Friday, October 16, 2020

On the use of the Creed

 Steve Kneale has published a piece entitled Five reasons reciting creeds is unhelpful - a title which surely warrants a rebuttal!  For the record, my own church background is in 1689 Baptistry, but I now pastor a small church which takes the Nicene Creed as its basis of faith, and I am a strong advocate for the use of the Creed in public worship (and I like the Apostles' Creed as well, just not quite as much).  So, here's why I think each of Steve's reasons is wrong, and sometimes dangerously so.

1. Sola Scriptura.  For Steve, it seems, the use of creeds undermines the unique authority of Scripture in the church.  "We want people to have confidence in the Word of God" - yes, absolutely!  So, why not just always go to the source?  Why not just read the Bible instead of the Creed?  Well, firstly it's not an either/or.  Read both in your services!  Recite the Creed and recite the Psalms.  Yes, a thousand times yes, to more Bible.  But why then the Creed?  Because when Steve goes on to say that "when people state what they believe, I would prefer they pointed directly to the Bible and affirmed it, rather than a statement drawn up after it" this is exactly the argument an Arian would have made in the fourth century.  It is possible to mis-read the Bible - Jesus highlights the possibility - and in so doing miss or distort the life-giving message.  Biblicism will not help us here; the heretics themselves claim the Scriptures to be on their side.  The Creed functions as a distilled statement of the essential truth, and therefore as a guide to Scripture reading.  Putting it into our worship, reciting it together, helps to ensure that we are all on the same page on such essentials as the deity of Christ.  It is not vital that we recite it, but it is helpful.

2. The creeds require explanation.  No doubt.  I preached a series on the Nicene Creed not too long ago to provide some of that explanation for our crew.  But everything, including Holy Scripture, needs explaining.  Often the hymns we sing need explaining.  Explanation is no bad thing.  But also, the creeds do some explaining of their own.  The Nicene Creed explains what we mean when we talk about the deity of Christ.  It explains, in fact, what the Scriptures mean when they talk about Jesus as the Son of God.  In explaining the Creed, I've found myself simply preaching the gospel.  And that can't be so bad.

3. Use of the creeds in worship confuses the church about authority.  Steve asks 'is the creed authoritative?' - if it is, doesn't that undermine the authority of Scripture?  If it isn't, why are we using it in worship?  Again, there is a really unhelpful biblicism here.  The Bible is, and must be seen to be, the ultimate authority in all matters of doctrine; but it is not the only authority.  We don't come to the Bible as if nobody had ever read it before.  Yes, ultimately we believe and use the Creed because we are convinced it has behind it the authority of Scripture; but we also acknowledge that others have gone ahead of us, that we are part of the catholic church which spans the centuries, within which there are subordinate authorities like creeds.  They are not ultimate, but they are not lightly put aside if we want to be sure that we stand in some continuity of faith with our spiritual forebears.  In our teenage culture, which thinks it needs to reinvent everything all the time, it is good to recognise the (subordinate) authority of our fathers and mothers in faith.

4. Alien to outsiders.  Reciting creeds feels weird to visitors.  This is weak.  Almost everything we do in worship feels weird to outsiders.  So what?  As to encouraging people to chunter along to words they don't and can't mean - presumably Steve still has songs in church, and presumably they are full of lyrics a non-Christian can't really sing?

5. Creeds are alien to the Baptist tradition.  Steve finds the recitations of creeds to be Anglican, and he suspects that behind that lurks Catholicism.  In fact, the Nicene Creed is regularly recited in worship in Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches.  It is catholic, in the good old sense of basically and universally Christian - both as a statement of doctrine and as a building block of liturgy.  There is something peculiar about British non-conformity here, by the way.  I was once chatting with an American Presbyterian minister who asked whether British evangelicals would find it weird that his congregation crossed themselves during the Gloria Patri.  I had to say yes - they would find the manual action weird, and they would find the Gloria Patri weird!  The fear of 'catholicism' - perhaps caused by the proximity to Anglo-Catholicism in particular - has distorted the view of what is just 'normal church' for many British evangelicals.  If the creeds are alien to the Baptist tradition, the Baptist tradition is (at that point) alien to the universal belief and practice of the church.

So, to summarise my argument: biblicism is bad, weird is okay, Baptists should get with the programme.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the process of preaching a series on the Nicene creed (Olevianus and Packer being most helpful) and for the reasons you point out here. Glad to see some shared thoughts on this matter.