By Walter B. Fenton
“Pastor, the service was particularly moving this morning,” said Christina as she, her husband, and three children filed through the receiving line in the narthex. Thinking it was maybe the words from one of the hymns we sang or a verse from the Scripture passages we read, I was a little surprised when she said, “About halfway through reciting the [Nicene] Creed, I was so overcome with a sense of wonder and joy that I found it hard to finish saying it. I never felt so small and at the same time so loved.”
She was raised in a church where she memorized both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, but she slowly drifted away from it in her high school years, and only started attending the church I served because she wanted her children “to learn something about God.” Before long, her husband, Jeffrey, who had never attended any church, started coming with them.
At the time, the couple were members of a small group exploring the creeds. We were learning how they are rooted in the Bible and also considering how they are intended to shape our lives as we live and interact with families, friends, co-workers, and strangers. So, Christina, along with the rest of us, was engaging the Bible and the creeds in a way she had never done before. A few days after that Sunday morning, she said to our small group, “Last Sunday, for the first time in my life, I was not just reciting the Nicene Creed; I believed it. It truly meant something to me in a joyful and wonderful way that I cannot entirely explain.”
Although they are short, the creeds open us to the profound truths, mysteries, and joys of our faith. They are sure guides enabling us to articulate what we believe. In its Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline the Global Methodist Church says early Christians “formulated creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition as accurate expressions of this faith.”
The GM Church also plainly states the Bible is “the primary rule and authority for faith, morals, and service, against which all other authorities must be measured.” And in the “Articles of Religion,” passed down to us by our Anglican and Methodist ancestors, we confess, “the Bible contains all things necessary to salvation.” The creeds, we believe, derive their authority from Scripture and the Church catholic, and in turn are indispensable aids to our reading and reflection upon the Bible.
No one Christian, and not even all the saints together, can ever fathom the deep and glorious richness of God’s word to us. From its majestic opening chapters to its stories of redemption and liberation, to its demands for justice, and on to its witness of God’s pursuit of us through Jesus Christ, the Bible inspires us, goads us, and comforts us. But as even John Wesley noted, it can “appear dark and intricate” at times. Faithful readers down through the centuries readily confess it can confound and confuse us. And even today, with hundreds of translations, and thousands of biblical commentaries and dictionaries at our fingertips, we can still find ourselves baffled and bewildered by portions of the Bible.
A beloved professor once said in a lecture, “You’re not reading the Bible often enough or closely enough if you’re not perplexed by it. And you’re a fool if you do not turn to the treasure house of Christian tradition for the sure guidance it provides.” Among the greatest guides to understanding Scripture rightly, are the creeds. They are akin to powerful reading glasses that bring the disparate parts of Scripture into focus. When we read the Bible through our creedal lenses, we see how the creeds are shaped by it, and how they in turn confirm the essential confessions of our faith inscribed in the Bible.
We have to exercise our imaginations a bit to understand how important the Bible and the creeds together are to the formation of Christianity. For centuries, particularly the earliest ones, most local churches had only one or maybe two copies of the Bible. And even then, most were incomplete copies as the Church was still in the process of discerning, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, the limits of the biblical canon. Consequently, people heard the Bible read aloud in the community of faith, rather than reading a personal copy of it for private devotion. Given the circumstances, we can see the value in and the power of the succinct creeds that converts memorized, recited at their baptisms, and said aloud when they joined together for worship. So even though they did not possess personal copies of the Bible, they heard it read often, and the creeds pointed them to the essentials of their faith.
This was no esoteric exercise for early Christians. Many truly believed what they confessed should shape their daily lives. The scriptures and the creeds spoke to the human dignity of all God’s people in new and profound ways. Not only was humankind created in God’s image, he even deigned to dwell among us in human flesh, and to suffer and die for all people – Jew and Gentile, man and woman, and slave and free.
Among all the flux and fluidity of our lives, and the power and mystery of creation, the Bible and the creeds teach Christians to look up. God is for us. The Bible and the creeds continue to move us, and so embolden us to live into the dignity God has bestowed upon us through Christ Jesus our Lord.
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.