Since Easter, worship at GPC has contained a creed or confession within the liturgy. Creeds and confessions form the foundation of the Reformed tradition.
These statements have been used by the church from its very beginning as followers of Jesus Christ seek to define what they believe. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo (I believe); a creed is a statement of faith.
For centuries the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed formed the basis of Christian orthodoxy. They are considered to be ecumenical statements, used by all denominations of Christians. The Apostles’ Creed is believed to be a very early hymn that taught early followers what the church believed as they prepared for baptism into the body of Christ. The Nicene Creed was the earliest statement of the church that sought to clarify the orthodox beliefs of the Christian community. The Apostles’ Creed focused on the humanity of Christ whereas the Nicene Creed focused on the questions arising about Christ’s divinity.
The Nicene Creed, in particular, was the topic of discussion of several church councils in the 4th through 6th centuries of the common era as they sought to address heresies that developed in the early church. While it was hoped that by clarifying its beliefs the church would be more united, the Nicene Creed did not, in fact, unite the early church but instead gave rise to discussions that would eventually divide the church.
A thousand years later, the confessional movement, of the western church in particular, began with the Reformation. As new Christian communities were created, they sought to create new statements, or confessions, of what the community believed. These confessions, or statements of faith, became the founding documents of these church movements.
The Presbyterian Church USA has a Book of Confessions as part of its constitution. The contents of the Book of Confessions include the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed as well as other confessions including:
- Scots Confession in 1567
- Heidelberg Catechism 1563
- Second Helvetic Confession 1566
- Westminster Standards (Confession, Shorter, and Longer Catechism) 1647
- Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934)
- Confession of 1967
- Confession of Belhar 1986
- Brief Statement of Faith 1983
Unlike the church’s canon of scripture, which is considered closed, which means no additions can be made, the Book of Confessions of PCUSA is open. As our understandings about humanity and God evolve, so do our words and ideas. As our words and ideas and contexts change, so must our confessions and our statements of faith.
In our challenging day, I find inspiration from our confessions, particularly the 2nd Helvetic Confession, the Barmen Declaration, and the Belhar Confession, because they challenge social understandings in a way that only faith can. Although some of the language is dated, I truly enjoy the struggle of those who wrote these statements to ensure that the Gospel witness would remain true to Christ.
We have chosen to include these confessions, creeds, and statements of faith in our worship to recognize the faith that has been handed down to us, for it is upon the shoulders of our faithful ancestors that we stand. So we join our voices to theirs and recite the words that they offered recognizing that our faith continues to grow. It is our hope that as we share these confessions and statements in worship, we can claim our heritage but also find our own voices in this day and age.