Christian, what is it that we believe?
While Creeds like the Nicene and Apostle’s have been fundamental pieces of Christian liturgy and life, the American Church is highly unattached to these classic statements. From this creedal phobia has arisen the popular “No Creed, but Christ” slogan. Such slogan, of course, only proves that creeds are inevitable. The question ultimately is determined not by whether we will use a creed, but which will we use.
The Nicene and Apostle’s Creed are inestimably valuable since they connect the 21st-century church to the historic Christian Church. Yet, many evangelical churches are confused about the Creeds, while some outright reject the Creeds as a Roman Catholic conspiracy. Rod Dreher observes that “New social science research indicated that young adults are almost entirely ignorant of the teachings and practices of the historical Christian faith.” Yet, many evangelicals are determined to remain in ignorance.
Over the years I’ve heard many Southern Baptist pastors attempt to add the Creeds to the congregation’s life and worship only to be met with the worst of skepticism about their motives. One pastor of an independent church was immediately accused of being a Romanist. The Creeds are not welcomed in most churches in this country. How then can pastors encourage their congregations to adopt such historical affirmations without dividing their flock?
Five Ways to Incorporate the Creed
There are at least five ways to incorporate the Creeds into a Church. Generally, churches without a vibrant liturgical life will oppose the Creeds. But with some work, even modern, independent or non-liturgical traditions can find the Creeds to be happy additions to their services.
I am not proposing any radical changes immediately. In fact, pastors need to be extremely cautious and patient with their congregations before proposing such steps. These are a few ideas on how to begin the process and the conversation, which will hopefully lead to the implementation of the Creeds.
First, every pastor needs to understand that every church is composed of saints coming from different contexts. Such contexts dictate their reaction to the Creeds. If you pastor an evangelical church and are theologically trained in a seminary that taught the theology of the creeds and emphasized their importance, you may be a lonely voice in your denominational community, and certainly in your church. Understanding that many people are allergic to traditional language and repetitive vocabulary can be a good start to seeing the obstacles ahead. Don’t assume for a moment that such changes will be easy. Pastors need to tread carefully by first building trust. This process may take a few years. Any attempt to change the history and worship of a congregation needs to be done in love. It is better to bring the people along with you to the Creeds rather than incorporating the Creeds without the people. So, the first step is to build trust. The people need to know that you are safe and evangelical in your commitments to Christ and His Gospel first and foremost.
Secondly, incorporating the Creeds will require some theological training for the congregation. It’s possible that when Creedal-friendly pastors assume new congregations they are often confronted with a non-theological church. In other words, such churches may have strong evangelistic leanings with little theological zeal. They are generally unaware of Church History. If this is the expected environment, it would be wise to begin by offering some biographical sketches during Sunday School lessons. Biographical overviews are not seen as threatening and they can also provide ample opportunities to train people in theological nuances. So, the second step is to introduce little bites of Church History. They may not eat the entire meal, but they may chew enough to gain interest.
Thirdly, offer some explanations of the music you sing. An example of this is found in the familiar hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The hymn declares the holiness of God throughout and offers this familiar line: “God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.” Pastors may take some time to explain these concepts to the congregation. What is the Trinity? How many persons are there in the Trinity? Does the Bible teach the Trinity? Why is it important to confess the Trinity? A pastor may even wish to make reference to the Creeds as they elaborate carefully on the Triune nature of God. Sometimes hymnody offers the easiest road to the Creeds since traditional hymnody is written by thoughtful Christian thinkers.
Fourthly, it’s important to disciple your leaders through books and Bible studies. The congregation is more likely to accept changes if they know the leadership is behind the decision. Have the conversation in casual settings where the topic of creeds will not be misunderstood or found threatening to the church’s way of life. Many parishioners find the idea of change to be a slap to the history of the congregation or to the way things have been done before the pastors’ arrival. This patience builds the trust I spoke of, but it also lets your leaders know you mean to bring no harm, but rather to build the church in the apostolic faith once delivered to the saints.
Finally, if the congregation seems prepared to use the Creeds, but still reveals some skepticism, use it sparingly. Use it for special occasions during the year and pray that the people will hunger for its frequency. Once they desire it, the frequency will come. But pushing it too soon and too much might backfire and cause division. While unanimity is often not going to happen, pastors should spend extra time with skeptical families and assure them that the Creeds are summaries rather than a threat to the faith.
We believe. We are the Church. The Church lives faithfully when she looks back and faithfully upholds her commitment to the historic faith. With great care and caution, pastors may provide an environment where such creeds can be used, appreciated, and loved by God’s people.
Uri Brito is the Senior Pastor of Providence Church in Pensacola, FL. He is the editor of The Church-Friendly Family, and author of The Trinitarian Father. Uri is the founder of and contributor to Kuyperian Commentary, and is a board member of Theopolis.
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