THE CREED: Anabaptist Reflections on the Apostles’ Creed (Intro)

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.
Amen

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?

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*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.

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  • Anonymous

    The creeds were good for their time, as statements of conclusions concerning theological disputes. However, I don’t think they should be taken as “starting points” on which to build one’s view.

    There are some qualms I have about the wording, particularly with the assertion that Jesus descended into hell. This strikes me as being particularly Hellenistic and less biblical than much of the rest, since the gospels are silent on the days between crucifixion and resurrection. It may not be an unreasonable speculation (without going too much into the idea of hell) but it stands out to me as being less secure than the rest.

    As for the rest, there are words used which have accrued connotations over the years that were probably not intended during the composition of the creed. Words such as ‘catholic’ and ‘saints’ have been altered by centuries of Roman Catholicism so we have to cautious about using them in case we are misunderstood.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      There are a number of folks who think “hell” here is equivalent to the Hebrew “Sheol,” basically a place of the dead…whether a literal place or a metaphor.  Of all the credal statements this one doesn’t give me too much heartburn though, perhaps because I think Evangelicals as a rule make too big a deal out of hell anyway.

      You are right, though, that the creeds really ought to be interpreted in the light of the fights they were addressing at the time.  Precisely because some of these no longer are our fights, it seems to me that reciting a pledge against them is somewhat anachronistic.

      • Scott

        Personally, I am confused as to what is old-fashion with the foundational beliefs of our Christian faith, Dan.  As we progress in our post-modern and post-Christian world, what other foundation to the Christian faith are you proposing to give people?

        • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

          “Old-fashioned” is not a synonym to “anachronistic,” Scott.  What I was saying is that the creeds were designed, not so much to create a timeless summary of the faith, but to counter specific controversies that had been determined to be heretical at the time.  A great example is the phrase “God from (or of) God, Light from (of) Light, Very God from (of) Very God” in the Nicene Creed.  I doubt one in a hundred Christians who recites those words today even knows what they mean, as it’s somewhere between devotional poetry and meaningless absent its historical context.  Therefore, to recite it now, outside of that context, is anachronistic…out of sync with the time.  If the content matters, then it must be taught within the framework of its meaning.  Otherwise it’s meaningless babble.

          And to your question “what other foundation,” how about 1 Cor. 3:11:  “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  Works for me.

          • Scott

            As far as foundations to pass on to the post-Christian world, you might want to also consider 1 Cor. 15:3-7, which the creeds clearly express. No doubt the Nicene creed has some technical language. Taught properly we can have a people who have a good theological framework and a story to orient their lives around.

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            Presuming, of course, that a “good theological framework” is particularly central to discipleship to Christ.  Jesus started out with “follow me,” not with a theological framework.

            Are there truths in Scripture we ought not deny?  Absolutely.  I have said as much myself.  Are they the be-all and end-all of faith?  Not if we are to believe James, brother of Jesus.  Not if we are to believe Jesus’ own teaching in Matt. 25 among other places.

            As for the Nicene Creed, I believe that–unlike the Apostles’ Creed with which I have no quarrel–the Nicene Creed actually has some genuine error in it, not just anachronistic technical language.  So I dispute that it *can* be “taught properly” as anything but a church history lesson.

          • Scott

            Dan, this is over the top.  I have no interest in dialoguing with someone who is not hearing the heart of what I have to say and dissect every letter/word that I use.  You win!  I surrender. Just a last thought.

            I am in total agreement with Jesus inviting people to “follow me.”  I am all about that, through and through.

            People are becoming unfamiliar with the story of God.  I am just communicating that we cannot forget that Jesus lived, died, rose, ascended and is coming again (along with other important elements in this story).  I think that is important in the story of God.  If this is not part of the story, baptism and Lord’s Supper have no meaning, and true discipleship and following Jesus is with out understanding and not needed.  

            I do not believe the Apostle’s Creed, nor Nicene Creed, have everything we need in it to understand the story.  That would be a misunderstanding.  But it isn’t a bad place to start.  It does give a basic understanding of the story of God.

            I am NOT (believe me, if you knew my story, you would understand) promoting nor communicating nor recommending a systematic, intellectual, propositional “theology”/beliefs alone.  I am into narrative and story – FULL STOP. I just get a bit uncomfortable whenever people talk about throwing out something like the Apostle’s Creed, even Nicene for that matter, that have helped many have a basic understanding of the faith.  

            As the culture keeps moving in USA more and more toward post-christian like Europe, I am constantly asking how to communicate His story with people who have no understanding, framework (not necessary to dissect these words, Dan, hear the heart) for this story.  NO, the Creeds are NOT complete, but can be very helpful in giving a “foundation” (no, I don’t like this word either, no need to dissect this one).

            Last post for me.  Thanks for letting me share my heart.

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            I’m so sorry you felt my dialog was an attempt to “win,” Scott,  as nothing could be farther from my own heart.  You said “we cannot forget that Jesus lived, died, rose, ascended and is coming again.”  Amen!  I truly could not agree more.  My only concern is that (1) most creeds are being abused and used as tools of abuse in the church; and (2) their mis-use tends to imply a sufficiency of their contents that I don’t accept.  As for “foundations,” I think Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is probably more helpful for an introduction to a life of discipleship.  *My* heart is to see the notion of Christianity as a “religion” abandoned for a return to life in the Body of Christ.  I sense that in this you and I may well be closer than this exchange suggests.  But just as you are (understandably) troubled when people try to throw out the creeds, I hope you can understand that I’m troubled when people refer back to them as some common touchstone we should all hold dear.  I’m sorry, I can’t do that.

            But I’m mostly sorry you took my attempt at dialog as combat.  That was truly not my intention and to the extent it was the effect, I was wrong.  Peace!

          • Scott

            Dang, Dan, you beat me to it.  I have a long drive in SoCal to work and I have been deeply troubled.  I intended to write this post when I got to work.  

            I am sorry that my post was terse.  I wish I had the opportunity to rewrite it.  I am very sorry.

            Thank you for your kind post.  You are correct in that we are closer than this exchange suggests. 

            And, I am in full agreement that the Sermon on the Mount is a great intro to discipleship.  But just like the Creeds being misused and abused by some, the Sermon on the Mount unfortunately can be misused as well.  I have seen it grossly misinterpreted throughout the years.  However, the answer to misuse and abuse is not to throw it out, but to do it better.

            Thanks Dan.  Great conversation!

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            Thank you, too, Scott!  I only beat you to it b/c I’m home sick today…

            Apology gladly accepted, and if you ever want to kick this stuff around some more, you’re always welcome on my blog as well.  I love a good rousing discussion with someone who’s got a different perspective from mine, as long as we remember who’s in charge…and it ain’t us!  ;{)  Blessings!

  • Mike Ward

    Very interesting post.

    I also come from a heritage that eschews creeds (the Restoration Moevement), but have started paying more attention to them of late.

    I find myself still having some reservations about them, but not the ones I’ve had in the past.

    My thoughts on this are all very complicated and tied up with other issues I am working through.

    I also like this one better than the Nicean Creed and was interested in your statement, “I should add that I also prefer this creed to the Nicene Creed which evidences some strong theological interpretive choices.”

    It’s the Nicene Creed that I’ve really been focusing on though.

  • Sid

    I’m an Anabaptist and did not grow up with the creeds.  I knew of it but would have been hard pressed to provide any of its content.  My first deeper foray was through an old song by the singer/songrwriter Rich Mullins called Creed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVTop7pzqcM).  

    For me, The Apostle’s Creed has been a significant reference point.   At one moment of existential angst I can clearly remember being ready to toss it all amidst my disappointment with a God who was silent to me.  In that dark night, the Apostle’s Creed was what I could hang my hat on.  “I don’t see you now God but  I still believe all this.  For now that is enough.”  

    I haven’t found anything quite like that in Menno-world.  The Confessions of Faith are good stuff but nothing I’m ready to curl up with and cry myself to sleep.  It is odd to think of the Apostle’s Creed in these terms but it has in some ways become my security blanket.   

    It’s one of the things that I love about new school Anabaptism.  There is a willingness that I haven’t seen in earlier generations to embrace the movements of God wherever they might be.  The Apostle’s Creed is one example of that to me.  

  • Ryan Robinson

    I grew up in the United Church of Canada and we would often recited it as part of the Communion liturgy (4 times a year). My thoughts on it are similar to yours. I don’t think there’s anything I explicitly disagree with, but I’ll never get too crazy over it because there’s no mention of the life of Jesus and the similar lives of discipleship we are to lead. Cognitive belief is good, but it is very incomplete.

  • Israel Hogue

    I like the creed and other creeds. We use it each week (or one of them) at our services. I believe they get us connected to the Church that came before us. It connects us to the universal if you will. I think a huge problem with the american church in 2012 is that we think it all started with us!
    Plus, the creed does a great job of focusing us on the trinity, and the gospel. Each week, I know that our people will leave having heard this irreducible minimum.

    I have to say that I agree with your assessment and I am looking forfward to your future posts.

  • http://www.fatherhoodetc.com/ David Ozab

    I’ve been part of two traditions that pray the Apostles Creed regularly, potentially daily. It is an essential part of both the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church (which I still pray as somewhat Anglican Use Catholic) and the Rosary which I currently learning to pray. From experience, I can say that reciting these words daily while knowing that they have said by countless Christians for almost two millennia is a profound experience. This and other parts of the Liturgy help reinforce my connection with the whole Church—on earth and in heaven. It is also traditionally a sign of our common baptism and when all Christians pray it—along with The Lord’s Prayer—it reminds us that in spite of our divisions we are all one body.

    I think I may write more on this as we get closer to Easter. Are you looking for more extended reflections from different traditions? If so, I wouldn’t mind pitching in. Love this site—it’s taught me a lot about the Anabaptist tradition. God bless.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

       @aa2976e6682328ddfadc865fb5d4ab5d:disqus … YES! I WOULD LIKE EXTENDED REFLECTIONS FROM OTHER TRADITIONS. GREAT IDEA.

    • Mike Ward

      I’d like your reflections as well. I think in the past, I’ve alway seen the creeds puely as litmus test for defining the boundaries of the faith, but now it seems that they function as a part of worship (similar to a song or prayer), and probably have other functions that I lack the context to grasp.

  • http://www.danwhitejr.blogspot.com/ Dan Jr

    Really looking forward to your posts.

    I’ve been asked by other pastors what our churches doctrine is and many times the Nicene and Apostles Creed have been a bit of a litmus test they compare us to.  Instead we’ve constructed our own doctrinal story.  Still this has not necessarily helped us identify with the church historic in their eyes.

    I too have always struggled with how the life and way of  Jesus didn’t make the cut in those early creeds.  I just never understood how a “way of life” was not central. 

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    I think the early creeds provide us an important baseline but he traditions I have been involved with, mostly Baptist and Anabaptist varients, don’t use them with any regularity.

  • http://www.kellenfreeman.net Kellen Freeman

    Growing up in the United Methodist church, we occasionally stated the creeds from time to time. I think that was more something the pastor at the time was interested in rather than the denomination itself. Going to seminary I see the value of the creeds, but I also don’t hold them necessary. I think they’re valuable to have as a part of our Christian heritage. It shows how we get to where we are today. But on the other side, the exclusionary attempts when some of the creeds were written make me feel like they are missing a big part of the picture, or at least won’t listen to the whole story.

  • Scott

    I grew up in the Lutheran church and I think after reciting it for so long as a child it actually was my theology, but with perhaps some interpretations of line by line that would be considered non-conforming.
    In your first paragraph starting “Clearly……..”, I agree from the first line to the last. Thomas Bender’s three features of the Anabaptist vision: Discipleship, Church as brotherhood,  Non-coercive- proved in the long run to me a more positive direction than other reformed(who were more credal).

  • Jheppner

    I look forward to this discussion. I have noted the absence of any reference to the life of Christ as well as discipleship for a long time.  Like you, I don’t particularly dislike the creed, but some really important stuff is missing! I find that even in an Anabaptist congregation/conference, our Confession of Faith tends to be treated like a creed. In other words, it is the final word on the subject, no questions asked. I was recently taken to task for writing something about the hell which did not square exactly with our “confession/creed” and was asked how I dare go against what we had agreed to together years ago by now. I told my critic that I see a difference between a confession and a creed. We must always be working at defining and re-defining what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Keep up you good work. 

    Jack Heppner

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Great start to what I’m sure will be a great series, Kurt. I look forward to further installments! As you know from my past work, one of my biggest objections to creeds in general is their historic use as tools of exclusion from the Body of Christ. I further object, as you have done, to the implication that whatever is contained in any particular creed is either necessary or sufficient to salvation. That said, I agree that the Apostles’ Creed is the least-objectionable among the traditional submissions.

    Have a had the chance to listen to Tom Wright’s excellent talk on the creeds and the gospel, which I plugged a couple weeks ago?

    I don’t mean to suggest that we cannot define some basic tenets of faith in Jesus…I attempted to do just that in my post What is a Christian, Anyway? But I have yet to see any creed that successfully engages with James 2:26.

  • http://jeffkclarke.com/ Jeff K. Clarke

    On the topic of theological development, a number of Christian
    leaders clearly reflect the paleo-orthodoxy of Thomas Oden, D.H.
    Williams, and Robert Webber. They are also referred to as Evangelical
    Traditionalists, who identify an ancient doctrinal consensus (creeds) as
    a source and norm alongside of scripture. They often use tradition as a
    ‘governing authority’ for evangelical theology, and the ultimate
    interpretive lens through which all Christians should read scripture. As
    a result, the creeds become the ‘norming norm’ for interpreting
    scripture (the magisterium).

    In terms of doctrinal reflection and development, they maintain that the constructive task of theology should be conducted only in light of what the church has already decided
    about crucial doctrinal matters. This leads to a deep suspicion of the
    constructive aspect within theology. Those who espouse this kind of
    traditionalist theological orientation spend a great deal of time
    patrolling the so-called evangelical boundaries.

    Doctrinal development at times will mean the introduction of changes
    (at least the possibility), and not just a response to how the historic
    creedal formulations can be rediscovered for the present. To place
    ‘fences’ on development is to render any legitimate development an
    impossibility. The creeds when developed were in fact changes and additions
    to what had come before. They were far more than re-articulations or
    rediscoveries of existing formulations, but were theological responses
    to needs in their day.

    These reactions didn’t attempt to answer every question, but only to
    provide a suitable and necessary apologetic to contemporary
    controversies. To hold them up as the ‘norming norm’ for all future
    theological reflection is to also assume their infallibility; which any
    evangelical who holds to any form of biblicism simply cannot do. Creeds
    are ultimately derivative and dependent on scripture. And, we need to
    assume their truthfulness as we test their biblical fidelity.

  • Scott

    I grew up in an Anabaptist tradition, and even pastored in this family as well.  In my particular tradition, though, it focused more on cognitive and intellectual thought, modern scientific proving, systematic theology, propositional beliefs, etc.  However, I am now in the Anglican church, and a priest, and say the Apostle’s Creed weekly in community and daily in the Daily Office.  For me and those I am in community, we say the Creed as a recommitment to the faith of the early church, a story in which we find ourselves.  The focus is NOT just cognitive and intellectual, propositional beliefs, but a story in which I am caught up within and a God in which I follow.  Every time I say this Creed, it is my recommitment to the story of God and my followship of Christ, an apprentice.  Even though the Creed does not, unfortunately, talk about the life of Christ, we have to remind ourselves of its origins.  It was created/written to provide orthodox understanding of the person and work of Christ in the midst of heresy during that time.  So, taking that into consideration, hopefully this brings understanding of its history and purpose.  

  • http://billdavisthoughts.wordpress.com Bill Davis

    Never been a part of a Creed Quotin’ church, so they don’t resonate with me and yes, they seem rather brief and arbitrary, although not necessarily bad per se. My wife grew up in a U.M. church and at a certain age started quoted the creed OMITTING the “I believe” part in the beginning *smile*  She came to know Christ later on, in high school.

  • http://www.facebook.com/trinichatfield Adrian Chatfield

    Probably worth noting that the Apostles’ Creed is a baptismal creed or symbol, so its use is in liturgically marking the decision to enter the community of faith, whereas the Nicene creed is a dogmatic creed within a particular theological debate that is fundamental and formation for us all in establishing the implications of our belief in the full divinity – and humanity – of Christ. Whether the Creeds should be used in worship depends on whether worship includes cognition as well as the affects. Clearly you think they should, and as an Anglican, I agree! Discipleship is predicated on a proper understanding of the one whom we follow.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      “Discipleship is predicated on a proper understanding of the one whom we follow.”

      I dunno about that…Jesus started out with “follow me,” and the understanding only came to those who *did* follow, as their following continued to happen.

  • http://superrustyfly.wordpress.com/ Russell Purvis

    I’ve seen this question before. I do think it’s important to remember that both scripture and the creed (Apostle’s Creed) are equally substantive. Before saying Heretic, here’s what I mean, the creed formed the scriptures and was in its final form just before the Canon was. Reading the creeds, like you have said, is a window into scriptures, a commentary if you will. It is not the end all of statements, but I think that it is necessary for understanding of true biblical teaching. With that said, it ends up being a very broad framework and leaves many open ends for exploration. I do mourn the misuses of the creeds, but do appreciate its historic purposes.

    Thanks for exploring the creeds. I love seeing brothers realize its true power and purpose…or at least using it.

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.missional.ca/ Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    I share your general take on the Creeds.  I have always been frustrated that they are built primarily on the idea of “I believe”, yet never answers the essential question: What does it mean to believe?

  • Kelly

    I do come from a tradition that recites the Apostles Creed. I am very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts as I feel that the very practice of recitation can become more about memorization than about really stating what you believe.  So, I suspect that your thoughts will cause me to look at the creed in a fresh way — which I appreciate. 

  • Jaymes Lackey

    The creeds and councils have been somewhat like linguistic boundaries for me. Being apart of the church historic and embracing the Church’s heritage, it is nice to know the sidelines of the game we’re playing.

    Because, lets be honest, we are all just babbling anyways! But at least we know where the out-of-bounds is. This, to me, has given me so much freedom. To know that the church has not mae official a particular atonement model or evangelization process or even ways to read scripture. There is a lot freedom within in the boundaries.

    As a Free Methodist, who are usually outside of high church liturgy, and, like many envagelicals, who are separated from the larger church and heritage of the church, the creeds have been integral for helping me (a) not feel like I have to re-invent the wheel as far as theology goes (b) not have to swallow every thing that comes down the modernist, evangelical, reformation pipeline and (3) connects me to the “the holy catholic Church.”

    Though I am Wesleyan and holiness, :), so I do second the motion for discipleship, transformation, and action/works.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Valcelia-Freeman/100002437930566 Robert-Valcelia Freeman

    I love the simplicity of the Apostles Creed.  Never have I felt that it impedes my research and  intrepretation of scripture.  Very much looking forward to reading more on this, Kurt.  Now, we’ve begun to discuss some of the things I truly love, that is early christian writings and creeds. May God bless all who read and add their perspective to this discussion.

  • Pat Wiebe

    Perhaps the comment has already been made but I think that the very opposition of ‘a creed’ itself becomes your creed. Having said that I look forward to this discussion as I for one, actually, quietly long for a creed that could fit into my own personally modified anabaptist/Mennonite ‘beliefs’

  • Art Kelly

    There is an informative article on the Apostles’ Creed in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia at
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01629a.htm
     

  • http://gathman.org/vitae CustomDesigned

    I took my daughter to art lessons at a small church (“Church of Christ” was in the name -  but I don’t think it was that denomination.)  I picked up the “statement of faith” in the lobby.  The first bullet point was, “We believe that all creeds are an abomination.”   I laughed out loud to the shock and dismay of the church ladies.  I tried to explain the irony, but they still didn’t think it was funny.

    A quick google search now shows that “We believe that all creeds are an abomination.” is an official Mormon doctrine. The original seems to be “all *their* creeds are an abomination, which is less self-contradictory, but many web sites leave out “their”.

  • Bruderthaler

    Kurt, the following link leads to my thoughts regarding recent changes to the wording of the Catholic version of the creed.  Generally, I always enjoyed the feeling of group fellowship enjoyed when I participated in saying “we believe”…

    http://bruderthaler.blogspot.com/2011/11/consubstantial-meanings.html

    ‘tag


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