Creeds have been used for centuries to define what it means to be “Christian.” For a long time, Christianity has been a religion of orthodoxy, or having right belief. But it wasn’t always that way. History tells us that in the first few hundred years – before the “Constantinian Error” as the Quakers call it – there were no creeds to define who was in and out, and you were considered Christian if you followed Jesus’ teachings. That allowed for multiple interpretations, of course, which was the problem Constantine was trying to solve when he instructed the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE to come to a consensus on a uniform Christian doctrine. It didn’t matter so much that the doctrine was true; what mattered was that the bishops could all agree on it.
The Christianity we have inherited in the 21st century is like an onion, with Jesus’ wisdom at the core and layers and layers of church doctrine added over the centuries. Each of those layers was a solution to a problem in its own time. Progressive Christianity has let go of virtually all of those layers, recognizing that the core teaching – the Jesus experience, if you will – is what transcends time and is worth preserving. The result is that most progressive Christian churches no longer use the old creeds. We are not willing to recite what we cannot believe.
That said, it is still a powerful act to declare in community what it is that you do believe. When a group comes together and writes its own creed, or statement of faith, or affirmation – words that you can honestly all say together – it is tremendously liberating. In the UCC I often hear that a statement of faith is a testimony, not a test. It expresses a common understanding of a group of Way-followers, not a litmus test of who is in or out according to whether you can believe it or not. If you decide to embark on the adventure of writing your own statement of faith, you may find the “new creeds” in this issue helpful as starting points.