A few years ago, I sat in a church service where I was presented with a badly acted, awkwardly done skit. It occurred right in the midst of the worship. Furthermore, its purpose was not to demonstrate a spiritual truth; it was to advertise a women's event coming up. The laughter which ensued was troubling to me. I chafed at the contradiction. If I was to ask why we don't repeat the Apostles Creed, or even acknowledge to be a useful tool (assuming that people in the congregation know what it is), I would be looked at with suspicion. To mention a formal creed is to be worldly. Those are the words of men, don't you know. My struggle came when I could not justify the welcome presentation of a ridiculous skit yet a reject of a creed. That is how things operate in my church. I love the people there, and I am committed to serving there, but that sentiment that it is more acceptable to do a skit than recite a creed has long bothered me.
When I saw that Carl Trueman was coming out with the book The Creedal Imperative which challenged the notion “no creed but the Bible,” I knew I would want to read it. And I did. And he articulated far better than I ever could why it is that I chafe at the contradiction of allowing skits but denying a creed.
Trueman's purpose in the book is to demonstrate why creeds are not only important and useful, but that within the Bible itself, we see evidence of creedal language. I believe he accomplished what he set out to do. He begins with discussing why creedalism is so objected to in our culture. He points out the cultural bias against history, authority, and the sufficiency of words themselves. He returns often to those themes, especially the bias against history. Trueman, as a historian, is obviously in favour of giving weight to history, and as always, he demonstrates exactly why it is important.
He spends two chapters discussing the history of creedalism beginning with the early church and moving into the years of the Reformation. In those chapters, he points out how the Reformers relied on he work done by the early church fathers. The language developed in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed gave a language that was taken into later confessions like the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Confession. If you are interested in church history, you will really enjoy those chapters. His last two chapters deal with the use of confessions as praise and the usefulness of creeds and confessions in other areas of church life.
I really enjoyed his chapter about using creeds as praise. In addition to looking askance at creeds, the church I attend would cringe at the word “liturgy.” To use such a word in general conversation would cause many people to assume one was returning to Rome. It's just too “popish.” Quite a few years ago, as I looked at the order of the service, and saw that the dismissal of Children's Church was always at the same point in the service, and that often the pastor opened his prayer with the same phrases, I realized that we do have a liturgy; it just isn't written down formally. It wasn't much of a leap for me to see that all churches have a creed, it just isn't formalized. And that is at the heart of Trueman's book. He introduces that point early:
I do want to make the point here that Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true. (p.15)
Of course the objection with regard to creeds and confessions is that it can quickly become formalism. Well, so can the unwritten creeds that we say and do. Just think of the phrase, “a hedge of protection.” I don't know if your church uses that phrase or not, but that comes up often when we pray for missionaries on their way to the field, or to families traveling. It can become formalism just as easily. Trueman points out that it is not the fault of the creeds if people don't use them well:
Thus, let us make sure that when we criticize the recitation of creeds for it formalism we lay the blame where it truly belongs. If such recitation is mere formalism, it is not the fault of the creeds themselves. They are no more to blame for being used in a merely formal manner than Shakespeare can be blamed if people use copies of his plays to blow heir noses. Nor is this formalism the fault of the church that establishes such use of the creeds in the worship services. Every church has its liturgy; that in itself does not determine whether the liturgy will be used well or badly. Any set form of words – from a hymn book to a prayer book to a creed – is vulnerable to formalism. (p.150)
I would add that the Power Point can become formalism, too.
Some churches say that creeds don't allow for spontaneity. Trueman counters with the argument that the very act of picking out hymns and practicing them beforehand means there is no true spontaneity. He offers this aside from the observation that nowhere in Scripture do we see an exaltation of spontaneity. We do see, however, in Scripture, calls for order and sound words in our worship. It is Trueman's contention that in looking for sound words, one can find no better place than the creeds.
When I began this book, I would say that Trueman was already singing to the choir. I have long thought that recitation of a creed would be a lot better than singing “Celebrate, Jesus, Celebrate” fifty times in a row. He articulated very well thoughts that were fuzzy shadows in my thinking, but had no structure for expression.
One cannot get away from the importance of the church's history. That much is evident in this book. Trueman writes unapologetically as a historian; as a lover of history, I really appreciated this. In a day and age where it seems like anything goes in a worship service, this book provides a lot of food for thought about how we conduct worship and how we regard it. I could share a lot more about it, but you would be better served by reading the book yourself. At 197 pages, it is not a laborious read.