I love the creeds of the church. Apostle’s, Nicene, Korean, Masai, etc.,. They help remind us of who we are in relationship to God. They are one way we demonstrate our Christianity.
Even churches that are opposed to creeds are usually not opposed to what’s contained in them. And almost all churches have creeds, even if they do not use them. Those who say “no creed but the Bible” will find themselves hard pressed to find such useful descriptions of the Trinity in scripture as they will in the creeds.
But unspoken creeds are less about God, and are only useful as a means to examine ourselves and what we’ve come to demonstrate as belief though it may have no scriptural basis. For example, at our church, one part of a church creed might include “We believe we should gather together at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning for one hour of worship. Anything beyond that is purely voluntary.”
Certainly, we would never say such a thing, but our actions speak it.
At a church retreat several years back, we had a person along with us to help with the children during events designed for parents only. She had been around our church quite a bit, even though she was a member of a different Christian faith tradition.
During the weekend, we shared the eucharist, and she was puzzled by this. Apparently at the church she was part of, one of the unspoken creeds was “the eucharist is to be shared in a church building.”
John Wesley wrote a brief statement called The Character of a Methodist in which he lays out the various scriptural principles which guide him and other Methodists.
In his summary he states:
If any man say, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, — the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction.
That’s of course what we’d all like to say about our church. We’re just doing what it takes to follow Christ. It’s the very reason that the predominant church in my town refuses to take any name besides “The Church of Christ”.
But let’s face it — John Wesley was being intentionally obtuse for this argument. Surely he knew that Methodism had become associated with a different frame of worship, with “social gospel” ideas and an evangelism that went beyond the activities of the Anglican church from which it came.
Those are good parts of an unspoken creed. But as I mentioned with the 11 o’clock worship tradition, we might have some areas we need to examine in our unspoken creeds that are not as kingdom directed.
Unspoken statements such as “we’d prefer you have a first shift job so you can come to regularly scheduled activities” or “we believe you should have time to teach Sunday school if you bring your kids” or “we like wooden pews and if you’re not able to get out of your wheel chair, you can listen at home on the radio” might be some of the things we’re projecting that go without saying.
I’m going to spend this week thinking of some of my own unspoken creeds and confessing them. It’s certainly easy for me to point them out in others, so I shouldn’t have any trouble identifying them in myself. Pray for me.