I’ve been reading a book by Luke Timothy Johnson (Candler School of Theology) titled The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. Although I am late to this 2003 book, I’ve been reminded of the important place of creedal confession in forming Christian community. Creeds not only give us our historic and contemporary sense of identity, they also help us to read Scripture rightly. Our tradition has sometimes leaned much more to orthopraxy (right practice) than to orthodoxy (right belief) as the marker of authentic faith.
However, Nazarenes are a creedal people (think Articles of Faith). Doctrine is critical in forming us as faithful followers of Jesus, which means that a critical pastoral task is to teach doctrine. I know many of you do this in several ways, but I am especially wondering about the place of reciting creeds in Christian worship.
The church has long understood the importance of this and practiced it. What place does corporate creedal confession have in the worship of your congregation? Although we do not have our own book of worship per se (though as Wesleyans we can certainly lay claim to the Book of Common Prayer), our hymnals have included the Apostles’ Creed in each edition back to Glorious Gospel Hymns (1933). The latest version of the Nazarene hymnal, Sing to the Lord (1993), also includes the Nicene Creed. This is a clear signal to Nazarenes that the recitation of creed as part of worship is understood as a vital practice.
How many of your people would be able to recite the Apostles’ Creed from memory, as they can recite the Lord’s Prayer? (Or, the words to “Oceans,” but I digress.) I want to challenge you to think about how you are allowing the historic Christian creeds to help form your people as clear-minded Christians. If the creed has no place in your worship service currently, consider introducing it with some regularity. It would be best if it were framed with pastoral words of instruction that would help your people to understand why it is important to rehearse our faith in this way. And why is this important? Dr. Johnson says it well:
In a world that celebrates individuality, they are actually doing something together. In an age that avoids commitment, they pledge themselves to a set of convictions and thereby to each other. In a culture that rewards novelty and creativity, they use words written by others long ago. In a society where accepted wisdom changes by the minute, they claim that some truths are so critical that they must be repeated over and over again. In a throwaway, consumerist world, they accept, preserve, and continue tradition. Reciting the creed at worship is thus a counter-cultural act (40).
When we set out to plan worship each week, I pray that we will be delivered from the notion of innovation for its own sake. The important guiding principle of worship should not be about what will interest or entertain a people who are being shaped to dismiss that which is not flashy, shocking, or novel. Our task is to disciple our people in the faith that has been handed down, under the power of the Spirit, through centuries of threats and challenges not unlike our own. Let us be those entrusted as “faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2, NRSV).