Dancing with Doctrine: My Journey Away From, and Back To, a Creedal Christianity

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

In the Catholic church I was a part of growing up, we recited the Apostles Creed at every Mass. At our other church, we didn’t recite the creed, but it felt as though it’s truths were implicit. (Read more about my ecumenical upbringing here.)

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord.

I didn’t know what the creed meant, really. I remember asking my dad about some of the bigger words. “What’s ‘catholic and apostolic?” He said to ask him later. I never found out.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;

Maybe it’s because of the way I moved between churches, never really grounded in one tradition and it’s theology, or maybe it’s almost inevitable in our culture, but I began to fill in the gaps with theology that I picked up from the surrounding culture. Because no one told me otherwise, I assumed it was orthodox.

This is probably nothing new to you. I realize now that it’s pop theology, that it floats in the air like dandelion seeds, that it’s planted everywhere.

Why did Christ have to die?
Because we’re sinners who deserve to die, but he paid our debt instead.

What happens when we die?
If you’re a Christian and a good person you go to heaven and get your wings. If you’re not a Christian, or if you’re a bad person, you go to hell.

How do you become a Christian?
Believe the right things. Pray the right prayer. Go to church. Be a good person.

he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I really started to question the ideas I had so taken for granted. Why did God need someone to die in the first place? Why would a good God send anyone to hell?

The creeds came into question too. Virgin birth? REALLY???

The questions were overwhelming, and I just barely escaped losing my faith entirely. The faith came out of that wrestle with was very different that the one I had started with. By the time I graduated from college, I was staunchly anti-creed. No one should tell us what to believe, I thought. We need to wrestle through these questions for ourselves. It wouldn’t be honest to recite something I can’t agree with. Orthodoxy, I thought, was bankrupt. Shouldn’t our focus be on how we act as Christians, not on whether we can sign on to some outdated list of arcane beliefs?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,

Then I got to seminary where, by golly, I thought I should probably figure out what I believe about a few key things. If Jesus didn’t die to pay our debt, why did he? If I can’t believe in hell, why do I believe in a scripture that talks about it so much?

At my ordination, I’ll have to swear to “teach and preach in accordance with the creeds.” Can I honestly promise that I will?

And so I’ve been learning. How did the creeds come about? (Years of honest debate by faithful people.) Why did Jesus have to die? (That’s a topic for a whole different post, but let’s just say that I don’t think it’s about paying a debt anymore.) I haven’t solved the virgin birth yet, but maybe I can chalk that one up to mystery.

I’ve been learning about orthodoxy and about doctrine. About the ancient beliefs of the faith. And you know what? They’re actually awesome.

the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

I had assumed that ‘orthodox doctrine’ meant something like literal interpretation of the Bible, like sinners going to hell, like God the divine child-abuser killing his own son.

Turns out it looks like grace on grace on grace.

It looks like our bodies, made in God’s own image, redeemed, set free, and resurrected.

It doesn’t look like believing the right things OR like doing the right things. It looks like receiving a gift that’s absolutely free.

It’s not that I’ve given up on questioning.

But I am realizing that the faith is durable. Durable enough to withstand my questions. Durable enough to let me lean on it when I’m tired of questioning.

There’s a balance to be found between asking and knowing, between wrestling and resting. Kalyn Falk, in her marvelous book “I Am Here: Six Postures of Prayer,” writes that “balance is achieved most easily if we add momentum.” Think of a bike: easy to stay up when you’re moving. Hard to stay up when you stop. “Rather than aiming for one point between two opposing poles, we are invited to move between the two with momentum and ease… We inhale and as soon as we sense the need to transition, we exhale.”

This is my faith, now. Tradition; innovation. Reaching; receiving. Holding tight; letting go. Wrestling; resting. And all of it swimming in a sea of absolute grace.

Amen.

What about you? Do you resonate with the historical creeds? Why or why not? 

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