I chuckled at the furor over Donald Trump not reciting the Apostle’s Creed during George Bush’s funeral. I laughed partly because we now seem to politicize every action, but also because I, too, would have remained silent.
It’s not that I don’t know this ancient creed. It was branded into my memory during two years of Lutheran confirmation classes. It’s just that I (like many I know and love) no longer resonate with its doctrines: a Trinitarian blueprint for God (including almighty father and only son), virgin birth, descending into hell, literal resurrection.
No, I don’t “believe” these things. Even further, I now apply this scrutiny to any word presented to me as an affirmation of faith. In many ways, I have become confession(less). Or, is it confession(free)?
In the introduction to my recent book, Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission (co-authored with my dear friend, Rev. Rob Mueller), I quote my 35-year-old son, Pieter. He speaks here of the spiritual values he shares with his circle of millennial friends.
“We are seekers first, Christians second (if at all). We are reluctant to make statements of faith because they calcify that part of our brain that seeks new understanding.”
My own branch of Christianity, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has what we call a confessional heritage. Our pronouncements about our beliefs, voiced at key moments of historical significance, provide interesting and stirring insights into the past. However, on the level of doctrine, I can no long accept or affirm any of them in totality.
It’s not that I don’t have faith. You could even say I have my own creed, but it is always evolving, and I don’t expect others to describe their journey in precisely the same way.
I believe in the Presence human beings call God or Spirit, a mystery at the heart of all spiritual awareness, yet personal in a way that guides my life. I believe in the power of love and how it spurs me to work for justice in nonviolent ways. I believe that Jesus prophetically called us to counter the cold love, materialism and self-centeredness that plague us as a species. I believe that the forgiveness of enemies proclaimed by Jesus on the cross is a triumph of the human spirit.
Meanwhile, as an ordained worship leader, I struggle with that part of our liturgy traditionally called the “affirmation of faith.” How can we affirm the miracle of belief without anthropomorphic boundaries? How can we seek Truth without stumbling over truths as “articles of faith?”
I still use portions of the Brief Statement of Faith, the Confession of ’67, and the Confession of Belhar. Honestly, though, it feels piecemeal, like proof-texting with the Bible.
I do like the Iona Creed in its entirety.
“We believe that God is present in the darkness before dawn; in the waiting and uncertainty where fear and courage join hands, conflict and caring link arms, and the sun rises over barbed wire. We believe in a with-us God who sits down in our midst to share our humanity. We affirm a faith that takes us beyond a safe place: into action, into vulnerability and onto the streets. We commit ourselves to work for change and put ourselves on the line; to bear responsibility, take risks, live powerfully and face humiliation; to stand with those on the edge; to choose life and be used by the Spirit for God’s new community of hope. Amen.”
Words like these allow me—in good conscience—to raise my voice with others in corporate worship. They don’t calcify the search, but spur us onwards.
Many may call me confession(less); I believe I have become confession(free).