Why we confess the Creed
"I've got a problem with you Lutherans."
The young man sitting across from me at the coffee shop himself used to be one of "us Lutherans." But he had gotten involved in a charismatic megachurch, and was now reassessing the faith of his upbringing. He had one bone to pick in particular.
"Every week you say the Creed," he said. "But for you it's just like saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Just something you do. It's not even in the Bible. Now, I don't mess around with the teachings of men. I've got no Creed but the Bible."
He may have been right that for too many of us, confessing the Creed is merely going through the motions—"just something you do." But then, why do we confess the Creed? What's the significance of reciting these ancient words? Let me give you four reasons.
1. Confessing the Creed is biblical
The young man was technically correct in saying that the Creed is not in the Bible. You can't turn to "Second Galatians" and find, "Ah, here was the Creed all along!" You simply won't find that succession of phrases strung together like that anywhere in the Scriptures.
The charge of the Creed being "unbiblical" is flat wrong, however. The fact is, every line of the Creed is drawn from the pages of the Bible—if not in direct quotes, then in demonstrable doctrine. You may have noticed that our worship folder from Sunday had a new addition: biblical references for each statement in the Creed. The Creed is to the Bible like the cover of a puzzle box is for the puzzle: it helps us to make sense of all the many pieces and put them together into a coherent whole.
2. Confessing the Creed is personal
In the wonderful Pixar movie Finding Nemo, we meet the "rats with wings": the seagulls. And the seagulls only have one thing they can say: "Mine!" (Reminds me of some two-year-olds I know.) Confessing the Creed is like our seagull moment. It's when we stand and say that the faith of the Church is mine. I believe this. In other words, it makes the message personal.
You pick up on this in the Small Catechism explanation to the 2nd Article: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil..." In confessing the Creed, we're saying about the Christian faith, "Mine!"
3. Confessing the Creed is ecumenical
"Ecumenical" is a $5 word that means belonging to the whole Church—both through space and time. The Creed is not the provenance of just one denomination. It is confessed by the vast majority of Christians throughout the world, of many traditions and backgrounds. While where there are certainly things that we disagree with Roman Catholics about, for example, in confessing the Creed we recognize that despite our differences we are all part of the Body of Christ.
The Creed is also ecumenical with respect to time. It unites us historically with other believers who have been confessing their faith using these words for (in the case of the Nicene Creed) 1700 years! It helps us to combat what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." We are a church with roots in the historic orthodox faith. (This is also why you should be leery of churches, like the one that the young man belonged to, that change the Creed or shuttle it entirely.)
4. Confessing the Creed is political
One of our members asked me recently, "Do you ever get political in your preaching?" I told him no—not if by "political" he meant stumping for a certain party's candidate or some such thing. But if by political you mean its more general sense of "issues related to our public life," then yes, absolutely.
The foundational Christian confession, after all, is "Jesus is Lord." In the ancient world, where Caesar claimed to be Lord, those were fighting words. Confessing the lordship of Christ was a political and not merely a religious claim (although they wouldn't have made such a sharp distinction between the two). It's a belief that has ramifications for our lives in the world—not least in the fact that we would, in the words of the hymn, "by faith before the world confess" the name of Jesus ("For All the Saints," v. 1).
And so, in the final analysis, the young man was right.
Though not in the way he thought. Confessing the Creed is like saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Not inasmuch as that becomes a mere routine (as shouldn't be the case for either the Pledge or the Creed). Rather, when we confess the Creed, we pledge allegiance to Christ and His reign and rule. We acknowledge that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3.20). We declare that Jesus died and rose again "that I might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom."
This is most certainly true.
Today's Inklings is adapted from Wednesday evening's homily.