Texting is a non-negotiable aspect of staying in touch with our teenage daughters, and so I’ve adopted many of the abbreviations that make texting such an efficient method of communication – LOL, BTW, TTYL, etc. These short-forms are quick and easy ways to say something bigger and more complex. And in much the same way, it occurred to me a few Sundays ago, when I was reciting the Apostles’ Creed for maybe the 5,000th time in my life, that the Creeds – the Apostles’ and the Nicene – are fabulous abbreviations – short-forms, if you will – of all the wonder and beauty that we have come to know in Jesus Christ.
In an age when the last fumes of Christendom are floating away, and we are re-learning how to be evangelists and missionaries within our own culture, keeping the historic Creeds of the Church as a regular part of our public worship together has never been more important. “A creed is a symbol of something larger – and ultimately, of Someone we love, Someone who makes us who we are,” writes Scott Hahn in The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages. When we say the Creeds, week in and week out, we are reminded who that Someone is: that the God of mercy and abounding grace is to be truly known in the particularity of the Jew from Nazareth. The Confession reminds us, in much the same way, of who we are: people desperately in need of God’s love and redemption.
Since I can’t be counted on to even remember to bring my reusable cup to the coffee shop each morning, I certainly need to be reminded, week in and week out, that God is not far off and distant, but is a God who is involved not only in history but also in the tragedies and triumphs of my own day-to-day life. We need the memory aid of the Creeds – this is who our God is! – in our distracted and fractured age.
The Creeds also sweep us up into the activity of God through the ages and remind us that we are part of a story that is much bigger than ourselves and our own fleeting lives. We are part of a family story that goes back to the dawn of time: part of a long line of people seeking after God’s face, from Sarah and Abraham, to King David, Mary Magdalene and now us. By joining in the Creeds, we also have a chance to expressly link ourselves with other Christians around the world – in South Sudan, Honduras and North Korea, to name but a few places – as we share our common faith not only with all the saints who have gone before us, but also with other Christians alive today, both young and old, rich and poor. The Creeds remind us that we are not at liberty to cut ourselves off from them, either in profession of faith or in practice.
The Creeds are a rallying cry of rebellion against the destructive values of our culture that seek to negate and twist all the good of God’s creation. With the passing away of Christendom – a culture that ostensibly supported (or actually undermined, depending on your view) some semblance of Christian norms – the Church has now been freed to joyfully proclaim the Gospel in fresh ways, without being encroached upon by an idolatrous desire to be thought well of by our culture. When we say the Creeds, we are boldly declaring that the world is not as it should be and that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to renew all of creation. It is this kind of public witness that is the root of all Christian ministries of justice, peace and reconciliation; if you want to start a rebellion against all the evil and repressive structures of the state, just start saying the Creeds in the public square.
Humans are wonderfully creative, and there are many ways to use the Creeds. As a parish priest, I frequently used the Q&A version of the Apostles’ Creed from the baptismal service, and there are many engaging musical settings. People have often told me that they don’t believe every line of the Creeds, and I always told them not to worry – God still believed in them, and they could step into the family story whenever and wherever they liked. Conscious of the diverse nature of the congregations I visit, I will sometimes introduce the Creeds with an invitation: “Mindful of our questions and doubts, please join me if you are able in this statement of Christian hope.”
The Creeds are a short-form for something much larger. They endure and unite us, and they remind us – and announce to the world – that in Jesus Christ, God is saying ILYSM (I love you so much).