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What do you believe?

While out of town on a recent Sunday morning I found my way to a Lutheran church for worship. After the sermon, when it was time to say the Apostle’s Creed, the pastor began with a question: “Who are you people? A secular world, jaded and weary, wonders why you are gathered here today.”

To which the congregation responded: “We are the church and we gather in the name of God, to worship God with everything we are, and to offer God everything we have, that we may be sent to serve the world God created, loved, and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his only Son."

The dialogue continued: “Everyone believes something. In what do you believe?” At which point the congregation launched into the creed: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.”

“What do you believe about Jesus?” “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary...” and so on, with a few more questions to punctuate elements of the creed.

This dialogue struck me as a wonderful reminder that the creed is voiced amid competing creeds: when we recite the creed we are not simply repeating the faith of the church for ourselves and one another, but affirming it in the face of other things that could be believed about God and Jesus and about how one should live. In a liturgically unobtrusive way, the dialogue served both to enliven what can become a routine part of the liturgy and to underscore its countercultural content.

The dialogue, I found out, was written by Kathy Schuen, a worship leader in the North/West Lower Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and it was used at a recent synod gathering. Schuen said she is interested in how “liturgical pieces can also become a means of dialogue with our secular culture.”

“We must now offer our beliefs in the marketplace of beliefs,” she told me. “I think this can actually be a good thing for the church, because it leads naturally to a posture of humility regarding our theological positions and actions.”

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Comments

Adam Gonnerman said...

Adam Gonnerman said...

Very nice. Where can we find more examples?

Anonymous said... I

Anonymous said...

I wonder why this particular version starts with describing the world as "secular" and, thus, "weary and jaded". Don't most people in the world and in the US believe in God and belong to a religious denomination? Does being "secular", however it's defined, mean being "weary and jaded"?

Kathleen Dixon said... A

Kathleen Dixon said...

A good number of my congregation don't accept a literal understanding of the Bible, so saying the Apostle's Creed isn't something we do. However, I really like the idea of dialoguing with questions to bring out similar statements. I can also see dialogue being used in prayers - I'm already getting ideas for my next service.
Thank you.

Suzy Meyer said... I'd

Suzy Meyer said...

I'd also like to see more examples, and the entire dialogue referenced. Is contact info available for Ms.Schuen?

Anne-Marie Hislop said...

Anne-Marie Hislop said...

I use a variety of creeds as I think saying the same one weekly often puts us on auto-pilot. I find the comment linking taking the Bible "literally" and the creed puzzling. I am far from a Bible literalist, but find reciting a creed in worship meaningful.

I think the creed is important, not necessarily because of the 'secular' world, but because of the often fuzzy understanding of basic Christian teaching among folks in the pews.

In my last church I had several life-long church attenders who, in a one-on-one discussion about their faith, looked at me blankly and said, "well, Jesus wasn't God. Jesus was the SON of God." One woman told me "God the father is the greater God and Jesus is the lesser God. When I asked her if that meant that there were two Gods, she said, "Yes." Those are the folks who went to Sunday school as kids and have been in the pews regularly for decades!

Jerry Mitchell said... I

Jerry Mitchell said...

I belong to a non-creedal UCC church and consider myself a Christian along the lines of Spong, Borg, Crossan, and others that do not have the creed reading of the bible that is in the dialog. I would find the recitation rather "auto pilot" and not conducive to real questioning or dialog. Do all the members believe every bit of the creed? Have they thought over each part of it? Are people who don't believe in or question some of it welcome in the church? Some of us find reciting creeds confining and not meaningful.

Joan Dayton said... The

Joan Dayton said...

The creeds pin us down occasionally when we forget that the reason we know that God is love, loves justice, loves the poor is because Jesus, for about 33 years, was God in the flesh; I am not a biblical literalist, but take Jesus' resurrection as a fact and know he is alive all over the world, working through other faiths to bring the world to saving faith. Joan Dayton

Cynthia Burkert said... A

Cynthia Burkert said...

A thought for Kathleen and Jerry - I respect the reasons why a church would choose not to recite any creed at all, but I am reminded of a commentary on Matthew and the Beatitudes which suggested that in any given Christian community, there will be some who exhibit each but rarely all of those qualities (beatitudes) - which I think is true of the creeds, as well. Is it necessary that each believe all? I don't think so - but when we practice anything "corporately" we affirm that in this community, these are the things that are believed. (I once knew a woman who put off joining a church because she could not believe in the virgin birth. Ironically, she eventually found her way to Roman Catholicism. God has a wonderful sense of humor!)

Anonymous said... I guess

Anonymous said...

I guess it has come to the point when the troops need to be rallied in order to recite the creed - complete with naming the "bad guy" as the secular. What a message we send when the creed becomes holy and the world becomes merely secular. Sounds to me as if the church is "weary and jaded"...

Jim Friedrich said... In

Jim Friedrich said...

In my congregation (Lutheran), I have come to see the creed as a foundational or given set of historical beliefs that represent what some, but certainly not all those at worship believe and confess. We use the creeds occasionally in worship but I also enjoy various "affirmations of faith" that address more issues that the creeds don't address. I've found some to be especially beautiful and inspiring, like a well-crafted poem. Our creeds jump too quickly from Christ's birth to his death and it's what's in-between that's also meaningful. Like the creeds, these affirmations may not speak for everyone present but, like the dialogues Heim refers to, they become a public statement that can articulate our beliefs and values to members and guests alike.

Roger Talbott said... The

Roger Talbott said...

The Creed - especially the Apostles' Creed - is less a theological statement than it is a pledge of loyalty - not unlike the pledge to the flag. "I believe in THIS God and not THAT god"; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus rather than the God of the philosophers; the Creator of Heaven and Earth rather than the guarantor of American hegemony; the Judge of the living and the dead who was "tempted in all ways as we are" rather than a divine being who has never felt hunger or the need to touch and by another person.
I like this idea a lot and can see using the creed over and against a lot of faith statements in our society.

Anonymous said... Hello

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone,

I had to log on as "anonymous" but actually I'm Kathy Schuen, author of Dialogue With the Creed. I feel honored that so many have spoken positively about what I have written. Please feel free to use it in your worship gatherings...here it is in its entirety:

Who are you people? A secular world, jaded and weary, wonders why you are gathered here today.

WE ARE THE CHURCH AND WE GATHER IN THE NAME OF GOD, TO WORSHIP GOD WITH EVERYTHING WE ARE, AND TO OFFER GOD EVERYTHING WE HAVE, THAT WE MAY BE SENT TO SERVE THE WORLD GOD CREATED, LOVED, AND REDEEMED THROUGH THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON.

Everyone believes in something. In what do you believe?

WE BELIEVE IN GOD, THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD'S ONLY SON, OUR LORD.

What do you believe about Jesus?

HE WAS CONCEIVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY, SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE, WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED, AND WAS BURIED; HE DESCENDED INTO HELL.

The Son of God went to hell? Is this Jesus dead or did something extraordinary occur?

ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN; HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, HE IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER,AND HE WILL COME TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.

What gives you comfort, peace, and hope for the future?

WE BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH, THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS, THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING.

AMEN.

I am aware that controversy sometimes attends the use of the Creeds in worship. I realize that some find them exclusionary, outdated and theologically 'perverse' but I always imagined them to be the church's way of introducing itself - not meant to be exclusive, arrogant or overbearing but a simple corporate statement of identity.

While I celebrate the gifts the secular world brings to we who are church, most notably the gift of technology, I believe the church is in a unique position to address the brokenness we see all around us - hence the infamous "jaded and weary" part.

I do enjoy exploring the line between what is considered "sacred" and what is considered "secular," enjoying the place where they meet, merge and move together. I have written other pieces reflecting this life-long interest.

I'd also be interested in dialoguing with others who are interested in ways to re-lexicalize our uniquely Christian symbols and rituals in order to make them accessible to those outside the church.

Please - keep up the good discussion!

R. D. Eldred said... Glad

R. D. Eldred said...

Glad to read about the appreciation. If you don't
know the book, I commend to you, "With or Without
God; Why the way we live is more important than
What we Believe" by Gretta Vosper. It is a paperback, only available from Canada. It is all
about her congregation in Toronto who are doing
many of the same things...........

Kathy Schuen said...

Kathy Schuen said...

Thank you so much for the book recommend! I will look forward to reading it.

Janet Wolfe said... If

Janet Wolfe said...

If one doesn't take the Bible literally, then I do not see why the creed cannot be treated in the same way. As Borg & Crossan often state, much of the Bible can be more truly interpreted metaphorically and poetically. It seems to me that the same can apply to the creeds. For example, the Virgin Birth, does not have to be taken literally, but can be a metaphor for Jesus as one who illuminates what God is like and who provides for us a model for full humanity.
The Apostles' Creed is used ecumenically in baptisms and it is one of the foundations for the agreement the ecumenical community has reached in recognizing one another's baptism.

Kathy Schuen said... I

Kathy Schuen said...

I like the concept of non-literality regarding the virgin birth - that reminds me it's not simply a matter of gynecology.

Instead, it can be regarded as a metaphor that warms the divine, interjecting the enormous fecundity of human minds, bodies and spirits (themselves all gifts of God) into that which would otherwise be wholly Other.

About creedal statements...I've been thinking about the Lindbeckian concept of the church as a community among many others, steeped in its own cultural/linguistic matrix. If that's so, then the church's language requires mastery over time, just as anyone new to a culture must learn something of the language in order to partake of all the riches the culture offers. This language can be difficult to comprehend, especially for those who are unchurched and encountering it for the first time.

The church language certainly draws from the culture in which that church is embedded, but terms and usages such as "baptized," "new birth," "grace," and "born again" have been re-lexicalized in a way only regular church-goers will understand. Formal creedal language is a good example of that.

If we are to be about the serious business of outreach, I believe we need to draw people into our mystery, the mystery of God's unspeakable love and unimaginable power to forgive.

To that end we could make selected pieces of liturgy that people encounter as newcomers somewhat less mysterious through brief, careful explanation and/or re-wording.

I'm not advocating that we make these pieces devoid of mystery. I don't think we could ever do that, even if we wanted to! We live and breathe the mystery of the divine, we who constitute the church, and there is mystery enough in our other symbols and sacraments to last forever.

I simply feel we could make our language more inviting and accessible to newcomers.

Roger V. Asplund said...

Roger V. Asplund said...

I enjoyed reading the item by David Heim and the many comments. My hat's off to Kathy for using the Apostles' Creed as the basis for the dialog.

I become uneasy when other "affirmations of faith" are substituted for the historic creeds of the Church. They are often shallow and reflect the limited vision of the person or persons composing them. The Apostles' Creed has stood the test of time. It is an affirmation of those basic beliefs that define us as the community of faith called into being by the work of the Holy Spirit, one in Christ and one with Christ.

I wonder why the pronoun "We" is used in this version of the creed. I believe that is appropriate for the Nicene Creed. The Apostles' Creed, as the baptismal creed of the church, uses the pronoun "I". Though spoken within the context of the gathered community, it is my confession of faith.

Dennis said... Kathy

Dennis said...

Kathy Schuen’s reference to the cultural/linguistic context (Ref. George Lindbeck: The Nature of Doctrine) of creeds and liturgies is spot on and reflected in the various responses in this blog. Lindbeck describes doctrine as a kind of grammar deriving sense from within the cultural linguistic matrix of its origin. As the post-Reformation church continues to fragment, what was once a common language has fissioned into variant dialects, many of which strain to remain in conversation with the mother tongue. As David Heim said, “the (Apostle’s) creed is voiced amid competing creeds.” The more Christian traditions diverge from common confessionalism as way of self-describing, the more arcane ancient confessions seem to be. As one responder said, “Our creeds jump too quickly from Christ's birth to his death and it's what's in-between that's also meaningful.”

Though we may fault them for their abbreviated biography of Jesus, it is important to remember that their function is not to provide a comprehensive catechism, but a dogmatic summary of Trinitarian faith. It seems to me that the most strident critics of faith (i.e. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, jaded secularists if there ever were any) don't get the Trinitarian God. Their diatribes shred paper-tiger theodicies that any believer in the cross of Christ would find trivial. Unfortunately, it seems that Christians who are no longer in conversation with the ancient creeds don't much get the Trinitarian God either. To be in conversation doesn't mean one must accede to some strictly literalistic version of virgin birth, but to ask the question, what do we mean when we say in the Nicene Creed that Christ is “true man and true God?” Kathy's dialog simply asks, “Everyone believes something. In what do you believe?”

Dennis Smith

To the lovely creed issue

Theology is wonderful, be grateful you are chosen and pray thanks to the Lord for his grace and love.
If you want a full church pray but be careful for what you pray. Remember it is in Gods time not ours.

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