by D. Jeffrey Mooney and Adrian Martinez
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the most significant compilations of Christian beliefs in the history of the church. However, Southern Baptists have avoided it throughout our lifetime, citing the Bible as their sole creed. As Southern Baptists, we deeply appreciate the insistence on the unique authority the Bible has. Yet, the writers of the creed would not have argued with that point. We think that’s why they wrote it. Imaginatively, the writers of the creed said, “we need to make sure that Christians know, in short form, the most important things the Bible teaches since most of them may not be able to read the Bible themselves.” We can imagine that such a conversation then generated this and other creeds. Thus, it is categorically impossible to claim a high view of Scripture and ignore a statement intended to highlight its central themes. Since Baptists cling to political statements thought to emphasize biblical truth (“right to life,” etc.), it is confusing to hear talk about the various theological statements throughout time as if they undercut biblical authority. We don’t dichotomize the bible from what it teaches historically anymore than we do politically, and have implemented the creeds to emphasize the biblical nature of our faith at Redeemer Baptist Church. Here is why and how that happened.
Why did we do it?
We did it to affirm certain truths while rejecting other cultural maxims weekly, because we weekly forget our faith at the most rudimentary levels. Everyone determines their own god/s? “We believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” There is no reasonable reason to believe Christian claims? “On the third day he rose again.” Christianity is splintered? We believe in “the Holy catholic (universal) church.” The creed is a way of saying, “the Bible says . . .” each week with an orienting voice. As fathers, we tried to develop a voice with our kids by which all other voices were measured. We wanted them to evaluate cultural postulations (sold as “everybody believes” this type “truth”) by what they hear from us as parents. We wanted all other male voices in daughters’ ears measured against their own father’s voice. Similarly, due to the many competing voices and stories, both liberal and conservative, throughout our culture, we felt the need to set forth the core biblical elements by which RBC could measure all other stories or voices. Further, creeds provided a core set of beliefs for our congregation so that, regardless of the distinctions of other Christians around us, we could cling to these core elements and celebrate the fact that we were one family in Jesus.
What did we do?
We picked the Apostles’ Creed because it is concise, clear, and well known. When we detected that some members began to regard the creed with a sanctity that only belonged to scripture or as a point of ecclesiological pride, we occasionally replaced it with the Ligonier's Statement on Christology. We did this to demonstrate the vitality of new and serious corporate statements that reflected historical orthodoxy. We also did this to mitigate against ecclesiological and denominational pride (it’s a Presbyterian document being recited by Baptists!). Either statement serves the same purpose and emphasize the important things we believe both in the statements themselves and in the act of saying them.
How did we do it?
We believe in doing everything slowly at RBC. So, each time we've introduced a particular liturgical form, we've done it gradually. The reason for this reluctance toward speed is twofold.
First, a broader biblical ecclesiology rather than merely a liturgical element on Sundays is the point. All we mean by this statement is that we acknowledge that every Ecclesiology, whether intentional or unintentional, will naturally express itself liturgically. We spent years exposing God's word to the congregation as authoritative for our identity. We pressed them to understand that, due to the work of Christ, they were more tightly bound to Christians in Afghanistan then they were to US troops in Afghanistan. We emphasized that, while we should execute and demand justice for all people, biblical justice is primarily integral to our covenant obligation to the supra-ethnic, multinational body of Christ. Therefore, what we believe isn’t “our” set of beliefs but emphasizes our “embeddedness” into the larger body of Jesus throughout time and space. Thus, when we introduced the creed, we presented it as a compilation of biblical statements embraced by believers throughout history and around the globe. We emphasized the opening pronoun that we would say, “We,” connected us to brothers and sisters we never met as well as to one another. We highlighted that these words stood as a testimony to the subversive nature of faith in Christ throughout time in every culture and they should remind us of our own subversive position in our culture.
Second, we are a Baptist Church. Admittedly, we are a Southern Baptist Church in Southern California, which might make us a bit different, but a Southern Baptist Church all the same. SBC churches still trip over things like the presences of guitars and the lack of neckties. Things like the creed and weekly communion, (or even the word “communion”), produces cries of Roman Catholicism. We think the reason that this worked so well for us is that after years of serious bible teaching on the gospel and the subsequent community and mission it engineers, this type of corporate expression felt natural to RBC.
Why should you do this?
We realize you don’t have to do this, but we hope this post provokes at least some interest for you doing this at your church. It produces a constant, concise, and clear biblical voice that people can remember. Through its inherent theological categories, it engenders a robust unity, a generous sense of belonging to one another and to those outside of your local assembly. It manufactures a missional attitude by devaluing cultural voices and elevating Christian identity and, by extension, Christian mission. All of these things are valuable to every serious minded Southern Baptist church that we know. Implementing this will not eat away at the uniqueness of biblical authority. Far from it. In the face of competing stories, our own sinfulness, and our tendency to isolate ourselves stands this statement telling us what the Bible says. What Baptist wouldn’t say this?