We Believe – week 3

Reflections

on the

Nicene Creed

This Week: September 5, 2012

The Christian life is not about “me and my Jesus.” That’s too small, too easy, and too risky, says the Rev. Mike Marsh in Communal believing. Read it below.

What do college students think about the Nicene Creed? Greg Richards, the Director of College Mission for the diocese, talks about that and the part the creed played in his own spiritual journey. Listen here.

The creed in community: The congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX prays the Nicene Creed together during a Sunday morning worship service.  Listen here.

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about  True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below

Communal Believing

the Rev. Mike Marsh 

Someone once asked an old hermit, “Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?” “No,” said the hermit. “I prefer to share him with others.”

There is wisdom in the hermit’s words. The Christian life is not about “me and my Jesus.” That’s too small, too easy, and too risky. It can quickly degenerate into “Sheilaism.” In his book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah writes of a woman, Sheila, who had taken various beliefs from here and there and constructed a private religion she named Sheilaism. It left her isolated from a community of faith, outside a sacred tradition, and free to believe a thousand different things before lunchtime on any given day.

Individualism is one of the great dangers and idols in today’s society. It’s not just about Sheila. It is also about you, me, and the Church. It is the antithesis of the Church’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (“An Outline of the Faith,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 855). The Creeds stand against the danger of individualism.

Why then do we sometimes confess “I believe” (The Apostles’ Creed) and other times confess “We believe” (The Nicene Creed)? The very fact that we do, declares that it is not one or the other; it is both at the same time. My believing is not in opposition to, but in need of our believing. My believing is what allows me to stand next to you and, together, say, “We believe.” Likewise “our” believing is what strengthens and sustains my believing.

Believing begins with and has its origin in the community. The community’s believing precedes and welcomes the individual’s believing. Even as the individual adds to, enhances, and makes the community more fully itself, the community shapes and forms the individual more fully into herself or himself.

When an individual is baptized, initiated into the communal life of the Holy Trinity, the liturgy does not begin with the individual but with the community:

     Celebrant: There is one Body and one Spirit;

     People: There is one hope in God’s call to us;

     Celebrant: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

     People: One God and Father of all.

Individual believing happens in the context of the community, even when we say, “I believe.” In the Apostles’ Creed, for example, we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord” (emphasis added), not “my Lord.” The structures of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed both have three major parts: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This structure reminds us that our confession of faith, whether “I believe” or “We believe,” is grounded in and leading us into communal life, communal believing. The one and the many exist not in spite of but because of each other.

Sometimes the communal belief of the Church is all we have. When life falls apart and we don’t know what to say, the Church speaks for us. When we are confused and lost, the Church guides us. When we don’t know what to believe, the Church knows. When we don’t or can’t believe, the Church does. The Church’s belief strengthens and sustains our own believing and sometimes protects us from our self, our Sheilaism. “The Church always believes more and better than any one its members,” says Luke Timothy Johnson in The Creed (p. 46).

To pray “We believe in one God …,” says Johnson, is to join our voice to the Church’s voice, to step into something larger than our own ideas, doubts, fears, and questions, “in the hope that our individual ‘I believe’ someday approaches the strength of the church’s ‘We believe.’”

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

 

2 thoughts on “We Believe – week 3”

  1. I think Mike Marsh’s reflections on what the Nicene Creed has meant to him are well worth expanding into a form suitable for wider circulation. What I heard sounded authentic and compelling.

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