‘We believe in one God’
How do we get to the point where we can stand up and say ‘We believe…’? What is the energy that enables us to say this and that keeps us saying it? These might seem like strange questions to ask, but they are important. It is possible to think of saying the Creed as something we do by an act of our own spiritual willpower, much like a superhero who strains every sinew to bend his will to lift the steel girder that has fallen on a car. If that is how I feel as I say the Creed then I have misunderstood a great deal – not only about the Creed, but about the Christian life itself. The very act of saying the Creed, of being able to declare the Christian faith before God, the angels, the demons, and the world, is possible only by the grace of God. It is not we who have brought ourselves to this point where we can say ‘We believe’, nor is it we who keep ourselves here. It is all of God. Our mouths declare God’s praise only because He opens our lips. It is bad enough to think that we come to profess the faith under our own steam. It is even worse to think that it was the church that created the realities described in the Creed. Everything the Creed speaks of is real only because God is who He is in eternity and because God has done what He has done in history. We are not the ones who constitute the ‘Christ of faith’ when we say the Creed: the Christ of faith is the previously-existent Jesus of history.
There are wayward theologians who think that instead of describing objective reality the Creed simply expresses the religious feelings of the Christian community, conjuring supposed realities out of spiritual sentiment. They read it as an expression of what people feel, rather than as a testimony to the God who exists and the things He has done. But, contrary to the opinion of learned church historians such as Dan Brown, the Creed did not make Jesus Christ who He is.
The clergy of the early church who authored the Creed did not believe that they were making a great human assertion. They believed that they were simply summing up what God had already Himself declared in Scripture, using the vocabulary of their own times. This was His utterance, not theirs; His property, not their own. The Creed receives the given revelation of Jesus, it does not make Him who He is; saying the Creed is a receptive not a constitutive act. The Creed responds to the Jesus of history, it does not write a history for Jesus.
How far from Dan Brown are we?
It is easy to point the finger at figures like Dan Brown, but if we say the Creed in a spirit of self-sufficiency, if we do not utter it with a profound sense that we can say these words about these realities only as a divine gift, then we are not far from him. Saying the Creed is a God-initiated and God-sustained utterance about the God who already is and the deeds He has already done.
This is such good news for us. It means that the things described in the Creed actually exist, and that when we say the Creed we do not do so in painful self-reliance. We can relax into saying the Creed, speaking it with the joy of those who awake to find themselves able to speak a beautiful foreign language without even having tried to learn it. If it were not disorderly, one could even imagine joyful laughter accompanying the saying of the Creed in church. God’s people rejoice to employ their loosened tongues to speak of His wonderful works. Perhaps the next time you say the Creed you might at least smile inwardly.
Dr Garry Williams
Revd Dr Garry Williams is Director of the Pastors Academy