As we saw in a preceding post, when the language of the Creed is biblical, we are not free to abandon it, even if the framers of the creed — or later users of it — would not understand that language in the same way we do. We are not free to shy away from the way the Bible talks about things.
So what do we do? Isn’t it dishonest to recite the Creed knowing that we don’t mean the same thing as some others do when they say the same words?
Two issues here: First of all, how come this kind of thing always seems to only work one way? How come it’s me being dishonest, and not them? Especially since — from where I’m standing, at least — I mean what Scripture means by it, and they don’t. Hardly seems right. How about this: I am honestly employing the language of Scripture, and they are betraying their principles by unlawfully importing to the biblical expressions meanings that God did not intend?
Second, and more important, we can disagree and still be one. Christ only has one Body. What actually unifies us is not our doctrinal statements, nor our creeds, but our common participation in Christ. A difference on whether Christ descended into hellfire after His death simply isn’t enough to trump our common participation in Christ. You can’t undo the cross with a pen and a sheet of paper.
Or to say it in the old way: We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We believe in the communion of saints. Or in the even older way: “There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
When I go to, say, a GES conference, I find myself sharing an auditorium with many people with whom I disagree quite seriously, some of whom I would never allow to speak to a flock for which I am responsible. In other circumstances, I find myself sharing a classroom or even a pulpit with someone I seriously disagree with. And yet, we fellowship and worship together. I recently became involved with a prayer effort in my community that puts me on the same team with a very broad range of folks. And yet, we will continue to pray together. Why? Because Christ has united us. They are my people, even if I don’t like it (I do, actually, but my likes and dislikes are irrelevant).
If a pen and paper can’t undo the work of the cross, neither can a clock or a calendar.
Back in 650 or 700, there were Christians. Christ was building His church. The gates of Hades were not prevailing against it. These people said the Creed, and by those words they were expressing their belief in Jesus, the same Jesus I believe in. They were joined to Him who is my Head; they were members of the Body in which I am also a member. They still are; when I ascend the heavenly Zion on Sunday morning to worship before the mercy seat of the heavenly tabernacle, they are the “spirits of just men made perfect” about whom the author of Hebrews writes. I was baptized into the same Christ as they; I eat of the same bread, drink of the same wine, worship on the same holy mountain. They were, and they are, my people, and if I cannot speak in unison with them on everything, I can still speak in harmony.
When I say the Creed, I am not trying to paper over the differences between us. But I am claiming continuity with them. I am in their debt, and I am grateful. The Creed is their gift to me; they formulated it, spoke it, preserved it for me, and here it is: an adept summary of the Faith once delivered to all the saints, articulated as best they understood it, given to me, although I have done nothing to deserve or earn it.
They are my people. When I say their creed, I am saying that I am in harmony with them, and because of that harmony, it is my creed too.