I have posted comments on the conference in Wheaton I attended last week, and I would like to post one last time specifically on the public use of creeds in noncreedal, evangelical churches. This was a common refrain throughout the conference, and Scot McKnight’s paper made a specific proposal we might consider.
In McKnight’s paper he referred to noncreedal, evangelical churches as “populist evangelicalism,” and most, if not all, evangelical, nondenominational churches would fall within the same category (this is my opinion, not McKnight”s).
He summarized the theological, ecclesiastic function of the earliest Christian creeds as articulations of the gospel (what it is and does) that served to connect newly baptized and mature Christians alike to the gospel and to the church; the creeds were ways of providing “clarity, heritage, depth, width, and memory.” For the forms of evangelicalism McKnight has in mind, the absence of any public reading of the creeds “deprives” them of the very same clarity, heritage, depth, width, and memory and leads to a “theological superficiality” few of us familiar with populist evangelicalism would deny (I grew up in a noncreedal church and served on the pastoral staffs of several nondenominational churches).
So consider McKnight’s proposal, and let me know whether you think it hits the mark. I will put my cards on the table upfront: I think it does.
I propose that we who believe in the value of creeds become active in getting our churches, especially if we are part of a church tradition that does not recite The Creed publicly, to begin a course of instruction for the elders, deacons and teachers on the history of the creeds. And I don’t mean read a book about them; I mean read them and study them together. In this proposal, then, I am also suggesting that one doesn’t have to stop with Nicea or The Chalcedonian Definition. I would urge churches to have a monthly rotation in public: begin with The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed or The Apostles’ Creed, bring in some Reformation creedal form [...] and then add to that one’s denominational or local church confessions.
The absence of theological robustness might be regained in some small measure simply by the routine recitation of the faith we have always believed and do believe. These creeds and confessions will raise questions, it will lead good evangelicals back to their Bibles, and perhaps raise the level of theological sophistication.
The public reading of the Creeds would go a long way toward raising a sense of historical continuity among the members of a great many nondenominational and noncreedal evangelical churches in North America. Do I believe it would require teaching? Yes. Would it require time away from singing worship songs? Yes. Would it require pastors and elders to devote themselves to some educational growth and development in the Creedal history of the church and its use? Yes.
And would all of this – the public reading of The Creeds – lead necessarily toward a greater sense of historical continuity among church members, an increased awareness of community with believers past as well as present, and a deepening understanding of the Gospel and of the central tenets of the catholic, Christian faith? It would at least be a very promising step in that direction.