Do We Need New Creeds?

The Church of England and The Episcopal Church have recently authorized a number of alternative ‘affirmations of faith’ for use in worship.  Some of these ‘affirmations’ are biblical texts, and some are fresh attempts to restate the Christian faith (though they cannot claim to be ‘ecumenical creeds’).

So what exactly is our current need for new creeds?

We might first ask, What needs gave rise to the creeds we already have?

Do we Need New Creeds

 

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  1. Gregor Sneddon
    Gregor Sneddon says:

    I am a child of the BAS, and I remember always being perplexed during the BCP Communion rite, when immediately following the Gospel and preceding the homily, is the recitation of the Apostles Creed. It was not until later that I experienced some inspiration of why this location in the liturgy makes some sense.

    Frances Young in “The Making of the Creeds” points out that “Christianity is the only major religion to set such store by creeds and doctrines.” The history of the formation of the creeds is rooted in the particular historical reality of a community differentiating itself both from Jew and Gentile, and as empire. The stress on orthodoxy, true or untrue belief, fits for a group struggling to establish itself, and even more so, with often grave or violent consequences, as a the ruling power.

    The creeds, which grew from baptismal preparation into ‘rules of faith’ also served as a way to preserve the central teachings to those who could read. The creeds, in their tri-fold form, teach the basic pillars of the Triune faith, and retain the incarnational truth of flesh and blood. The creeds root the faith in history, not just as a philosophy or metaphor.

    But I would also argue that the creeds, go hand in hand with scripture. As the rule of faith, they served and continue to serve, as the hermeneutic key to both the old and new testaments, and further, are inseparable from the formation of the New Testament. The letters of Paul are full of borrowed confessional statements and the redactors of the Gospels themselves would have had a reciprocal relationship with these statements. Let us not forget the formation of the canon itself, along with the final version of the Nicene Creed both happened in the late fourth century. Dare I say: “no creeds – no scripture.”

    Further, I would also suggest that we live in an age of impoverished theology: sacramental, liturgical, spiritual, systematic and otherwise. The same old platonic ideas have found their way back into the mainstream and the radical incarnational claim of Christianity in mainline churches is often, at best, vague. How often do we rightly proclaim Mary as the Theotokos? How often do we hear our leaders so quickly dismissing the mysteries as ‘untrue’ or ‘just a metaphor?’ How often have we heard poems at funerals proclaiming the body is just a shell and the spirit is living with God as He needed another angel?

    I think there definitely is a shadow to ‘orthodoxy’ as Fracnes Young also points out, as it inevitably leads to division. Inclusion and exclusion is a lightning rod for the Church and we are working hard to remove barriers to inclusivity, and rightly so.
    However, as you point out in rubrix of the BAS, that other than at high feasts, the creeds are optional in the divine liturgy. I would suggest two reasons why we should retain the creeds as they are, using them intentionally and appropriately, without inventing new ones:

    1. They serve as a hermeneutic key, along with the Eucharistic prayers, to the reception of the Holy Scriptures and the Christian tradition as a whole. This avoids both a fundamentalist approach as well as a neo-liberal relativism.
    2. They hold before us the ancient holy catholic faith and maintain a commitment to the truths proclaimed by the generations before us, always holding out the mystery of incarnation, theosis, salvation. This is not to affirm a brittle adherence to form, but to root ourselves deeply in the radical claims that make Christians Christian and meet the present without dismissing too quickly what we have received.
    3. They give context, a form, a canvas for seekers to wrestle with in approaching the life long journey of conversion and faith. They state boldly the pillars of faith and hold them forward as mystery not to be quickly explained and understood but to be lived into in awe and wonder and to shape one’s life around.

    So, I am not so adverse or puzzled anymore at reciting the creed after the Gospel when attending a BCP service of Communion. I am also not terribly concerned when a creed is not recited during a liturgy, though I notice that I miss it if it is regularly absent. I am, however, deeply concerned when I hear a contemporary version, crafted by a well-meaning presider trying to be ‘relevant.’

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