I Believe in Creeds
One of the reasons churches in the Stone/Campbell tradition might want to rethink our “anti-credal” stance is that creeds help us fight less among ourselves. They do this by defining which things are worth the fight. If all things we believe have the same value, then any opposition on anything we believe is of the utmost importance. If, on the other hand, I recognize that some things are more important than others, then it might be possible for someone to attack one of my “non core” beliefs without requiring a nuclear response from me. A great motto appropriated by early Stone Campbell leaders went something like this:
“in essentials unity; in opinions, diversity; in all things love.”
While this is a wonderful statement theoretically, the failure to nail down what the “essentials” are results in the sad unintended result of our defending all things as if all things are essentials. Now a different view on instruments is opposed as if one were denying the divinity of Christ. A willingness to question gender roles is tantamount to a willingness to question the resurrection.
Take for example the Nicean Creed (quoted in full below). It does not mention instrumental music, gender roles, or kitchens in buildings. For that matter, it does not mention buildings. Now this does not mean I will not have opinions in all those areas, but it does mean that if someone disagrees with me in one of those areas, I will recognize that disagreement in these areas does not equate with rejection of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I recognize there is a qualitative difference in disagreements. Some are major; some are not.
My modest proposal is that we make an attempt to define the essentials so that the motto above can actually be a useful rubric for how to live together in community. That attempt would be furthered by acceptance of classic credal statements like the Nicean Creed, not in a belief that the entire faith is summarized in one statement, but that it defines the core of our belief. When I find someone able to affirm that same core statement, I have a sibling in that person, regardless of whether we disagree in other areas. To restate: our unity in the essentials would guard our diversity in opinions.
Could this solution help us achieve diversity within our unity? Unity within our diversity? Perhaps. But only if we remember the last phrase: “in all things, love” (1 Cor 13:1-3).
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: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. 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. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He 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.
--Nicean Creed, as printed in The Lutheran Book of Worship and The Book of Common Prayer