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July 6, 2001


Bishop's Corner
Remember the Creeds

By Bishop  Timothy W.  Whitaker

Bishop Timothy W.  WhitakerOne of the enduring characteristics of worship in American Methodism has been a regular use of the ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church. Even the freest worship on the American frontier in the 18th and 19th centuries included a place for the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. In the midst of changes in worship today we should be careful not to neglect the creeds.

There are two creeds acknowledged as authoritative statements of belief by the universal church. They are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed is the statement of faith with the widest use since it is accepted by both the Protestant and Catholic churches in the west and the Orthodox churches in the east. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381 and formally affirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. It is based upon a declaration of faith used during baptism in eastern churches, such as the church in Jerusalem. The Apostles’ Creed has been used by western churches for centuries, and its present form is a development of a declaration of faith that was used during baptism in Rome since the beginning of the second century around A.D.100.

The creeds contain a summary of the message of the apostles of Jesus Christ as it has been understood by the mind of the church down through the centuries. The creeds provide a framework for understanding the whole message of the Bible. If the creeds are not used regularly in worship then some other framework for understanding the Bible is substituted for them, such as the particular theology of the pastor of the congregation.

One of the reasons the creeds are helpful by presenting the whole faith of the universal church is that they contain emphases often neglected by Christians in particular times and places. For example, the emphasis in the creeds on the final future of Jesus Christ when “he will come again to judge the living and the dead” is often neglected by many of us who become too comfortable with the cultural establishment of our present time and place and who do not want to hear the challenge of a coming kingdom.

The creeds also connect us to the living tradition of the Christian church. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed we are participating in an affirmation of faith with other Christians down through the centuries back to the origin of the church. In an era of high mobility and rootlessness we need to identify with a universal community that gives us a sense of belonging to a people who endure through the passing of time. The novelist John Updike remarked that one of the reasons he attends worship regularly is because it is the one place in our society where he is exposed to a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

There is also a spiritual benefit to reciting a creed regularly. It gets into the deep crevices of our brain. It becomes an essential part of who we are. Regular recitation of the creed helps to shape our souls in faith in the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Besides, reciting the creeds can be fun. Children love to join adults in reciting memorized pieces. The use of the creeds in worship is another way to enable children to know that they are a part of the people of God.

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  2001 Florida United Methodist Review Online