Thursday, February 21, 2013


Early in my pastoral ministry, the order of worship in the church I served included no such thing as a Creed or Affirmation of Faith. My predecessor had hoped and prayed that one might be included, but had encountered consistent resistance. When he died, it was left to me to take up the challenge.

This is not about the multi-year struggle that finally resulted in a Confession of Faith. Rather our discussion here focuses on what we’re talking about. What is an Affirmation of Faith, liturgically? Why is it important for everyone to stand up and say “We believe…” in unison? Or is it at all necessary? Maybe it’s not even a good idea to do it.

After church one morning I was confronted by a gentleman who announced politely, but firmly, that he was more than a little miffed that I had “put words in my mouth,” as he phrased it. He “resented” (his word) the Apostles’ Creed. “I can’t buy everything in that Creed,” he announced, “and what I do believe I wouldn’t say that way anyhow.” I don’t recall if I had a convincing response at that moment, and perhaps he was not convince-able anyway. But he did raise a good question about creeds in worship.

When we stand and say “We believe…,” are we articulating personal convictions? In that liturgical act, am I stating my individual theological conclusions?

Many worshippers, I suppose, trip over that assumption, that the creed in worship requires our personal assent, line for line and word for word.

The answer to the question, clearly, is “No.”

Part of the problem is that the Apostles’ Creed, ever popular in many Protestant churches, begins with the singular “I”, and sounds for all the world like a personal statement, signed at the bottom and notarized. (This is because, perhaps, it originated as a baptismal confession.) The Nicene Creed, which is perhaps more commonly used among all Christians, starts off with the plural pronoun.

In the course of a worship service, in which the “audience” is God, the creedal statement is an expression of God’s own people of confidence in the promises and gifts received in Jesus Christ. It is a corporate testimonial, an assertion of love and loyalty.

The corporate quality of the creed is not confined to those who happen to be in the room on Sunday morning, but expands to include the community of the saints, all those who have come before us and those who follow. In the moment of saying the creed, we link hands with generations of God’s own faithful people.

So we begin to realize that saying the creed is more celebrative than doctrinal, more poetic and prayerful than scholarly. It’s not an oral exam for either a Ph.D. thesis or Communicants’ Class, but an act of worship. We speak with no pretensions that we understand all Christian dogmas and doctrines including every jot and tittle. We simply utter our faith from our depths, doubts and all.

There are a number of resources available for affirming faith by a congregation at worship. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, of course, are used regularly.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) includes in its Book of Confessions a number of historical creeds and affirmations, many of which are in response to particular theological or doctrinal issues. Sections of some of them, however, can be excerpted and compiled into usable liturgical statements.

In 1983, the newly reunited denomination of the former northern and southern Presbyterian churches established a committee to draft a new, shorter statement of faith that could be used in worship. Drawing extensively on the historic documents in the “Book of Confessions” as well as Scripture, they fashioned “A Brief Statement of Faith”, arranged in a Trinitarian structure. It is laid out in “phrase-line” format, which makes it visually useful, and the language itself is appropriate for current worshippers. The three major sections can be used independently as creedal statements, along with the introduction based on Scripture texts, and the concluding doxology of praise and thanksgiving.

The Book of Common Worship (1983) also includes a number of affirmations from Scripture that are powerful congregational affirmations, such as the one from Phil. 2:5-11.

Some churches fashion their own home-made creedal statement. This can be an exceptionally exciting experience of learning and spiritual growth for the people involved. It’s important that the task not be accomplished by a small group alone—efforts must be made to involve classes and groups of the church in the process. It’s also essential that the local creed be seen in the context of the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ through the centuries.

How does your church’s congregation affirm faith during Sunday worship?

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