Friday, May 13, 2005


If metaphor is the basis for our God talk, and doctrines are the rules that tell us how to use our metaphors, then creeds are standard forms of the metaphors -- reference implementations, to borrow a term from the high tech world.

For most of our history, Christians have used creeds as common confessions of our faith. Three ecumenical creeds have emerged as most important: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. These three creeds are each confessions of faith in God as Trinity.

Some Christians are suspicious of creeds. "No creed but Christ" is a common slogan in some circles, though this slogan itself functions something like a creed. Others don't like creeds because they perceive them as a checklist of facts you must believe in order to be a Real Christian™.

I think both these positions are based on misunderstandings of what creeds are and their relationship to faith.

Jaroslav Pelikan says it this way:
My faith life, like that of everyone else, fluctuates. And so, I’m not asked of a Sunday morning "As of 9:20, what do you believe?", and then you sit down with a three by five index card and say "Now let's see what do I believe today?" No, that's not what they're asking me. They're asking me, "Are you a member of a community which now for a millennium and a half has said "We believe in one God...'"
The English word "creed" comes from the Latin "credo" meaning "I believe," but when we say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, etc." we don't mean I give my assent to the intellectual proposition that God exists. Rather we mean, I have faith in God, and then the rest of what we say in the creed identifies the God in whom I have this faith.

Ultimately, although we might not like to admit it, the God in whom we believe is identified more by the community that has gathered to worship this God than by any particular facts we happen to associate with God. When the Bible speaks of "the God of Israel" this is specifically what it means. Who is God? God is the God worshipped by Israel.

Creeds are sometimes called the "symbols" of our faith. This is a rather arcane usage, but it's one that we would do well to recover. The word "symbol" comes from a Greek word that was used to describe something business associates exchanged so that they could recognize one another when they met again.

There's an ancient legend about the Apostles' Creed that says this creed was composed by the 12 apostles on the evening of their last night together in Jerusalem, just before they went out into the rest of the world to spread the Gospel. According to the legend, each of the apostles contributed one line to the creed.

Now the legend is certainly a-historical, but it captures something that is very true. The Creeds are tokens of our common faith. They are shared by Christians throughout the world. They identify the God in whom we believe.

Continue to "Who Is God?"
Go back to "Metaphor and Heresy"


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