A New Take on the Apostles’s Creed

Apostles' Creed in the English-Chinese Book of...
Apostles’ Creed in the English-Chinese Book of Common Prayer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

As the contemporary church transitions through this age of changing forms, focus, and mission it become increasingly difficult to discern exactly where the faith is heading. This state of limbo tends to create separate and distinct forms of reaction as some Christians embrace change and new directions as much-needed alterations in a church that is increasingly irrelevant and marginalized. Others welcome this transition about as much as they would a case of poison ivy. Instead of looking for new and vital ways to present the faith to a post-modern world, they retreat into cultural isolation and long for a return to the “good old days,” obviously forgetting that those halcyon days are a product of their imagination and euphoric recall more than anything else.

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you are probably aware that I tend to fall more into the former camp than the latter. The Christian faith is in a major time of crisis and unless it undergoes radical transformation, it is going to become a historical relic with virtually little or no cultural impact. That’s why I firmly believe that the Emergent Movement within the church is not something to be feared, but instead, constitutes a long-overdue revitalization of the Christian faith on all fronts.

I am especially pleased that more and more followers of Jesus are coming to see that our faith was originally one where experience took priority over doctrine and “belief” and that trust in the Master and the teachings of the faith was transformational, more so than correct belief.

I mention all this because I have recently been reading Diana Butler Bass’ latest book, entitled Christianity After Religion. I am enjoying the book and learning much from its analysis of how the church arrived at its current dilemma, and future directions that it might take.

This, however, is not a review of this book.

As I mentioned, the Emergent Church movement is trending more toward experience as the true content of the Christian journey and that doctrine, although it serves a purpose, is not the true litmus test of one’s faith.

In a chapter entitled, “Believing,” Bass shares how the Massai people of East Africa, aided by Catholic missionaries, revised the Apostles’ Creed so that if more clearly reflected the realities of their encounter with Jesus. I want to share that revision with you, as I think it is not only relevant to the Massai people, but 21st Century Christians in America as well:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen

Personally, I find this version of the creed far more relative and far more transformative than the one composed all those many centuries ago. It contains the same truths, but presents these truths in a different, more personal way. In my mind, it points directly to God’s great story of restoration, healing, and ultimate happiness. Diana Butler Bass, speaking of this version of the creed, states:

The Maasi creed invites us to go on a safari with Jesus. These are not just words about God; rather, these words welcome us into a story of God’s hope for human happiness and healing.

Bass then goes on to share these important nuances of the French ancestry of the word “doctrine”:

Indeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor.” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.

I think it is fairly obvious that our creeds, uttered in repetitious, monotone lockstep, have, through centuries of non-reflective recitation, lost all vestiges of spiritual energy. Further, they have been misapplied repeatedly, rather than used as the healing balm as originally intended. Instead, Christian legalists and rigid fundamentalists have appropriated the classic creeds of the faith at “statements of belief” and a litmus test of authentic Christianity.

This has constituted a great loss for the faith as a whole, but it is a loss that can be rectified, as in the case of the Maasi creed cited above. This is an exciting yet challenging time for the church. In order for the faith to not only survive, but thrive, new wineskins are sorely needed – wineskins that are more relevant to the contemporary world encountered by the faithful each and every day.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

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4 thoughts on “A New Take on the Apostles’s Creed

  1. Hi Mick

    You write: “I think it is fairly obvious that our creeds, uttered in repetitious, monotone lockstep, have, through centuries of non-reflective recitation, lost all vestiges of spiritual energy. Further, they have been misapplied repeatedly, rather than used as the healing balm as originally intended. Instead, Christian legalists and rigid fundamentalists have appropriated the classic creeds of the faith at “statements of belief” and a litmus test of authentic Christianity”

    1) Millions of Christians over the centuries have been spiritually invigorated by reading the creeds of our faith. Can you read…

    “Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death? Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.” (Heidelberg Catechism)

    …without having a major thrill go down your spine?

    If this paragraph does not move you to tears or worship, then what do you believe?

    “Lost all vestiges of spiritual energy”? Really?

    2) If you knew the history of the creeds you would know that all of them were originally written as litmus tests of authentic Christianity against specific heresies.

    Be good!

    Wynand

    1. Wynand:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I understand your point and I am happy to hear that the creeds and historical statements of faith give you such a positive and affirmative experience. My point is simply that they increasingly do not do so for many people. I am not suggesting that we jettison these completely, but I do think we should perhaps explore more effective means of presenting the faith. Also, I think that what I said referred to vain repetition and lack of reflection on the true meaning of the creeds, which unfortunately seems to have become the norm. When one truly reflects on Christ, his true nature and what he accomplished for us on his mission to this world, he or she should be rendered speechless in complete awe and wonder. I find, and this is in my case and I am not saying it is normative for all, I am more likely to have such an encounter in quiet meditation, a walk in the woods, or looking into the eyes of my eight year old daughter than I am reciting a creed. Again, thanks for your comments and for visiting LifeBrook. Have a great New Year.

      Mick

  2. Hi Mick

    My concern with the Emergent movement is that they are not just changing the church, they are changing the faith. There are so many Emergent preachers (in my denomination) now that simply could not recite the above article of the Heidelberg Catechism, at least not without some postmodern distortion of its real meaning. For them Christ simply did not “Satisfy for my sins with his precious blood”. (The doctrine of substitutionary penal atonement). They do not believe that the devil exists. As far as the Apostolicum is concerned, they reject the notion that God is almighty (omnipotent). They reject the theistic view that God is Creator of heaven and earth for a panentheistic view of creation emanating from God. They reject the virginal birth of Jesus Christ. They reject the bodily resurrection of the dead as in “carnis resurrectionum”.

    (Apart from just the people in my own denomination, I could add to the list international luminaries of the movement like Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Leonard Sweet and Marcus Borg.)

    And yet they still call themselves “Christians”. And when one confronts them with the litmus test for true Christianity, as the creeds were indeed intended to be used as by their authors, they say on postmodern grounds that “since the creeds were true for their authors, and all “truths” are equally valid, we affirm that they are true. But we belong to a different social system, and OUR truth simply does not allow for, say, the virginal birth or bodily resurrection of Christ!” And then they say, “I am more prone to find God in a sunset, or the smile of a child, etc.” to draw the attention away from their postmodern deconstruction of the creeds.

    Unfortunately many people who support or at least admire the emergent movement do not really realize that it means a rejection of Christianity.

    I read this on John Piper’s website 2 minutes ago:

    “Thank God for Paul and Lewis and my dad! It’s all so obvious now. Self is simply too small to satisfy the exploding longings of my heart. I wanted to taste and see something great and wonderful and beautiful and eternal.

    It started with seeing nature and ended with seeing God. It started in literature, and ended in Romans and Psalms. It started with walks through the grass and woods and lagoons, and ended in walks through the high plains of theology. Not that nature and literature and grass and woods and lagoons disappeared, but they became more obviously copies and pointers.

    The heavens are telling the glory of God. When you move from heavens to the glory of God, the heavens don’t cease to be glorious. But they are un-deified, when you discover what they are saying. They are pointing. “You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy” (Psalm 65:8).”

    Read Romans 1: This is the source of Piper’s theology here. God reveals himself in nature to us (as you said). But if God’s revelation in nature does not lead us to a theology of the crucified and risen Christ who died as a “ransom for many” (substitutionary penal atonement in Jesus’ own words) – which is what the creeds are – then this revelation in nature will condemn us.

    Mick, I really do not know you or what you believe. But know this: Though the emergent movement represents a whole spectrum of beliefs with varying amounts of truth and heresy, as a whole it represents not a redefinition of the Christian faith, but rather a rejection of it.

    Regards

    Wynand

    1. Wynand:

      Once again, thanks for your thoughtful and obviously heartfelt comments. I suspect we are of quite different views on all of this and I find that attempting to convince another that my view is the correct one is an exercise in both futility and lack of brotherly kindness and respect. Much of what you describe as a rejection of the Christian faith, especially the lack of belief in the substitutionary penal atonement, I find to be a return to authentic Christianity. I think the subsitutionary atonement was perhaps the first and greatest heresy that befell the faith. I know that this is not what many have been led to believe, but it is the what I have found to be true and that is where I have to take my stand. Emerson rightly said that nothing is more sacred than the integrity of your own mind. With that said, it should also be apparent that I do not hold with the notion that scripture is inerrant, etc. Although I find the whole notion of the “Jesus Seminar” to be a bit of a stretch, I do agree with Marcus Borg and Brian McLaren and their views that the Bible is of human, not divine origin.

      I respect your right to your views and laud you for your willingness to defend them. I would also note that in my view, the list of authors you mentioned in the second paragraph are prophetic voices crying in the wilderness of a church that went off the rails centuries ago and is now reaping the dividends of that departure. So, as I stated, I do believe our views are miles apart. I have read five of John Piper’s books and can honestly say I disagree with most of his conclusions. Still, I am of the opinion that I can learn something valuable from those writers of other schools of thought. I only can say that if my views are different than those of Piper and that makes me a heretic, then that is a title I most proudly assume. I gather that your denomination is of the Calvinist/Reformed tradition. Mine is Wesleyan and Arminian, so I suspect our differences go all the way to the root so to speak.

      I wish you all the best in your walk of faith and that your relationship with the Father of Lights grows deeper in every way.

      Mick

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