The early Church gave us three generally recognized statements of the Christian faith that have become part of our treasured inheritance - the Apostles’ Creed, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Quicunque Vult. You can find them in your Book of Common Prayer on pages 53-54, 358-359, and 864-865 respectively. These are fairly concise summaries of the main points of the faith and they provide a useful starting point and study guide for those interested in examining more deeply the traditional understandings of the faith during the season of Lent. That we call these the creeds of the church comes from the first line of these statements in their Latin form, namely “Credo in Deum” or “I believe in God.” By “believe in” the creed is not suggesting head knowledge like “I believe the Earth is round” but heart knowledge more like “I put my trust in” such as “I trust that there was a man named Jesus who was God incarnate” or “I have confidence in there being only one God.” The saying of the creed is the expressing of our assent to those statements, our heartfelt conviction that they are true, and our commitment to living our lives according to the truths expressed by those statements. That is much more than saying that either they express factual statements which can be proven or falsified or that they are mere opinions.
While there are probably several phrases in the creeds that cause folks to pause, such as “born of the Virgin Mary,” for Episcopalians and those coming to our church from churches that do not regularly recite the creed, it may be the statements about the Church that are also puzzling. For example, in the Nicene Creed regularly recited during the Celebration of Holy Eucharist, we say “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” I have known people who have stumbled over the word catholic, thinking it was a reference to the Roman Catholic Church and leading to questions about whether the church they were in was Protestant or Roman Catholic. So what are we saying? In part we are saying that we are members of the body of Christ which we call the church. In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word for church is ekklesia meaning those who have been called out, separated from the ways of the world, and brought into a new community with Christ as our head. By saying we believe in one church, we are saying that while we see many denominations and we see ongoing fragmentation and division, we are still part of one body. We are Episcopalians and our neighbors at Oak Forest are Methodists, but what matters more is not our peculiar Episcopal or their peculiar Methodist ways. What matters more is that we are Christians. By saying we are members of a catholic church, we are simply saying that the one church is universal, existing across all space and time. That is what the original Greek word katholikos translated catholic means. To be catholic is to be broad. To say that we are members of a catholic church does not mean we prefer a high solemn mass to a charismatic prayer meeting, but rather that both of those and other expressions of the faith are valid and helpful in their contexts for conveying the Gospel message that is always the same. It is sometimes not easy to explain what it means to be Episcopalian. I am occasionally asked, “Are Episcopalians Catholic or Protestant?” My answer is that as people who embrace and follow the historic creeds of the church we are both, or that is what I believe.
Grace and peace,