There is a discussion going on in a couple of places right now about whether or not it is appropriate to omit the Nicene Creed at Sunday services – setting aside the rubrical and historical notes for a moment the most troubling thing to me about the discussion is the notion that it is “inclusive” to omit it. There are those who have gone so far as to call its use “bullying.”
This is where the notion of inclusion loses all fixed reference to reality.
In order to be included in something then something must have some sort of definable shape, belief, boundary, norm, or pattern. The notion that if we recite the Creed on Sundays then we are excluding someone somehow misses an essential point – excluding them from what?
For all the talk about inclusion in the Church the sad thing to me is that this has become a cheap thing – we are too often not including people in anything more challenging, life-changing, or controversial than a New York Times subscription. The only thing the Church includes anyone in is in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – the mystery at the heart of the Creed.
We are going to have fewer and fewer people enter our churches over time who have any formation in the basic teachings of the faith or exposure to the claims we make about Jesus Christ. For those who have questions – ask away. For those who doubt – doubt away. For those who have trouble believing – please do continue to wrestle. Yet, there are those coming through our doors, aching in our communities, weighing whether to accept an invitation – and they are not weighing an invitation to stale cookies and bad coffee. They are weighing an invitation to something that upends who they think are, who they know others to be, and has reknit the very essence of Creation.
We are welcoming them to the joy of salvation. Whether we recognize its lyrics or not – the Creed is a salvation hymn that expresses the movement of the Spirit over generations of the Church and lays out the shape of God’s interplay with humanity in past, present, and future. This is a salvation that has been proclaimed from cave to cathedral through tragedy and triumph. It has been sung of and whispered about. It was fought over and debated. Word of it is handed to us to pass on to those who come afterward.
Do I believe every word? Do you? Does every visitor? It doesn’t matter. I am not an ecumenical council. I am not the canons. I am not the Prayer Book. I am not any of these things and neither is any one church nor any one visitor. We can only be clearly, openly, audaciously honest about what we proclaim as the inheritance of faith – an inheritance wrestled over and debated over time and through the ministry and working of the Holy Spirit.
Part of belonging – being included – in an institution that finds its pattern and being planted before the foundation of the world is that it is bigger than us. It claims things that we do not comprehend. If it did not then I don’t suspect that it would be terribly compelling. This mystery is what we are being included into – not into our local church. Not into a denomination. Not into a coffee hour. We are being called to find our place in salvation history – in the unfolding power and promise of Christ.
So we say, again and again, “We believe.” It is an aspirational statement. It is a claim. It is a hope. It is even a lament – a lament because we lose part of who we are when we say it even as we know that we are being caught up in a new identity that will shape and mold our being. It is beautiful in its binding simplicity and its ever-unfurling complexity.
We say it together because we hope it’s true. We long for it to come to pass. We know its promise and yet we still ache. We hope, and long, and ache and we believe.
For a good, thoughtful look at this I recommend Fr Chris Arnold’s blog http://www.fatherchristopher.org/blog/on-the-nicene-creed-in-the-liturgy/…
David Glaser said:
Yes! Certainly there have been times when I did not understand what I was agreeing to, but did so anyway with the expectation that I would ‘grow’ into the understanding. In many ways I have, thanks be to God, but I also continue to deepen and grow that understanding. I guess I could have just done away with it as seems the current fervor, but I am glad that I didn’t. Thanks for all you do!
Jaime R Vidal said:
Credo ut intelligam
Rev. Dr. Kevin McKee said:
Well said. I do believe every word, although I do not fully cmprehend the meaning of every word. I have faith that those who came before me in the Church faced with the same issues and concerns struggled and wrestled with these words to make them truly inclusiinal, not superficially so. We are all part of the same human condition and the Creeds help to show us there is an existence for each of us that transcends that human condition
This is wonderful, Robert. You’ve summed up exactly how I feel about the Creed. I had no idea there was any grumbling about its use in the liturgy–most certainly not on the basis of its being inclusive or not!
This reminds me of the renaming of things that has been going on in non-denominational churches and now mainline churches–the urgency to remove church from its “religious trappings.” These folks don’t want to use the words “hymn” or “pew” or “Sunday school” or even “church,” lest it alienate newcomers.
But then not only does worship lose its identity as something holy (set apart, not the common or ordinary), but We lose our history, too, and our connection with the cloud of witnesses who have gone before.
I decided a long time ago that mystery is essential to my faith. It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand or even subscribe to every word of the Creed. I go along for the ride. I hitch my wagon to the Church Universal and go along for the ride.
R.C. Laird said:
This is very fine writing, and presents a strong argument. I agree completely (particularly after “setting aside rubrical and historical notes,” which is where my ennui regarding the Creed comes from, though that is not germane to the topic at hand). I do think the church (writ large) is prone to the appeal from antiquity (or ad verecundiam, for those who fancy Latin), but I don’t sense that is what you are up to here.
Thank you for shining a light on this topic, Robert.
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Rowena Kemp said:
Thank you and Amen!
Erika Sanborne said:
Thanks for this thoughtful post on the nature of both inclusion and identity, as Christians, in this case. Indeed, in what are we “including” people if we have no roots? Nice write-up.
Greta Getlein (@MotherGreta) said:
Wow, Robert, you are involved in so many frightening conversations! Thank goodness they don’t seem to reach the shores of Rhode Island!
This is the first I have heard of this – I wonder if it’s the same folks who lost the communion without baptism battle.
Thanks for putting together such a coherent response. Me? I would just put my head in my hands and walk away.
tom blair said:
Does the Episcopal church mean anything – or stand for anything? If so – ask everyone to agree – if not – drop your creed. War, capitalism, polytheism, liscentiousness…who cares? Episcopalian stopped meaning anything a long time ago.
Yes, thank you Robert for this thoughtful response. I am reminded of two points Nicholas Lash once made in a series of lectures on the creed: (1) that the belief called for in reciting the creeds is a believing into (credere in Deum) in which God is the object of our faith as heart’s desire, as goal towards which all our life and thought is set as faith’s ‘objective’, and not simply belief as an affirmation of statements about God; and (2), that what the Scriptures say at length, the Creed says briefly. As such, the creed helps constitutes the identity-sustaining rules of discourse and behaviour governing Christian uses of the word ‘God’. Lash had more to say, but these two points alone gesture to the creeds continued importance in our principle moments of worship.
Clay Calhoun said:
reblogged, with my own reflections, at http://dominusilluminatio.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-creeds-thoughts-from-dubose-and.html
Jonathan Sams said:
I would prefer to see more occasions where the Nicene Creed can be omitted (as presently at baptisms and Palm Sunday) than to suffer through lame attempts at contemporary “confessions of faith” that quickly lose any currency they may briefly have possessed.
Michael Redmond said:
Bravo. The bark of the church needs anchors as well as sails as it makes it way through history. The Creed is such an anchor. Leave it be. Whether one accepts every article as literal truth or takes a questioning view, the Creed expresses the faith of the church at a turning point in its voyage. It provides a standard by which to assess one’s own position as a modern-day believer. Leave it be.