Not too long ago, a woman asked me a very important question. “Why doesn’t your church recite the Apostles’ Creed every week?” It is commonly believed that this creed contains the basic truths of Christianity and should be recited every week in a truly Christian community. There wasn’t time to finish the conversation but the question deserves an answer.
In my opinion, one of the greatest areas of immaturity in Christianity today is in our view of the creeds. By reciting creeds, what are we hoping to do? Are we repeating them to convince ourselves we believe things we have no way of testing? Are we repeating them to be a part of a team? Are we repeating them to have a sense of meaning?
It is true that reciting words will give us a powerful sense of meaning. Any hypnotist can tell you that. But what kind of meaning comes from repeating the same words over and over? Even the sense of unity brought by reciting creeds is suspect. To be sure, a strong bond is formed by reciting words in unison, but such bonds are formed whether it is a church reciting sacred formulas or drunken sailors huddled in a bar singing of the sea.
Many of Hitler’s followers dutifully repeated the Apostles’ Creed every week of their adult lives, but because they saw the creeds superstitiously, their actions remained unaffected. Like many today, they were using the creeds as self-contained meaning systems. Their use of the creeds did not make them better human beings, only better citizens of an empire. Today, the creeds have become idols for many in the Protestant church just as rituals have become idols for many of the Catholic faith. Some modern clergy rationalize superstition and injustice by finding verses in scripture, but that is after they have besotted their reason by reciting creeds like parrots.
Before they became dogma, the creeds were originally sacred songs. They were calls to love the sacred and to serve life. It was St. Paul who said that words without love are like clanging brass. It was St. John who said anyone who loves has God. The essence of Christianity is not found in any creed. The essence of Christianity is love, and love we cannot quite say.