, Anabaptists boast in their “non-creedal”* approach to faith. Stuart Murray states in the Naked Anabaptist:
Anabaptists have generally been wary of fixed statements of faith, which imply there is no need to listen to others or to continue to wrestle with Scripture. Creeds are concerned with only beliefs, but Anabaptists are equally interested in behavior. And creeds have often been used to silence, exclude, and persecute dissenters, rather than inviting ongoing conversations (44-45).
Clearly, I am taking on the Apostles’ Creed without having been part of a tradition that recites or teaches it. The formula of “I believe” appeals to cognition, when perhaps faith is about “I follow” or “I commit to” etc. Also, we do well to take note that the life of Jesus is completely omitted! How are we supposed to call this the “summary of our faith” if no mention of the life of discipleship is mentioned? My conviction is that the Creed is limited.
Now that I have come clean about my reservations, let me say that I actually like the Apostles’ Creed as a whole. It roots the people of God in a transcendent story, stemming from the earliest centuries of Christianity. It also reminds us of the narrative of Scripture, even though it is limited in its scope. My first encounter with the Apostles’ Creed in an intentional way took place when I was in college and working on staff for a young adult worship gathering. We preached through the Creed and it was an enriching time. I have had a fondness for the Apostles’ Creed ever since.
I should add that I also prefer this creed to the Nicene Creed which evidences some strong theological interpretive choices (with what I suspect is a heavy “Greek” influence). The Apostles’ Creed is concise (almost too much as I already stated about Jesus’ life) and devoid of anything in its phraseology that causes too much concern (well, for the most part ).
Over the course of the next month or so (we shall see how long ) I will walk through the Creed in a line-by-line format. I will not give heavy theological arguments (well, unless I get inspired) but will give some general observations about the “I believe” statements from my Anabaptist perspective. I look forward to interacting with many of you on this because of the diverse group of readers of the Pangea Blog! I hope this series will create conversation around some central Christian themes.
So, I ask you: How has the Apostles’ Creed been part of your church experience (or not)? Do Creeds help or hurt the freedom to explore the Scriptures and their interpretation? Are their any lines or phrases in the Creed that are problematic? Other thoughts?
*One possible exception is found in the Brethren in Christ movement which is also influenced by Wesleyan thought. The Apostles’ Creed still finds its place in the Manual of Doctrine and Government of the Brethren in Christ Church.