You don’t know what you believe until you say it.
This statement is at the heart of what confession is about. Words have power. Whoever said “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” was deluded. I know it. You know it.
We confess—our lips express what’s in our soul—what we believe. We say out loud things that matter. Marriage vows. Baptismal vows. “I love you.” Saying something is a physical act. Stand up and be counted.
Part of the reason some kind of ‘confession of faith’ is included during worship services isn’t because we have memorized a dusty creed. It’s because it continually grounds us in a sweep of biblical insight that is grafted to us. Rescuing wisdom for living.
The word creed comes from the Latin “credo,” meaning “I believe.” But the word isn’t a kind of modern ‘intellectual agreement,’ although it is that too. The deeper meaning is loyalty. These are the truths that I would write in blood. Or, at least, cling to in Satan’s storm.
That’s part of the reason I start this new series on Sunday: “The Not So Basic Basics.” It’s designed to check our foundations as we begin 2013. I’ll tell the congregation why we need to get off the escalator (you’ll see what I mean!) as we explore things like “Christ and the Ian Virus”, sin, gospel and salvation, the 4 B’s (believing, belonging, Baptism, the Bible), prayer and worship, and the greatest commandment.
I think we often say faith statements out of habit. But look again. Tom Long says “The creeds can seem like rote, take-it-or-leave-it dogmatic moments in the liturgy, rather than the expressions of hard-won, blood-stained wisdom wrung from centuries of wrestling with the meaning of God and human experience.” Yes!
Gaze more deeply at a few of the foundational creeds. Have you taken the time to think about the Apostles’ Creed recently? What about the Nicene Creed?—one of the oldest global faith statements. Even in the earliest pages of the New Testament we find creeds:
- The earliest and shortest ones are statements about Jesus’ identity (and therefore, about the kind of work he does) like “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3) or “Jesus the Christ/Messiah” (Mark 8:29)
- Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1: 15-20)
- God “emptied” himself into Jesus (Philippians 2: 5-11)
- The great “mystery” of our faith (1 Timothy 3:16)
What we think and say impacts how we understand ourselves and how we live. In Robert Bolt’s great play about Sir Thomas More as he faced humiliation and death because he would not go along with King Henry the 8th’s reforms, he says that an oath is something you say to God. Later, speaking to his daughter, More says, “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
It’s not a quick and easy thing. It’s about growth and wisdom. It’s about night-vision.
So what do you even believe? Start by looking at the not-so-basic-basics. You may discover something deeper about God. And about you.