What Do We Believe: Affirmations of Faith and Invitations for Expression | Sojourners

What Do We Believe: Affirmations of Faith and Invitations for Expression

Historic decoration from the Hagia, Sophia, Mykola Ivashchenko / Shutterstock.co
Historic decoration from the Hagia, Sophia, Mykola Ivashchenko / Shutterstock.com

A “creed” is an authoritative expression of belief, and within many religious communities, such statements generally emphasize a core affirmation of faith. 

In addition to articulating primary convictions, creeds are used to oppose alleged falsehoods. For example, the Nicene Creed, composed in the fourth century, is a Christian proclamation that – among other things – affirmed the divine nature of Jesus, and was thus directed against those who believed otherwise. The Apostle’s Creed, developed in the first or second century, emphasized the humanity of Jesus, as some groups rejected such notions. While the history of Christianity is filled with numerous creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed continue to serve as primary declarations of faith for millions of Christians around the world. 

The Apostle’s Creed is as follows:  

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will 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.  Amen.

With the words of the Apostle’s Creed in mind, one can recognize many similarities – as well as a few key differences – with the Nicene Creed, which states:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

In light of these two historical creeds, one recognizes the importance of understanding their origins and intentions on a deeper level, and thankfully, many scholars have invested countless hours into such ventures. But one is also motivated to utilize them as a point of reference to draft a more contextual affirmation of faith. As the Apostle’s Creed contains 108 words and the Nicene Creed is at 222, one could split the difference, and thus produce a contextual Christian creed of about 165 words that expresses core beliefs. 

The following is my attempt to draft a contextual creed. In it I sought to stay within the Trinitarian formula, I stayed within the self-imposed length restrictions (it contains 164 words!), my draft has developed over the course of time, and because I fully acknowledge its many shortcomings and limitations, I will surely alter it may times into the future:

We believe in God, our Creator, maker of a universal community still in process; God, who created precious resources to provide for all; God, who created us to be connected as companions with God, the Earth, and people of every race, class, generation, sexual orientation, gender, and ability.

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior, who was ridiculed, tortured and executed for the sins of humankind.  He rose from the dead, overthrew the dominance of evil and injustice for our sake, and he continues to judge and liberate the hatred, ignorance, and arrogance of all human beings.  We believe the way of Jesus is our way; our way of light, and our way of life. 

We believe in the Spirit of God, our Advocate, whose blaze comforts with divine presence and challenges human hearts to burn for righteousness.  We see the power of God in our lives and throughout the world.  We trust that God’s work, through our actions, can bring peace. 

While I could explain (and attempt to defend) the various details and reasons for my word choices (and omissions), I figure it is worthwhile to share my draft as it is, attract constructive criticism, (hopefully) spark reflection, and most importantly, invite additional ideas for future revisions.  

  • What could/should be removed from this (attempt at a) contextual Christian creed?  
  • What could/should be added?  
  • What could/should be expressed differently?  
  • What could/should remain the same?  

Rather than editing my adaptation of the two historical creeds, perhaps others might wish to draft and submit their own (staying within the 165 word limit!), and thus spark communal imagination and ignite thoughts for future expression.

While the two Christian creeds continue to hold deep meaning and significance for many communities of Christian faith, one can find great worth in reading, reflecting, and prayerfully revising them based upon unfolding contextual realities. In other words, instead of merely reciting what others have stated many generations ago, the process of affirming faith through written words can hold tremendous value, both personally and publicly, for our day and age.  

And so, the invitation for expression is hereby offered.  My hope is that, regardless of how many suggestions and/or submissions are received, the process of reflecting upon the two historical creeds will be worthwhile, our collective faith will be considered and expressed more fully, and the result is a greater understanding of who God is and what God is doing to and through our world.

Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa).

Historic decoration from the Hagia, Sophia, Mykola Ivashchenko / Shutterstock.com

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