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Creeds in Church
Creeds are statements of beliefs that are sometimes read during religious services, especially in Christian churches. One of the most common and widely used creeds is the Nicene creed; slightly less common but still widespread is the Apostle's creed. These creeds often start something like:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things seen and unseen...
I strongly dislike creeds, and I recommend churches to not use creeds at all in their services. I think it is important for churches to have statements of shared belief--and display them publicly, such as on their website or in their church bulletin. However, I think that it is counter-productive and quite harmful to include creeds in the church service, especially in services that are open to the general public.
Why do I not like creeds?
I think creeds are harmful for a variety of reasons, including making newcomers and people with different beliefs feel unwelcome, creating insincerity in people's beliefs as they profess beliefs out of social pressure rather than genuine belief, and emphasizing points that divide people with different beliefs, rather than unify them.
- Creeds can pressure people to openly profess beliefs. - This creates a number of serious problems, including:
- People with different beliefs may feel unwelcome - It is common for people to attend churches where they don't believe or agree with all of the official beliefs, including ones in a recited creed. When a church formally recites a creed during the service, it can make people reciting the creed feel like they are not welcome, or like their beliefs are not respected.
- People can be driven to recite creeds when they don't believe them, creating a pattern of dishonesty. Honesty is something I value very highly, and I think it is very damaging to set up a pattern in church, a place that most people think of as promoting "good" values, of having people say things out loud that they don't believe or that clash with their beliefs.
- Creeds can create insincere or shaky foundation for faith, especially among people who are unsure of what they believe. It is common, and I think very healthy, for people to be unsure of what they believe or what they want to believe. I think it is healthy for people to explore what they believe on their own, and come to figure out what they believe based on their own thought, discussion with others, and study of religions and their holy texts. When a church recites creeds, it creates what I see as an artificial pressure for people to profess a belief that they may be uncertain of or may not feel ready to profess. Not only can this alienate people, but I also think it builds a shaky foundation to people's belief system--rather than being based on deep understanding and knowledge of truth formed from a person's independent journey, and coming from their heart and their own conviction and self-motivation, it is imposed through a social structure.
- Having people recite a creed gives me a weird feeling and conjures up groupthink. Even when I agree 100% with the things being recited, I'm creeped out by the prospect of a room full of people droning on in unison about something they believe. I believe in diversity and I personally want to participate in a faith community where people are encouraged to think for themselves. While I think it's great for people to have shared beliefs, I think the vibe or feeling created by creeds is one that I would rather not have in a typical church service.
- Creeds are typically not open to discussion or revision, and have not changed much. - The creeds used in most churches date back to the first few hundred years A.D., and with the exception of small changes due to translation, have not changed much since then, in spite of the fact that Christianity as a social institution has changed radically. While there is something to be said for the preservation of traditions, I think it is particularly important for people to subject things like creeds, which are statements of belief, to revision. Because the creeds haven't changed, there are some glaring examples of a disconnect between what is in the creed, and what people actually believe. For example, the creeds talk about the end and second coming of Jesus, but existing Christian denominations and the people in them have a broad range of views on the second coming.
- A lot of the things in the creed are theological details that are not closely related to daily practice or core beliefs about morality and ethics. The Nicene and Apostle's creed focus on theological details, some of them quite minute, like the "substance" that Jesus was made from, and spiritual beliefs (which many Christians view as symbolic, almost like mythology) like how Jesus was born, how he was raised from the dead, etc. These points can sometimes divide people when people focus on them--for example, I've heard people talk about how it is essential that Christians believe certain things in the creed, but I don't believe this. I think that what matters most about a belief system is how it translates into action, and most creeds' focus on abstract theological points at the expense of practical points also troubles me a bit.
- The creeds don't say much about the core teachings of Jesus. - I think this is another one of the biggest problems with the creeds...they contain a bunch of theological details about Jesus, but without talking about Jesus' core teachings, like to love people. In fact, love is not even once mentioned in the creeds, in spite of Jesus emphasizing very directly that loving people and loving God is the core idea in His teachings.
There are many examples of churches and religious organizations that have chosen to forsake creeds. I attended a Baptist church in Ohio, Peace Community Church, which did not use creeds for many of these same reasons. Quakers or the Society of Friends is an example of a large-scale denomination or religion which avoids the use of creeds.
What is lost by not reciting creeds?
In my opinion, nothing is lost. If you think that people in your congregation need the continuous reinforcement of reciting a statement of faith over and over again so that they keep believing a certain thing, then maybe it would be a good idea to re-examine your church and its belief system on a deeper level. If a belief is really sincere, there will be many other ways it can be reinforced without resorting to social pressure or rote recitation.
As I said above, a church can still have statements of faith, even without reciting them in the service. There might be certain rituals, ceremonies, or other times, like when someone is becoming a member of a church or becoming confirmed somehow, when reciting these statements of faith is important. But I think it's important to keep them out of aspects of the church that are intended to be open to a general audience.
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