Last Sunday we baptised Lydia at Knox Church. During the service we affirmed the faith of the church in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. A couple of people have asked why we used that particular Creed with its ancient imagery. Some concern was expressed about the affirmation “born of the Virgin Mary” as an example. I would like to offer the response I made, although with greater care.
Prior to us using the Creed I said something like this – “In a moment we are going to affirm the faith of the Church in the words of a Creed that has been used by the church at the time of baptism for over a thousand years and is used by churches across the world.”
In fact, the core of the Creed was being used at baptism around the end of the second century. At that time the Creed was put to the person being baptised as three questions, to which the person responded with “I believe.” During the third century the questions developed into a Creed and during the fourth century changes were made to the wording until it is much as we now have it.
The Apostles’ Creed is one of two ecumenical creeds affirmed by churches worldwide, the other being the Nicene Creed. Baptism is a moment when we have a strong sense of the catholic or universal church. The baptism of people at Knox is recognised by other churches because we are part of and an expression of the universal church. We are not an isolated unit; our affirmations of faith reflect the global movement. At the significant moment of baptism, it is helpful for us to follow ecumenical practice. For the same reason we baptise “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
The language of the Creed does not reflect a one dimensional view of the world. That is the nature of faith language, a language we encounter as soon as we enter a Church. That kind of language is reflected in our stained glass windows, in our praying and preaching, in our ritual and Bible. Faith gives an imaginative interpretive framework for what we sense is going on in our world and in our lives. Every creed, no matter how recent, is of that nature.
A creed developed in the second century addresses issues of concern at that time. Although the Apostles’ Creed might therefore be regarded as somewhat time-bound, the same issues have kept arising throughout the history of the church. For example, it was important to the church to say that Jesus was born in the same way every other human is born. He was a full human being. So the Creed says he was born of Mary. The concept of “virgin” in the Creed suggests there was a mystery to the coming of Jesus Christ. Again, using imaginative language in story form, the Creed suggests that God is the mystery out of which Jesus emerges. This is not a scientific or historical statement. It is pointing to another dimension.
This imaginative language offers more possibilities of meaning. We experience the richness of faith and its language by entering into its world and exploring to what it points.