This entire series is introduced here, and you can find all of the posts under the “Evangelical Liturgy” category in the categories menu.
A hymn I grew up singing said that “My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed.” A frequent accusation made against Baptist conservatives during the conservative resurgence was that they were “imposing creedalism” on the Southern Baptist Convention.
A rule of thumb for denominational conflict: before making an accusation, make sure that the matter under discussion is actually a bad thing.
A second rule of thumb, particularly for any Baptist moderates or evangelical liberals left with the impression that “creedalism” remains an effective taunt: be sure that you don’t find yourself defending the disease and ridiculing health (or medicine, in this case.)
My Southern Baptist Convention gives no acknowledgment of the existence of the entire creedal history of the church. When Robert Webber told me that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds were mine as a Baptist, I immediately looked around to see if the Papal armies were camped outside.
Today, the theological community created by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is one of my great hopes for navigating the evangelical wilderness. Liturgical speaking, I can’t get enough of them. I’d probably accept both creeds as a puppet presentation if I couldn’t get them any other way.
The evangelical liturgy must own up to the great tradition and theological center that exists in the classic creeds. We do not need to vote on them or adopt them. As statements of the faith of the church forged in the early centuries of Christian life and debate, they stand on their own. Evangelicals do not decide to use them. We are privileged to pay our allegiance to Christ through them and to stand with those who have been defined by them.
For many of us, the Nicene Creed is as close to a definition of essential Christianity as we have and many of us believe it is the one great boundary around the waters of baptism and the Lord’s Table. The use of creeds in liturgy is commendable for any number of reasons:
1. A summary of the Christian faith
2. A connection to the great tradition
3. A connection to the broader, deeper, more ancient church.
4. A beautiful statement of the centrality of Christ and the relative place of other doctrines.
5. A confession for worship, joining all together in one proclamation of belief.
The placement of the Creed (I assume they are alternated in some form) is a matter of disgression. My own practice is to close a sermon with a Trinitarian blessing and then transition to “This is the faith that we believe…” and the creed.
In the Presbyterian liturgy, the Creed often comes early. In other liturgies, it comes late or occasionally comes at the conclusion of the Eucharist. There are sung versions of the Creeds.
The actual placement of the creeds is completely optional and should be varied. The emphasis placed on the creeds should be careful so there is no room for an accusation of “creedalism.”
At the same time, we cannot unilaterally devalue the creeds or our Protestant/evangelical connection to them. To do so is to, eventually, leave the impression that every congregation and every Christian is re-inventing the “wheel” of the Christian faith out of their own resources. This ahistorical, individualized version of evangelicalism tell significant lies regarding Christian community and Christian origins.
We do not place our faith in creeds but in Christ. As Rich Mullins said, however, “I did not make it; No, it is making me.” Such historical anchors are “making us,” if we access the rich theological and historical stories they tell.