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Pronouns

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

I’ve always had this sense that saying the creed was a deeply personal act of faith.  As a teen, I can remember the creed feeling like the most important part of the Sunday worship service, more than even the scripture readings or the Eucharist.  It was that moment of reconnection with God, when the world stopped and I had the opportunity to reaffirm or reassert my dependence on God, the importance of that relationship between myself and Jesus Christ.

I’m not entirely sure where that sense came from.  But perhaps it’s the way that the Apostles Creed begins.  “I believe.”  “I.”  That repeated pronoun, “I,” at the beginning of each article of the creed makes it something very personal, very focused on me.  The rest of the parts of our worship service are done in community, but the creed seems to be all about me. 

A sensible way to focus the Apostles Creed.  After all, it was first developed for the rite of Baptism.  By the fourth century at the latest, adult candidates for Baptism would begin the season of Lent as a time of special preparation for their entrance into the Church.  They would work specially with a catechist who would teach them about Christian doctrine.  Much of this teaching would be focused on the Apostles Creed, which the candidates would have to memorize and be able to recite at their Baptism.  It was a way for the Baptismal rite to include that affirmation of personal faith on the part of the new Christian.

The Nicene Creed was written in a very different context, however.  Created as a definitive declaration of faith on behalf of the whole church, it was intended to describe what true Christian faith was--and to exclude what it wasn’t.  The assertion that we believe in “One God” countered the Marcionite heretics, who believed that the God of the New Testament was a separate being from the God described in the Old Testament.  Similarly, we declare that Jesus “became truly human” against certain types of gnostics in the early church who believed Jesus did not.

Because of this, it should be no great surprise that the Nicene Creed begins with a firm “We.”  This statement of faith is not about our personal relationship with God; rather, it’s intent is to gather the whole Church together into one body, seeing us not at individual people of faith, but as one faith-filled community.

Which of the two seems to fit better in our worship, I wonder?  Is the creed about us as individuals?  Or is it about the whole faith community?

In an interpretation I quite like, one author (Lewis Evely) would have us understand that neither of these it the ultimate bent of either creed.  In the long run, the assertion each confession of faith makes is not about what we do--what we believe/trust or what we don’t.  Rather, the creeds quickly pass on to what God has done.

What do we believe?  We believe in a God who creates; a God who becomes human, born of a human mother; a God who died and rose and ascended and is coming back; a God who gives life and speaks through prophets; a God who forms us into one church (even amidst its many denominations and expressions); a God who promises us life everlasting and a world that does not end.

Ultimately, like so much else in our faith, our statements of trust in God are not really about us at all.  They are about God, and all the wondrous things He has done for us.  Even when we try to take our faith in our own hands, to assert something about ourselves, God manages to be the one who is really acting, who is really trusting, who is really believing in and through us.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

Often I want to be in control, God.  Help me learn that I am completely dependent on you--your trust, your faith, your unfailing love.  Amen.