Commentary: The Christ of the creed

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: The Christ of the creed

An e-Review Commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker / Nov. 12, 2008 {0938}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

Most Sunday services I attend do not include a recitation of the creed. By the creed, I mean either the Apostles’ Creed, which belongs to Catholics and Protestants, or the Nicene Creed, which belongs to all Christians in both the East and the West.
Both liberals and evangelicals tend to be wary of the creed. Liberals are wary because they fear recitation of a historic creed conditions Christians to formulate the meaning of the faith according to past rather than contemporary expressions. Evangelicals are wary because they fear the use of the creed emphasizes ideas rather than experience of God.
When the creed is not recited in worship, there is a diminishment of its role in the life of the church over a period of time. In particular, there is a missed opportunity to help Christians know the Christ who is presented in the creed. The problem is that liberals who neglect the creed have a tendency to present Jesus as a figure in history to be emulated today, rather than as the Lord and Savior of the world, and evangelicals have a tendency to present him as a personal Savior whose work may be limited to only what happens in our own hearts.
A reminder about the role of the creed in the church is necessary. The creed is the rule of faith for the church. It presents Jesus Christ according to the faith of the church since its beginning in the time of the apostles. The church had a rule of faith before it had the New Testament. It shaped the faith contained in the writings of the New Testament, and it was the criterion of which writings should be in the New Testament. Also, the rule of faith is more than an outline of Christian theology. It is a means of grace through which we affirm our trust in the triune God.
By reciting the creed every Sunday, the Christ who gave himself to the church in the beginning takes form for us and in us today through the eyes of our faith.
Once I heard Tony Compolo denigrate the recital of the creed as a part of contemporary worship. He said it is too “rationalistic,” that people today are looking for “experience.” As an evangelical liberal, Compolo is influenced by the worst of both worlds when it comes to the creed. The creed is not “rationalistic” in the sense that it is a list of rational propositions to which we give mental assent. Actually, the creed is not a list of intellectual propositions; it is the narrative of God’s action. While it does contain definite beliefs, it is a means of giving our trust to the One who has acted on our behalf and is still acting for us. Moreover, by speaking the creed as a ritual of the community, it is a way each of us uses our body to give physical voice to our trust and a physical experience of the members of one body joining together as one voice. The communal reciting of the creed has immense value as a way “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) even when we are not thinking that much about what we are saying. When it is recited every Sunday, the creed gets into our bones, so to speak.
Who is the Christ of the creed? He is certainly more than the Jesus we hope to find through historical research or the personification of some cause or our subjective impression of him in our own heart and mind.
It would take a whole book to discuss the Christ of the creed, but I offer a few simple thoughts.
The Christ of the creed is the supreme historical revelation of the triune God for our salvation. The creed shows us the trinitarian God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The creed as the rule of faith was trinitarian before the church even began to develop the doctrine of the Trinity. In the creed, Jesus is the union of God and human being, the personal coming of the eternal word of God into our world. While we may see Jesus variously as a prophet to the powers that be, a teacher of eternal wisdom or a mystic, he is much more than these. As Catherine of Siena said, Jesus Christ is the bridge between God and us, even as he is also the critic of culture, the guru of wisdom and a seer into the heart of reality.
The creed does not speak about Jesus’ teaching or example. Instead, it emphasizes that he was born, he suffered, he was crucified, he rose from the dead, and he ascended into heaven. What the creed emphasizes is God’s action in the whole event of Jesus Christ, the action that changes everything for us. The Christ of the creed is God entering into creation and human history to bring all of us and everything to God and to deliver us from the powers of sin, evil and death. In other words, the Christ of the creed is our Savior and our Lord. The Christ of the creed is the same Christ who becomes known to us in his giving of himself to us in the Lord’s Supper.
Many Christians, whether they are liberals or evangelicals, do not mean to deny the Christ of the creed when they neglect to use the creed in worship or to teach its meaning. For them, it is always there in the background. Yet it is not enough to leave the creed in the background. Until we place it in the foreground, we are depriving ourselves of a means of grace through which Jesus Christ presents himself to us and unites us to himself and his ministry in the world.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

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