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Do we need faith statements?

By Trisha Elliott

I’ve always been a bit creed-shy. Occasionally, I’ll incorporate the 1968 United Church Creed into worship services. But each time I do, I wonder: am I putting words into people’s mouths? Am I forcing worshippers into the hypocritical position of making a potentially insincere faith statement in public?

We are less eager now than in the past to cement our theology into creeds and proclaim our corporate convictions. The United Church’s latest faith statement, adopted in 2006, for example, isn’t a creed; the sprawling Song of Faith is no less easy to recite than it is to actually sing.

Credal ambivalence is a curious trend given that mission and vision statements are so entrenched in our culture that we expect every business and organization to have one. When it comes to faith, though, we don’t want to stick our necks out. We are less eager now to cement our theology into creeds and proclaim our convictions. I suspect that some of this attitude stems from secular values that say religion is okay as long as it is private.

The way creeds have been used as a measuring stick of faith has left a bad taste. Many of the classic creeds were used to leverage heresy claims. The Apostles’ Creed, for example, was developed in response to a growing group of gnostics, and the Nicene Creed repudiated supporters of Arius who believed that Jesus was subordinate to God.

I’m not convinced, though, that the sole purpose or benefit of creeds is to draw a dividing line. They are a form of self-expression. The Latin word credo means “I believe.” We all believe something. We express those beliefs in what we wear and listen to, how we gather, act and play. We are all breathing belief statements. The rub with credal theology is in how, by whom and for whom creeds are constructed and how long they are meant to last.

No explanation of who God is will live forever or be all encompassing. But the exercise isn’t futile. Creeds are a snapshot of theology in a particular moment. They provide a track record of where we’ve come from and a task around which we can gather to share the reality of divine love in our lives.

It’s a lot of work to uncover what everyone in a given community can say with conviction, and then nerve-racking to put all that imperfect work under eternal review. At the end of the day, I wonder if part of my difficulty with creeds is that I’m too lazy to put in the effort. But we can make faith statements with integrity if they are truly ours, together. Wouldn’t it be something if, even for a moment, we were on the same page?

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at Southminster United in Ottawa.

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