Day: May 26, 2009

Why we Baptists need a creed

I am about to break an unwritten rule in Baptist life.  Granted, it won’t be my first transgression, and probably not my last, but this one is becoming more important to me the longer I’m in ministry.  We need a creed.  There, I said it!  We Baptists need a creed.

Now, for those who don’t know much about Baptists (and why would you if you aren’t one?), Baptists don’t believe in creeds.  We give no cred to the creed.  When it comes to the Apostles’ or the Nicene or any other creed, we just say No.  Baptists base this aversion to creeds on the idea of the priesthood of the believer.  We define that as meaning that any individual believer has the right to interpret scripture for him or herself, and to follow the dictates of his or her own Christian conscience.

Of course, we really don’t want people doing that, so we write and rewrite documents we call “confessions.”  Confessions in Baptist life go back hundreds of years, and are very, very long creeds that no one could ever memorize or say in unison in public, so they’re okay for us.  Right now in Southern Baptist life we have churches that follow the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, and we have churches that have adopted the more recent 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.  For folks who place a lot of stock on the priesthood of the believer, we sure get mighty precise when we write our confessions.

One of our seminary presidents is calling for a “Great Commission Resurgence.” I want to throw in my two-cents and call for an “Apostles’ Creed Resurgence.”  I am serious.  (Some of you thought I was kidding, didn’t you?).  Well, I am quite serious.  We need a creed, and here’s why.

Let’s take the Apostles’ Creed, for instance.  First, I like the legend, which I am sure has little basis is fact, but it makes a nice story.  The legend is that each of the 12 apostles contributed one phrase each to the statement that came to be known as, well, the Apostles’ Creed.  Of course, that’s legend, not reality, but I still like it.

But more importantly, I think we need some basics to agree on.  We’re supposed to agree on The Baptist Faith and Message, but now it’s become a matter of which one, 1963 or 2000?  Plus, some Baptist institutions have added more theological criteria for employment than either BF&M covers, so that’s become an issue. I think a return to the Apostles’ Creed could solve that problem.

The Apostles’ Creed is a basic, general statement of the beliefs (the Latin credo means I believe) held in common by all Christians.  Here is a version I like:

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I 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.

There are other versions of the Apostles’ Creed which change “he descended into hell” to “he descended to the dead” or leave it out altogether.  Theology comes and goes, I suppose.  And, of course, to say “I believe in the holy catholic church” is blasphemy in a Baptist congregation, where we don’t want anything to do with anything Catholic.  Except in the Creed, “holy catholic church” means the universal church, the church in all its constituent parts, not the Roman Catholic Church.  Still, we Baptists often choke slightly on the “catholic” part.

But, back to my point — we need a creed.  I am so convinced we need a creed that I’m going to take 12-weeks and preach on each point of the creed this summer and fall.  Think of this as a doctrinal series, using the Apostles’ Creed as my outline.

So, that’s it.  What do you think?  Of course, some of you creedal folks nodded off to sleep several paragraphs back.  To you, this is not a big deal.  Believe me, for Baptists this is a big deal.  I do take some comfort in the fact that in 1905, when the Baptist World Alliance convened for its inaugural meeting, all of the attendees joined in one mightly voice to say together The Apostles’ Creed.  Maybe we should do that, again.