Dear St. Paul’s,
The other day Lyle Morton told me, “It’d be great for you or Rev. Audrey to preach about why we’ve switched to the Apostle’s Creed rather than the Nicene Creed in the liturgy.” I figure this Epistle is a great venue for explaining this choice. Rather than give you a statement, I’ll answer it with an invitation, and to ask you some questions that led to this exploration.
Conventional wisdom says our creeds give us the core on which we build our tradition. We have two central creeds we use in our liturgy: The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Before reading on, which of our two central sacraments uses which creed?
If you have a copy of the Book of Common Prayer handy (bcponline.org), turn to pg. 304. You’ll see our Baptismal Covenant. Note the first three calls and responses: they make up the Apostle’s Creed (found in normal format on pg. 96 in the BCP). This is the earliest creed, written to distinguish those who followed Jesus from our sibling tradition, Rabbinical Judaism, and from other religions.
It is permitted to use either creed in the Eucharist; however we typically use the Nicene Creed in our Eucharistic liturgy. Constantine called the council of Nicaea to settle the arguments among bishops as to what would be the correct official theology of the Roman Empire as it adopted Christianity as its official religion. Look at the creed itself on pg. 358 in the BCP. Notice the difference in the length and detail between the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Do you see anything that grabs your attention?
Current wisdom and consensus says that Episcopalians have baptismal identity, making our Baptism the central focus of who we are and what we do. Our Baptismal covenant is made of both credal statements and commitments to actions. If the benchmark sacrament for our membership uses the Apostle’s Creed, does it lend itself perhaps to be the primary credal statement from which we find our identity? What do either of these creeds say about how we live our lives or our relationship to God and others? I don’t have a complete answer to this, and I think you would bring great insight in this discussion.
How do we translate this identity to the world outside our walls? Is a creed the best way to do so? Which creed is more welcoming to you if you had never read either? Which is a better definition of who we are? Would either creed make you feel welcome or would it turn you off to becoming part of the community if it is the benchmark for membership? Take some time with each question. If these questions intrigue you, join us for the Lenten Series “What Does It Mean To Be An Episcopalian?” We’ll use our Baptismal Covenant to address these questions, and it promises to be a very engaging and exploratory experience for anyone age 10 and up, and childcare will be provided! This will unite us in sharing our stories together and grow us deeper in relationship, belief, and identity.
Rev. Jeffrey A. Dodge