… with a particular story of our own
Sometimes people have described us as a ‘non-credal’ church, believing
that we rarely, if ever, say creeds in our worship and that we want to give
individuals freedom to state the faith in their own words. However, it’s not
quite as simple as that! It is true that the saying of creeds has not generally
played a regular part in worship at most of our churches and it is true that
we have placed a high value on freedom of conscience, but it is not true that
we have no sense of the faith we can hold together or that ‘you can believe
what you like in the URC’.
The Statement offers thanksgiving for the witness to the faith given by the
Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. (Note that ‘catholic faith’ here refers to the
faith of the whole Church – and does not mean the same as Roman Catholic).
These two creeds, both from the early centuries of the Church’s life, are
important to us because of their great age, because they are honoured by
churches throughout the world and through many centuries, and because
they were framed at critical times when the Christian faith was being
shaped. You can find them both in ‘Rejoice and Sing’ and there are fascinating
stories to tell about them. We often think of attention to the Virgin Mary
as a rather late development in the Church’s life, so it’s fascinating to notice
that she is named in the (comparatively brief) Apostles’ Creed! And it’s
worth finding out the long story behind the brackets around one phrase in
the Nicene Creed! We give thanks to God for these two creeds, not because
they are exactly the words we would want to use today, but because they
represent early attempts by the whole Church, meeting together, to say what
the Christian faith is really about. From our own times, when Christians
often find it hard to agree or to make joint statements, their achievement in
framing these creeds seems a cause of thankfulness and even amazement.
These creeds have some power and resonance, and as we write contemporary
creeds and affirmations for today, or as we write hymns or offer prayers,
it’s worth asking how far what we say is ‘in continuity’ with this particular
It’s true that creeds in the early Church were often formed as part of a war
against ‘untruth’, in battles we would not want to fight in the same ways.
However they provide good testing grounds for our own attempts to speak
the faith for today.
The Statement also acknowledges declarations of faith made by our
particular forebears and give thanks for them. We recognise what they
were trying to do in their own time in terms of re-describing the faith and
remaking the church – and we honour them. But we do not believe that we
honour them only by repeating their words exactly, but rather by doing in
our time what they were trying to do in theirs; to be faithful to the Apostolic
faith and making it clear for today. You can read about the history of these
three traditions (in an excellent leaflet written by David Thompson, entitled
Where do we come from?: The origins of the United Reformed Church).
The congregational response to this part of the Statement affirms that we
believe that our faith comes from the same source as the early Church and
as our historical forebears, but we also believe that faith has to be renewed
for every generation. This is something that really does stand out about the
United Reformed Church. We are ceaselessly working and praying to find
ways of living and speaking our faith that will resonate with the times. Faith
is not to be lived in a museum, but is for life today. Some would criticise us
for this or at least warn us of the dangers. We could become so identified
with our present culture that we do not recognise how Christ speaks to it
to challenge and renew it. If we sit too light to the history of the Church we
might miss out on a great wealth of wisdom and spiritual depth. Perhaps we
make the mistake of thinking we have to ‘start again’ in every generation
and we forget that we are not on our own in being Christians, that countless
generations have gone before us and can offer us the witness of their faith.
However, there are also plenty of voices who will cry that the Church is too
often stuck in the past and that the world needs brave Christians who have
the courage to let the Holy Spirit renew them in faith for their own times.