I was brought up in a non-creedal church. It was an independent Christian church in the Stone-Campbell tradition, and while it was theologically conservative, the traditional creeds of the faith were not a part of the church services.

In my late teens, I rejected the religion of my upbringing and became an atheist for a dozen or so years. When I later became interested in religion again, my fierce commitment to independence of thought--the very reason I had rejected the doctrinal straitjacket of fundamentalism in the first place--did not disappear. It was important to me that I would not jettison my mind when I rediscovered religious faith. I wanted to synthesize religion with rationality. And as part of this strong sensitivity to the rejected fundamentalism of my upbringing, I saw creeds as an example of another kind of doctrinal straitjacket, and thus I wanted to have nothing to do with them.

Yet I realize that the correlation between the use of creeds and the freedom of thought within the denomination is not also so clear cut. On the one hand, the church of my youth was non-creedal, yet its fundamentalist outlook was intellectually stifling, which I found revolting when I reached a certain age. On the other hand, the Episcopal Church, which incorporates creedal recitations in its Book of Common Prayer, gives us a progressive theologian like Marcus Borg.

If I attend a church service that includes the Apostle's Creed or some other similar recitation as part of its service, I simply don't participate in that part of it; instead, I just sit (or stand) silently and wait for that portion of the service to end. I can't recite the creeds in good conscience, not only because I just don't literally believe them, but also because they seem to have their origins in power struggles between competing factions of the Christian faith, and were as concerned with rooting out heresy as anything else. As a heretic myself, this isn't something I care to identify with. Most importantly in my view, these creeds typically have a lot to say about Jesus's birth, death, and resurrection, but omit any discussion about what I consider the most important element of the whole Jesus tradition--his life and teachings!

And yet. In my never ending search for progressive religion in my city, I ran across the blog of a local Methodist minister, who, in a posting from two years ago, gives his own perspective on the Apostle's creed. It is a long posting that goes over the entire text of the creed. I give the minister points for saying that he "isn't overly concerned with the literal idea of the virgin birth" and that, as far as the resurrection is concerned, "the historicity of the story is not relevant for us." He suggests that

the point of creedal confession is not to freeze and paralyze faith into an icy tundra of doctrine. It is, rather, to engage our convictions and understandings at the intersection of living faith and it’s impact on us and our world. It is to think and pray deeply about who we are in the power of God’s all powerful love. And it is to humbly realize that in the midst of it all, the mystery of faith continues far beyond our ability to fathom it.
The then emphasizes with bold print this assertion:
And while we do not shy away from “bottom line” elements to Christian faith, the ancient creeds are not to be held up as a litmus test for us to dispose of with a “yay” or a “nay.”
This similar to the perspective of the United Church of Christ, which sees creeds as "testimonies" rather than "tests" of faith.

I can understand and appreciate that there are those who are able to accept the creeds with this sort of perspective. I also appreciate the effort of this Methodist minister to give symbolic and historical meaning to the Apostle's creed for those who don't believe that it is all literally true. Still, when all is said and done, I prefer not to be asked to recite a creed in church.


Ray said...

This is an interesting radio programme on creeds - thought it may interest you


Ray said...

Ah.. the URL got a bit truncated - it should end -


MadPriest said...

Most Anglicans believe the words of the creeds although there are many different understandings of what belief means. I find this liberating, especially in these present times when fundamentalism is creeping into my church. Because we have a basic credal statement I think I am well within my rights to say to people who wish to control my thoughts that I don't have to believe anything that isn't in the creeds and that would include stuff about morality and church government etc. At the moment it is only the creeds that stand between freedom and fascism in my church.

Matthew said...

*scratches his head*

It's hard to find progressive religion in San Francisco?

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, Matthew, it isn't that I can't find progressive religion in the city, but it is harder than you might think, and even among the ones that I do find, I am not always sure that their definition of "progressive" matches my own. Most self-describe progressive Christians tend to be quite orthodoxy on certain matters of dogma--they tend to be Trinitarians, for example, and many or most seem to believe in the literal truth of the resurrection of Jesus. And then there is the whole question of whether a particular church, even if it is progressive, matches my style or my spiritual needs in its form of worship, its activities, its sense of community, and so on.