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Creeds and CDs

Creeds and CDs

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Creeds and CDs

March 4, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0258}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

A major new scholarly work on the creeds of the Christian churches from the beginning of church history is "Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition," edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press, 2003). This work supplants "Creeds of Christendom," edited by Philip Schaff 100 years ago, as the definitive work in English on the history of creeds.
The last volume in the series is a historical and theological guide to creeds and confessions of faith by Pelikan. Jaroslav Pelikan is probably the greatest historian of doctrine in the history of the church. A friend of mine who studied under him at Yale University described him as "the only person who has ever read everything that has ever been written in the Christian tradition in their original languages." This last volume, "Credo," concludes with an analogy between creeds and CDs.
Pelikan writes: "When compact discs are stacked on the shelves of a record store or a living room, there is nothing so static as CDs. In that form they can be shipped and stored, preserved inert literally for centuries, handed down from parents to children and grandchildren without ever being played or heard. They are a commodity listed in a catalogue to be bought and sold. Yet, it is their very 'inertness' and static quality, their continuity, that enables them, in a moment's notice, to become suddenly dynamic in the sound of a Beethoven quartet or Mozart's "Magic Flute" - or, for that matter, the "Symbolum Nicaenum" of Johann Sabastian Bach's "Mass in B Minor." Historically, that is precisely what creeds and confessions of faith have repeatedly done through the centuries. And they can go on doing it."
The purpose of all creeds and confessions is to hand on the faith of the apostles of Jesus Christ from one generation to the next and, along the way, to reject alternatives to that faith that emerge in every new cultural context. The primary creeds are the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (usually titled The Nicene Creed) and the Apostle's Creed. They are primary because of their ancient origins and their ecumenical acceptance. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed grew out of the Christian declaration of faith during baptism in churches of the East, such as the church in Jerusalem. The Apostle's Creed grew out of the baptismal declaration made in the church in Rome.

It is important for the creeds to be used in worship and in Christian instruction. To fail to do so is to miss the opportunity to ground ourselves in the apostolic faith as it is universally understood and affirmed. Given the many alternatives to Christian belief in contemporary society, a church that neglects the creeds is failing to equip Christians to avoid being "carried away with the error of the lawless and lose (their) own stability" (2 Peter 3:17).
Our treasured CD's can be stacked away and left to collect dust or they can be used and allowed to demonstrate the dynamism they record. Just like our creeds ... .


This article relates to Christian Tradition.

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