Expansive Meanings in the Apostles’ Creed

During this Season after Pentecost, we’ve been using an adapted version of the Apostles’ Creed at St. Stephen’s, and a few members of our community asked me to write a brief post about it. Here’s the version we’ve been using:

We give our hearts to you, God Beyond Us, creator of heaven and earth.

We give our hearts to you, Jesus Christ, God Among Us, our model and savior. You were conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, were crucified, died, and were buried; you descended to the dead. On the third day you rose again; you ascended into heaven, you are seated at the right hand of God Beyond Us, and you will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We give our hearts to you, Holy Spirit, God Within Us. We give our hearts to the community of the church, to the communion of saints, to the practice of forgiveness, to the hope of the resurrection, and to the promise of life everlasting. Amen.

As you can see, I’ve unpacked and expanded some of the language. Following the lead of Marcus Borg in his book The Heart of Christianity, I’ve replaced the word “believe” with “give our hearts to.” As Borg asserts, this is closer to the original meaning of the word “believe,” which wasn’t about intellectual assent, but about full engagement with a person, community, or idea. Borg writes that it would be more accurate to say “belove” in the place of “believe,” but since my spell checker automatically objects to that, and I myself find it a little too cute, I’ve followed Borg’s lead in substituting “give my heart to” instead.

I’ve also borrowed shamelessly from the Anglican Church in Canada’s expansive language translation of the psalms, not in substance but in spirit. Their psalter has a simple solution for inclusive language. Instead of trying to find some new third person pronoun to talk about God, they simply substitute “you” for “he/him/his,” so that the psalms talk directly to God. I’ve made the same choice here. The creed becomes something of a prayer, a statement made directly to God about the way we, as a church, intend to relate to God and one another.

The third major change comes in the way the creed talks about the Trinity. This is where expansive language proselytizers such as myself sometimes shrug our shoulders and go back to the traditional formula of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” But a friend of mine gave me new language for this, not original to him, I think, but drawn from the evangelical tradition he grew up in. I didn’t make up the language of God Beyond Us, God Among Us, and God Within Us, but simply cribbed it from him. I like what it does to my understanding of the Trinity — how it acknowledges the way that God is beyond our understanding, but also present within human history and the continuing life of the world, and especially present within us and within our neighbors. This, to me, is the genius of the Trinity. It doesn’t limit God to any one understanding, but insists that God is dynamic, always breaking the bounds of any category we might try to place God in.

So there’s my explanation of the expansive language Apostles’ Creed that we’ve been using. Another friend, Jason Oden, points out that both our creeds, the Nicene and the Apostles’, tell the whole story of salvation history in compact form. They’re especially important to our worship, in which we often get into the nitty gritty of some particular event or scriptural conversation. These creeds help root us in the whole context of our life with God, and so we honor them and speak them joyfully, and try to keep them from becoming rote or trapped in the amber of hardened tradition.

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