Why do we have the Creeds?

Over on GodPod, Jane Williams, Graham Tomlin and Michael Lloyd have begun a new series on the Nicene Creed. In the first episode in the series, they discuss the question, Why do we have the Creeds? It’s well worth a listen. Particular highlights, for me, included the following insights:

  • creeds declare the faith (often taught in the context of catechesis and then and recited and confessed in baptism), defend the faith against its detractors (Christian or otherwise), and define the faith in a concise (175 words) and yet fairly comprehensive manner
  • the creeds speak to a consensual and conciliar decision-making process
  • in spirit, the saying of the Creed in church liturgy can and should be likened to passionate statements of personal and collective allegiance or a football’s supporters chanting their team’s songs with gusto, rather than arid statements of doctrinal opinion
  • the substance of the creeds gets at the heart of reality itself and speaks to the belief of Christians not in themselves (as with modern self-help) but in God, the one who has created all things
  • the creeds unite believers across time and space (the Nicene Creed begins, “we believe”) and say that we belong to this particular people who believe these things
  • because of their catholicity, the creeds offer some protection against the maverick and heterodox in church services. They also broaden the gathered flock’s horizons with a brief and yet wide narrative sweep of the Christian faith which will inevitably not be covered in the lectionary and preaching on a Sunday gathering.
  • the creeds are crucial for discipleship in that they teach the faith but are also evangelistically significant by drawing attention to what is crucial in the Christian faith (Jane Williams draws attention to the widespread phenomenon of “spiritual miscarriage”, whereby Christians are not taught the faith, but are instead offered other important but insufficient components of the Christian life)
  • creeds and creedal orthodoxy paradoxically do not narrow one’s perspective or cramp one’s thinking but steer us away from ideas and concepts that are dead ends. Contrary to popular opinion, they open us up to understanding, beauty and truth (Michael Lloyd uses the example of the Arian belief in the non-divinity of Jesus wherein we learn nothing about God from the person and work of Jesus). In response to the suspicion with having a tradition that is imposed on us, Jane Williams comments that yes, at one level the creeds do tell us what to think and speak to a belief in this particular God rather than some other one.
  • the creeds speak to belief not merely as intellectual assent but also as personal trust (as Williams says, one is not simply born a Christian but must step into it and away from a former way of life, and the Creeds, and their baptismal context, get at this lived reality)
  • the creeds imply that to have an identity, we need a sense of heresy (defined as pathways that lead nowhere or into wrong and harmful ways of thinking and being); Graham Tomlin uses the analogy of a left-wing political party viewing small government as a heretical idea in the sense of not being true to the identity of that party. Michael Lloyd rightly notes that the ill-treatment of heretics or the failure to give those with heretical views a fair hearing has unfortunately happened throughout church history and yet does not or need not follow from having a sense of heresy.

Photo by Steve Barker on Unsplash

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