I was fortunate enough to give a quick Liturgy Moment on the Creed this AM at All Saints. For long time readers, you know I rarely write anything out posting it. Some of this is borrowed from the good Dr. Powers.
I grew up something like oneness Pentecostalism mixed with church of the first born. We were anti-Creedal, anti-Trinity, and in many ways against Christ. When I joined the United Methodist Church later on, I stated that I would not be told what to think. This suited me until I began to study the Fathers. From then on out, I have been dedicated to The Creedal Traditions of the Church.
At the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, I introduced legislation to have the Creed of 381 installed as a doctrinal standard. It was soundly defeated. The Creed is much more than a doctrinal standard, however, but it is in my opinion the central doctrinal standard in the history of Church. This is how we understand The Holy Trinity, Scriptures, atonement, resurrection, and the Church Universal.
While some would have us believe the Creed is a political tool of the Roman Empire, the Creed begins even in Scripture. We read simple doctrinal statements such as the Shema, 1 Tim 3.16, and Phil 2.6-11. In the first two centuries, doctors like Tertullian and Saints like Irenaeus developed the “Rule of Faith” which empowered the early Church to begin to understand orthodoxy. It empowered every baptized Christian to in effect be a theologian because each one could easily tell you exactly what the Church believed.
In my new life as a therapist, I believe that good thoughts lead to good life. When I think of the doctrines contained in the Creed, I think of what Saint Paul said in Titus 1, about thinking on the good and the pure things. This concept of lex orandi is important to me, because I believe we become the thoughts we continually have. To then think always about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to think about the Scriptures, the Atonement, and the Resurrection commits me to being a better Christian and connects me to those who have gone on before, whether they are the saints of the church, or the holy people in my immediate life.
One thing that needs to be kept forefront is that the Creed is the church’s statement of faith, not an individual’s — something we say together. This focus is important. When we recite it, we are making statements with the whole church (including the saints) and on behalf of the whole church as well as those who follow us. We stand for the creed because it an act of praise. It’s not meant to be merely a historic summary or something contextual but to be a doxology to the Triune God that proclaims the nature and character of God. Finally, the creed is said following the proclamation of God’s word because it rouses within us a response of reaffirming the faith that the scriptures have deepened and fortified. It signifies that we stand in the Great Tradition, so we affirm our place within it and with the saints who have gone before us, committing to continue in the way of the Church in following Christ.
This particular Creed has been in the liturgy in some way since the 5th century and continues to remain in the liturgy in Rome, the East, and the Anglicans and even among the Lutherans and the Reformed. It has lit fires of revivals, notably among the Anglican brothers, John and Charles, who in their Holy Club began each meeting by reciting this Creed. It is something that empowers clergy and laity alike to state firmly what the Church has always believed and will continue to believe. It is placed in the liturgy where it is, at the start of the Eucharistic liturgy, to remind us that we share with millions and millions of Christians worldwide some essentials of Christian doctrine. As we prepare our hearts to come to the Table, we prepare my minds and we prepare our bonds of unity. Regardless of what has happened thus far in the Liturgy, the Homily, the songs, or others, it is the moment we can stand together and glorify the Holy Trinity. It is our declaration of Communion with the Great Tradition and the Church Universal, following what St. Paul ordered, to preserve unity in the bonds of peace.