First, we believe that requiring our leaders to affirm the beliefs of the faith community they lead helps preserve our group’s unique religious identity as well as the purpose and mission of our group. Christians and other religious communities have used creeds for thousands of years to define who they are as a community and to preserve the religious tradition they have inherited. To abandon this practice would be to abandon a fundamental practice of our faith tradition, one that keeps Christians across the ages connected as part of the same body of believers and same faith.
We are often suspicious of creeds in contemporary American culture. We tend to think it is better to “think for ourselves” or to “follow your heart.” We think of creeds as dour, unquestioned dogma or, worse, as tools of indoctrination. However, the reality is that we all live by beliefs that we’ve inherited and a particular set of assumptions and presuppositions. Each of us has been shaped by a tradition larger than us, whether that tradition is Christianity, American nationalism, post-Enlightenment individualism, materialism, consumerism, or some other system of belief. Whether we acknowledges it or not, each of us lives out beliefs we’ve learned and internalized from a community outside of ourselves.
Christians of all languages and cultures have used creeds for millennia to map the boundaries of orthodoxy or “right belief.” We use creedal pronouncements because we believe that in Christ God has made known the fullness of revelation, which means our faith is inescapably historical and thus essentially creedal. If Christ did not become incarnate among the Jews, was not born of Virgin Mary, did not suffer under Pontius Pilate, was not raised on the third day, then there is no Christian faith. Therefore, it remains essential that we profess and teach the same core faith as Christians have for millenia. We cannot treat Christ or Christianity merely like an empty vessel into which we can import the highest aspirations of our current culture. In other words, we believe that we don’t make up what Christianity is. Instead, we inherit our faith from men and women who have followed Christ before us beginning with the apostles themselves. Thus, our creeds are designed to preserve the faith of the church over time. As an illustration, think of a recipe for bread. Someone made bread and preserved that recipe either with a verbal or written “creed.” Although the use of creeds still allows for great diversity and variety, there are essentials outlined in the creed or recipe that must be preserved if bread is to be bread. If you decide to use metal, glass, and plastic, instead of water, flour, and yeast, you may make something lovely, but you can’t call it bread. Similarly, creeds outline the essential ingredients that make a Christian community a Christian community.
In order to preserve who we are over time and to preserve our purpose on campus, we must preserve our “deposit of faith.” And in order to preserve this deposit, our leaders must believe, teach, and confess the essential “ingredients” of Christianity. Christians find creeds so important to orthodox faith that believers have literally died to preserve our creeds. In light of that, leaving campus to preserve our basic creedal identity is clearly worth it! For a thorough and excellent explanation on the roles of creeds in faith communities from Yale Historian Jaroslav Pelikan, listen to this podcast: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/pelikan/