I thought I knew the Apostles' Creed
Since adopting the Belgic Confession in 1569, many members of the Western Reformed community have optimistically referred to the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as the "ecumenical creeds." In the household of Christian faith, in the ecology and economy of the Christian life, the word ecumenical refers to a recurring hope that we all may someday confess together one faith, one hope, one Lord. But the truth of the matter is that not all Christians do agree to these"ecumenical" creeds or to various formulations of them.
Most of us used to be able to recite the Apostles' Creed together with members of several denominations. We hoped that by working with members of still other denominations we could agree on a wording of the Creed that Christians from all backgrounds could confess together. Ironically, recent ecumenical attempts to unify our language have resulted in more variety than ever.
Some of the differences in our creedal language are the result of doctrinal disagreements. All three creeds are strongly trinitarian, reflecting the great struggle that the church faced in the early centuries about the nature of Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead. Most notable among such controversies is the filioaue ("from the son") dispute in the Nicene Creed. We confess,",…the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son…" Orthodox Christians, who do not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son,leave this phrase out. In fact, so basic is the disagreement over the doctrine contained in these words that it has defined and separated Western and Eastern Christianity for centuries. This continuing disagreement should remind us that it is the very nature of a creed to provide an ever clearer view of the differences that divide us as well as of the shared beliefs that draw us together.
James Vanden Bosch is a professor of English at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a.
The ICET Version
The English Language Liturgical Consultation, formerly known as the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), an interchurch committee of ecumenical scholars and litur-gists, tries to bridge some of these differences. Their goal is to publish ecumenically acceptable versions of shared confessional material in order to encourage and sustain a sense of mutuality among various Christian communions. The fact that this is a truly laudable goal does not change one basic fact—that the various Christian communions continue to insist on their own ways of affirming their unity.
The ICET version of the Apostles' Creed, like other ecumenized confessional materials, was acceptable to some, but not to others. (See box below for ICET version of the Apostles' Creed, recommended in Prayers We Have in Common (Fortress Press, 1970,1971,1975). The Book of Common Prayer (1979) follows this ICET text of the creed exactly. The RCA's Rejoice in the Lord (1985) prints two versions of the creed: the ICET version and an older version, complete with "sitteth," "thence," "quick," and "Ghost" (see box).
The creed as it appears in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) follows the ICET version in all details except in line 8, which reads "He descended into hell," with an alternative reading at the foot of the page: "or, He descended to the dead."
The CRC Debate
The struggle over language in the creed had little effect on congregations in the Christian Reformed Church until the emergence of the new Psalter Hymnal. For nearly fifty years members of the CRC had recited the Apostles' Creed in a version very similar to the old RCA version, above. But in the context of preparing for the new hymnal, the CRC also appointed a committee to review the ecumenical creeds. (Their full report is recorded in the Agenda and Acts of Synod 1988.)
The awareness of the need for change had been building for more than a decade—a need that had its roots in both pastoral and stylistic concerns. Ministers had approached the denominational liturgical committee and requested an updated, ecumenical creed for practical reasons—so that they could lead a graveside recitation of the creed, for example, without the awkwardness or embarrassment of having variant readings break the confessional unity of the solemn occasion. In such circumstances, the traditional CRC version of the creed (see box) caused problems with "begotten," "sitteth," and "dead." Shouldn't our denomina-tion, such ministers asked, revise the creed so that it would be more nearly in line with the versions used by other communions?
But ecumenical concerns were not the only elements involved. In the revision of the ecumenical creeds and other confessional materials, several in-house editorial concerns gradually became what were nearly editorial principles: the NIV Bible was to be the version which should determine the language of quotations and allusions; the language of the various materials should be dignified and modern, neither too colloquial nor archaic; the language should be gender-inclusive wherever possible, avoiding all forms of unnecessarily exclusive language; the language and style should be clear, direct, and compelling; and the language should have a reasonably good prospect of remaining vital and communicative for the next generation or two, after which the entire process of revision and change would presumably once again be necessary.
No one should mistake this for an easy task. Editors and writers committed to this project took up their work knowing that they could not please all members and groups in the denomination. A phrase that seems archaic to one person will almost certainly be precious to someone else and merely a stylistic preference to another. A revision considered absolutely essential for clarity's sake may alter a theological distinction if it is viewed from a slightly different angle. Furthermore, each substantive revision became that most insubstantial of things, a recommendation needing the approval of an annual gathering of synod; what one synod encouraged a subsequent synod might deplore or even undo. Add to these internal concerns the desire to produce creeds that would be more nearly ecumenical, and you will have something like the context in which these revisions and translations were made.
In June of 1988, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church approved newly revised versions or translations of the ecumenical creeds. Synodical approval allowed these revised forms to be included in the second printing of the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, so that today many congregations of the Christian Reformed Church are reading and reciting new versions of creeds (see box on page 41 for the CRC's new version of the Apostles' Creed).
Why are there so many different translations of the creeds, especially in a decade in which Christians have put forth large-scale efforts to agree on the wording of these ecumenical statements of faith?
The CRC part of the answer can be found in the report to the Synod of 1988. A large number of the differences between the Apostles' Creed as we know it and the creed recited in other denominations are due to textual constraints. Sacrificing textual accuracy for ecumenical benefit is almost never a good exchange for any of the interested parties. And when some denominations make choices that diverge from the ICET text, the question becomes more complicated for other denominations.
Keeping faith with the texts, with traditions of theology and language, and with the worldwide body of Christ will keep such matters complicated for a very long time. For the foreseeable future, almost all of us will affirm our common faith in words that distinguish us from one another.
TRADITIONAL RCA VERSION
|I believe in God, the Father almighty||I believe in God, the Father almighty,|
|creator of heaven and earth,||maker of heaven and earth;|
|I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.||And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord;|
|He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit||who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,|
|and born of the Virgin Mary.||born of the Virgin Mary,|
|He suffered under Pontius Pilate,||suffered under Pontius Pilate,|
|was crucified, died, and was buried.||was crucified, dead, and buried.|
|He descended to the dead.||He descended into hell.|
|On the third day he rose again.||The third day he rose again from the dead.|
|He ascended into heaven,||He ascended into heaven,|
|and is seated at the right hand of the Father.||and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.|
|He will come again to judge the living and the dead.||From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.|
|I believe in the Holy Spirit,||I believe in the Holy Ghost,|
|the holy catholic Church,||the holy catholic Church,|
|the communion of the saints,||the communion of saints,|
|the forgiveness of sins,||the forgiveness of sins,|
|the resurrection of the body,||the resurrection of the body,|
|and the life everlasting. Amen.||and the life everlasting. Amen.|
TRADITIONAL CRC VERSION
CRC VERSION: 1987
|I believe in God the Father, Almighty,||I believe in God, the Father almighty,|
|Maker of heaven and earth.||creator of heaven and earth.|
|And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;||I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,|
|who was conceived by the Holy Spirit||who was conceived by the Holy Spirit|
|born of the virgin Mary;||and born of the virgin Mary.|
|Suffered under Pontius Pilate;||He suffered under Pontius Pilate,|
|was crucified, dead, and buried;||was crucified, died, and was buried;|
|He descended into hell;||he descended to hell.|
|The third day He rose again from the dead;||The third day he rose again from the dead.|
|He ascended into heaven,||He ascended to heaven|
|and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.||and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;|
|From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.||From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead.|
|I believe in the Holy Spirit.||I believe in the Holy Spirit.|
|I believe a holy catholic Church,||the holy catholic Church,|
|the communion of saints;||the communion of saints;|
|The forgiveness of sins;||The forgiveness of sins,|
|The resurrection of the body;||the resurrection of the body;|
|And the life everlasting.AMEN.||and the life everlasting. Amen.|