I. The Creed as rule
Some of you, no doubt, did not really need to look at the words in order to read
along with us as we recited the apostles creed. You grew up reading it. For
those of us who grew up in the UCC, different story.
I want to take a quick look at this strange (to us) relic of our Christian
heritage and then offer a different, hopefully more helpful way to understand
the creed. I want to do all of this because creeds can stifle a living faith,
understood one way, or they can open life to the riches of maturity, of
open-mindedness and compassion, of love.
First, the apostles’ creed.
Creeds, in general were used like a mnemonic. In a non-literate age, they
served to coalesce faith communities. There was no bible to be read from at
home, there were no church newsletters. But because they knew the creed
together, they shared a bond that was regularly, sorely tried by the authorities
who were less than thrilled about these people who paid ultimate allegiance not
to the emperor, but God.
The title, Apostles’ Creed appears for the first time in a letter from a Council
in Milan to Pope Siricius (not one of the wider known popes!) in about 390: “Let
them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always
kept and preserved undefiled.” It’s probably no surprise that what existed at
that time was somewhat different than the creed we said today. Things change,
and that goes for scriptures and even creeds.
I make no judgment about the ability to recite creeds or not. I do sometimes
wish that I had grown up in a tradition that values memorization. I have a very
difficult time memorizing things.
I do make a judgment about the use of the apostle’s creed as a test. I have a
friend, who as a young boy attended a summer camp and was made to recite the
apostle’s creed, but because he didn’t believe what he was being asked to say,
he didn’t. As a result, the camp counselors forced him to sit alone in the
“chapel” to think about his refusal, long after the other kids had left to play.
I do make a harsh judgment about presuming that the creed contains articles of
faith that must be “accepted” for a faith to be full and mature.
How then, shall we understand the creed? and can we address the slight anxiety
we might feel as we refuse to “believe” that the creed offers an outline of what
a mature faith looks like?
II. – Creed as distributive
An adequate response to something like a creed recognizes that people centuries
ago, in responding to the God of love, did so as themselves lovers of God. They
made confessional statements which tried to express something about their
experience of being loved by and loving in return this God who brought them to
an experience of wholeness and freedom of fear. Each time those statements were
made, they were meant to express the whole of an individual’s reason for being
involved with this God of love.
So, a helpful way to think about the creed is as a series of these statements
put together by a committee. We must remember however, that they were
statements that were once first uttered by an individual. We can imagine, for
example, a Galilean Christian of the 60’s or 70’s, thirty or forty years after
Jesus’ death, saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, Lord.” And we could imagine a
Greek Christian 100 years later saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, who was
conceived by the Holy Ghost.” Another hundred years later these confessional
statements were gathered to tell the story as it made sense to these church
leaders at the time.
In other words, while a creed reads like a list of things to be believed in,
that when all added up equals what you must know (or believe) in order to be a
Christian, the distributive property in mathematics, rather than the additive
one is better for trying to understand a creed. The distributive property you
may remember from primary school, states that you are distributing something as
you break it up into parts. Each of the parts of the creed, as confession, tell
a story — not about virginal birth, or about the existence of hell, but about
the victory the person doing the confesing: the experience of God is like new
life — completely unexpected, like a virgin birth. The experience of God is
like a victory over the hell hole created by the unjust power structures under
which many suffer. The list could go on — and should.
III. A Rule of Faith as Guide
The list should go on because the various rules we engage in the Christian life
are not like the rules of school, which when broken result in the end of the
conversation, but like the creeds of the church which function to encourage the
sharing of our deepest values and most important insights with each other. The
list of such important, pivotal experiences about which we could share as
members of a community of faith is vast.
Paul offers a warning in our reading this morning — Do not let the world around
you squeeze you into its own mold. For Paul the point was never to escape the
world, but always to be aware that to get swallowed up by the temptations of
that world is to miss the opportunity to live like we want to in our best
moments. To get moulded into the form of this world is to have difficulties
with the form or mould into which we would rather mature. To get moulded into
the form of this world is to lose our sense of what is decisively significant to
us when it comes to understanding our best existence.
Last week, I preached about being “spiritual but not religious” as an expression
of the wide, public need for a community that takes seriously the need to talk
about what is in fact decisively significant for our flourishing. I had a few
conversations that I wonder if you might have had, along the lines of: what
makes religion real and exciting for you? Can religion be more than the
superficial gloss it receives in the press as a place of revealed truths and
closed conversation? or can it be unafraid of the search for truth in dialogue
with others? What brings you here? What excites you about this church?
I, for one, was jazzed up by the idea that I was part of a community that tries
to find some time, out of very busy schedules, to examine what is worth
examining, to discuss what is worth arguing about and to discover, by the
guidance of my own conscience in conversation with others, truth. Not truth
with a capital T — not that once and for all truth — if such a thing exists —
but the truth which enlightens and leads forth and makes alive.
Each of us — as part of this community, if it is to be vibrant, have, at least
this responsibility to each other — to let the rule of life be a rule of life,
guiding us into a long, elusive, joyful search for wisdom and truth, to let the
rule of life, be a rule of vibrant living so that we might grow in ever more
To refuse or to be paralyzed by fear inhibits this conversation.
Like the various confessions found in the creeds, Paul’s exhortation not to let
the world mould us after its pattern, but to evolve toward the goal of maturity
is an expression of the experience of the dynamism and vibrancy of community
free and open to truth.
Paul’s exhortation is both an warning that the grasping, groping way of so much
of the world can suck us into its realm and destroy our vitality, or as
scripture puts it lead us to death — or there is life lived as by a rule —
life which sees the other as a brother or sister, a partner in the search for
life and sounding board for the ideas and thoughts that matter.
Paul’s exhortation not to be moulded to the world, put positively is an
encouragement to let ourselves grow in love, to choose life.
So we have a choice.
We can push our way through life, selfishly and roughly jostling and elbowing
and shoving people out of the way. That leads to death.
Or we can join hands and minds and walk openly, guided by this rule of life,
delighting in those with whom we share the movements and moments of intensity.
This way leads to life.