Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creed - Part Two

It seems that one of my spiritual ancestors, John Calvin, thought it was a good idea for the congregation to sing the creed. At least, so he indicated in his Geneva liturgy. I mention this so that it doesn’t appear to be a crazy innovation.

Actually, when you think about it, we’ve been doing something like what Calvin suggested, perhaps without knowing it. How many orders of service do you know that has a hymn following the sermon? Many if not most.

The proclamation of the Word calls for a response from the people. The reading of Scripture and subsequent preaching challenges worshippers to affirm their faith anew. One of the ways this is commonly done is by the singing of a hymn. Even if a creed is recited in unison, singing the song of faith is often included.

The reason that we sing hymns anywhere in a service, but especially after hearing the Word proclaimed, is that music makes what we sing more memorable than it would be if we only said it. Calvin knew that.

So, if we sing the creed, we’re going to remember it better than if we only spoke it. Since creeds are important if we are going to learn the language of faith, it helps to carry them in our memories, and set to music, creeds stay with us.

Now it’s entirely possible that we might just settle for hymns to fill the spot of creedal affirmation in the service. After all, aren’t all hymns, in one way or another, affirmations of faith? True enough. But some are better than others.

Often the hymn after the sermon is selected for its relationship to the preached message. Just as often hymns are connected to the special day or season of the Christian Year. When other relationships are obvious, the hymn’s use as a creed may not be so apparent. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try.

So let’s move in another direction and see if there are any hymns that lend themselves to use as a creed. Indeed there are. In the Presbyterian Hymnal, two pieces in particular are perfectly useful as creeds, because they are biblical affirmations set to music.

One is based on Philippians 2:5-1, number 148 in the Presbyterian Hymnal. The biblical text, so we’re told, was an affirmation of faith, probably used in worship. Its poetic format even hints that it may well have been sung originally. In this setting, the words of the text are restated in metrical verse, like a hymn, to be easily sung and, therefore, more easily remembered.

Another is found at number 598 of the Presbyterian Hymnal, based on 1 Corinthians 15. This, too, is supposed to have been poetry used and perhaps sung in early worship. Its setting in the hymnal is not as a hymn, however, but as service music. Clearly it’s intended to be used as a sung confession of faith.

Other traditional creeds, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed can be and have been re-phrased to be sung or simply chanted. There are many options to be explored by pastors and musicians to enliven our professions of faith in God. Lifting our voices in song helps us lift our loyalty to God as we rejoice in our faith.

Do you sing or chant the creed in your worship service?

1 comment:

  1. I suggested it once. It was immediately shot down as "too Catholic."


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