Liturgy Series: Part 8 – The Creed
By this point we’ve covered a lot of ground in this Liturgy Series. Thus far we’ve addressed the Liturgical Calendar, the Call to Worship, Music, the Law, Confession and Pardon, and Baptism. Today we will zoom in on what is usually called “the Creed” or “the Confession of Faith.” But before we go on I’d like to take a moment to give you (the faithful reader) a bit of a roadmap moving forward. I assure you that we are nearing the end of this arduous journey and I hope you’ll stick with me! In the coming weeks, we will consider Corporate Prayer, the Sermon, the Eucharist, the Offering, and the Benediction. This should take us to mid-January if I stay at my current pace (one post per week). I’m considering knocking out a few posts the week after Christmas because I will be off work and should be able to devote extra time to writing but for now let’s assume the series will continue into the New Year.
Now, let’s dive into the Creed!
Like most parts of the liturgy, a weekly recitation of a Creed or confession of faith doesn’t really make sense to our modern selves. We tend to take a very cognitivist approach to things in that we see no use in repetition of words we already know. But this approach runs straight against what the Bible teaches about words. In many ways, words are like food (Matthew 4:4). The mere fact that we “know” what certain words are communicating does not mean that we no longer need to say or hear them. When a wife asks her husband if he loves her the husband should not respond by telling his wife that he told her he loved her on their wedding day and that she shouldn’t be so forgetful (Credit to Douglas Wilson for this analogy). No, the wife craves the verbal articulation of her husbands love; not so that she can remember but so that she may truly know. To continue this analogy, the Bible uses the word “know” to communicate sexual union in many cases (Genesis 4:1). This is a type of knowing that could never be boiled down to mere head knowledge.
The Bible speaks in a similar way in Colossians 3. Paul desires the word to dwell in the Colossians richly. This is not a call for the Colossians to make cognitive assent to the “doctrines” of Christ. No, Paul envisions the Colossians singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in their hearts to God as a result of Christ’s words dwelling in them (v. 16). Knowledge that dwells is not something you’ve passed by casually, it’s something that has been planted in your bones over a long period of time. In part, this is what the Creed seeks to do in the people of God.
Recitation of a Creed in corporate worship is also a public act. As noted, it has a profound impact over time in the hearts of God’s people. However, the Creed is also declarative, publicly embracing some things while simultaneously pushing other things away. In his work Desiring the Kingdom James K.A. Smith states: “When we pledge that Jesus is Lord…we are engaged in a political act.” Each week as the people of God gather in corporate worship they are (re)centering their lives around the true king of the true city. The Creed states that no matter what country you are from or which political party you claim allegiance to, ultimately, Jesus is Lord over all. The politically provocative nature of the creed is difficult to deny when every Lord’s day hundreds of millions of men, women, and children gather around the globe to declare that Jesus is sovereign over all.
Smith also makes the point that the Creed runs against our consumeristic culture that is obsessed with the “new.” He states:
Like many of the practices of Christian worship, the Creed comes to us from an ancient world, and yet it is on our lips as a contemporary confession. In contrast to secular liturgies that are fixated on the novel and the new, which are trying their best to get us to forget what happened five minutes ago, Christian worship constitutes us as a people of memory. It cuts across the grain of myths of progress and chronological snobbery that assume “we” (late moderns) must know more and thus must know better. The communal recitation of the Creed conditions us to recognize the role of tradition in our construal of the world. (pg. 191)
This is a very important point to make. The Creed pumps the brakes on our runaway consumeristic culture. The next sale, season, & show are continually placed before our eyes in secular liturgies. This is because consumerism is meant to be consumed. The quality, depth, and nuance of consumeristic (popular) culture is lacking to such a degree that the only way it is capable of perpetuating itself is through the constant production of the new. The Creed calls us back to the old paths. The Creed teaches us that if we linger with the familiar lines “I believe if God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth” we will glean much more than is possible from the newest cultural manifesto.
I’d like to conclude this post in much the same way that Smith concludes his section on the Creed in Desiring the Kingdom.
Much of this Liturgy Series has emphasized the fact that they way liturgies (Christian and secular) form us is precognitive. In other words, liturgies feed us stories about the world that we are prone to embrace before we “think” about them. This emphasis is in no way a call to abandon intelligent reflection. To the contrary, such an approach helps us to situate belief and cognitive interaction in a very helpful way. This preconscious anthropology (liturgical anthropology) informs us that our beliefs spring up out of embodied and communal rituals (liturgies). But these beliefs still play a (massive) role. While we can ultimately see that much of our individual and communal affections are pushed and pulled at a non-cognitive level we are able to be aware of this cognitively. it is this cognitive awareness (often brought up in the creed) that can help turn our hearts back again toward what we are supposed to desire (the Kingdom) and toward the rituals that attune our hearts toward that kingdom (liturgy).
Food for thought.