In the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations about the Creed; some about how it’s been life-changing as they deeply engage their faith, some articulating their disbelief in the words, some discerning how to more deeply connect to their belief in their spiritual journey.
From the Latin “credo,” the statements we declare are both a collection of beliefs and a summary of our faith; they define who we are as Christians. The three creeds we use as Anglicans have evolved and grown over time; with fascinating histories and academic study. The Apostles Creed, first attributed to the apostles (who allegedly wrote one line each) declares 12 articles of faith; the Nicene Creed addressed theological conflicts of the day, extending statements on the Holy Ghost and became the assertion of faith for baptism; the (longer and lesser used) Athanasian Creed focuses on the Trinity and Incarnation.
The creeds are a great way for the Church to identify itself; recognising that no matter what our individual differences we are one community in faith. They are broad enough to allow universal application and interpretation so as to have meaning to and for all. They are not merely words on a page, but an invitation to prayerful reflection of what it means to be a person of faith.
Much like the creeds themselves, our understanding of our faith grows and evolves over time. As our faith is influenced by life’s experiences, how we understand the creeds can shift. As such, we are encouraged to regularly consider the statement and seek ways for it to apply to our own unique circumstance. Part of my confirmation classes, and one of my regular spiritual exercises, is to carefully read the three Creeds, to pray over the words, and to write my own expression of belief. Every time I write one, it is different, because I am in a different spiritual space; yet every time I do so I am brought back to the core tenets of the faith that sustains me.
The credal statements are powerful, and they are communal; in that way they are unifying. Even if/when we as individuals struggle with parts of the creed, we know that someone else in the community will be upholding that same point; and upon those aspects we are unwavering, someone else in the congregation may be questioning. The strength of the creeds are that the declaration is of the community: those gathered in body and in spirit. As ELCA Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “In a large group of people, for each line of the creed someone believes it. … It’s not my creed, it’s the Church‘s creed.”
The creeds are therefore vibrant, and transcend time and space. They are a gift of the church, they are a gift to the church, they are a gift by the church. I hope that as we declare our creeds this week in worship, that we all appreciate the richness that is given and continued in those words.