Every Sunday millions of Christians recite the creed. Some sleepwalk through it thinking of other things, some puzzle over the strange language, some find offense in what it seems to say. Perhaps few of them fully appreciate what a remarkable thing they are doing. Would they keep on doing it if they grasped how different it made them in today's world? Would they keep on saying these words if they really knew what they implied?

In a world that celebrates individuality, they are actually doing something together. In an age that avoids commitment, they pledge themselves to a set of convictions and thereby to each other. In a culture that rewards novelty and creativity, they use words written by others long ago. In a society where accepted wisdom changes by the minute, they claim that some truths are so critical that they must be repeated over and over again. In a throwaway, consumerist world, they accept, preserve, and continue tradition. Reciting the creed at worship is thus a countercultural act.

This quietly dramatic behavior deserves our attention. It is worthwhile pondering what sort of thing the creed is and what Christians are doing when they say it. Four terms have been used for the creed, each pointing to a distinctive aspect. The profession of faith points to the way the creed provides a statement of personal and communal commitment. The rule of faith points to the way the creed provides a statement of measure or norm for Christian identity, particularly how Christians should read their sacred writings and how they should live. The definition of faith points to the way the creed provides the boundaries of Christian belief and therefore of the Christian community. Finally, the symbol of faith points to the way the creed ...

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