I Believe: A confession class prepares a statement of faith

The computer is on. I’m staring at the screen, stuck on a phrase. Seated on chairs arranged in a half circle around me are the members of my pastor’s class. Their handwritten creeds lie on my desk. We’re involved in the creative process of pulling together their individual efforts into a statement of faith that speaks for all of us—something that includes an idea, a turn of phrase, a metaphor that each person can claim as his or her contribution to the whole. It’s hard work. There’s the scary thought that this time the magic won’t happen. Maybe we will fail to come up with a joint product.

I have been part of this process more times than I can remember. I always ask everyone who attends the profession of faith class to try their hand at writing a personal creed. Assignments done, I then invite them into my study for the collaborative attempt that has us stuck right now. Later, in the service where profession of faith is made, we will ask the congregation to stand with us and recite the results from tonight’s session.

Inspired by the poetic structure of Our World Belongs to God, a Contemporary Testimony (Psalter Hymnal p. 1019), we have committed ourselves to a similar approach. We also like the idea of doing things in threes, echoing the Trinitarian structure of the ecumenical creeds. The first three paragraphs came easily. The fourth refuses to come. We know we want to say something about our diversity and our unity, but how shall we say it? “Divided as we are . . . ,” I prompt. “As churches!” someone else adds. “We shouldn’t just talk about churches,” says another. “We should include the idea that we have different nationalities, different cultures.” As we talk, I type, and the words appear on the screen:

Divided as we are as churches

Different as we are in our backgrounds

What’s a word that starts with “D” that we could use in our third phrase? I ask, and a voice behind me blurts out: “Distinct!” Perfect. I type it in.

Distinct as we are individually.

“How are we doing?” I ask. “Does it sound, look, whatever, the way we want it to be?” We talk some more, try some synonyms, use the thesaurus. Finally with a cheer we break the logjam and produce the following:

Divided as we are denominationally,
Different as we are culturally,
Distinct as we are individually,
Christ’s blood was spilled for the whole human race.
In him we are unique and equal.

Excited as we are, we still feel something is lacking. Some liturgical component that adds punch and brings the need for a response home. Finally, someone suggests that we end each section with a responsive statement. Sounds good. Let’s try it. Should it be the same sentence after each of the five sections now completed? Yes and no. Somehow the same and somehow different. It should pull the whole together and yet reflect the theme in each section. OK. How about this:

What can we do but love the Lord!

Terrific. Let’s change the verb after each paragraph and see how that works. My watch beeps eight o’clock, but no one stands to leave. Everyone is eager to stay to the finish. It takes another ten minutes to find the best verbs. But then we’re done. I ask everyone whether there’s anything in their personal creeds that somehow did not get incorporated into our final product. No. Ten more minutes to do a final once-over, to save our work and to print up final copies. Feeling like Olevianus and Ursinus holding the first printed copy of the Heidelberg Catechism in their hands, we excitedly scan our creed and read it through in unison. On the morning of the day they profess their faith, each participant will receive a copy suitable for framing. We will all sign each other’s copies as a memento of our fellow authors. But tonight, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the magic happened again. I turn the computer off and say a closing prayer of thanks. We all head home twenty-five minutes after the class should have ended. No one complains or even gives it a second thought. We’re too thrilled.

This exercise has proved to be a highlight in the course, giving each generation a means by which to articulate and add their confession to the statements of faith that come to us from the past. What an experience to push back from the computer and realize, “That’s it. That’s exactly what I believe and how I want to say it!” How powerful to add our personal confession to the communal confessions we all hold dear!

As I remember some of the statements of faith produced over the years, I think of my personal favorite. It is simply called “I Believe.” What makes it special for us at Jubilee is that it took the form of stanzas that I later put to music. In the profession of faith service, the class and the congregation recited it together. Then I announced a surprise. Calling Charlene Flikkema forward, a young woman with whom I perform concerts, we sang this creed to a newly composed melody. How excited we were and still are each time we sing this song that flowed forth from all of us!

At Jubilee Fellowship CRC the practice of breaking the pastor’s class into small groups to write a composite creed has exercise has evolved into a special, magical experience for each person preparing to publicly profess his or her faith.

Excerpt

OUR CREED

We believe that God’s love is the answer.
We believe God’s love is unfailing, unconditional, and undying.
We believe God’s love created us, redeemed us, and sustains us.

God the Father loves us.
God the Son loves us.
God the Holy spirit loves us.

What can we do but love the Lord!

We believe that Christ’s willingness to die for the world
is the ultimate sacrifice.
Who could imagine that the One who is fully divine
would become fully human just to save us
from sin
and death
and hell.

What can we do but believe in the Lord!

Our own best efforts do not earn our way to Heaven.
Human beings are not perfect.
But God is gracious.
God reached down to us who couldn’t reach up to him.
We discover this grace in God’s guide,
the Scriptures,
our blueprint for life.

What can we do but follow the Lord!

Divided as we are denominationally,
Different as we are culturally,
Distinct as we are individually,
Christ’s blood was spilled for the whole human race.
In him we are unique and equal.

What can we do but trust the Lord!

We believe that there is a Heaven.
Someday Christ will return to the earth
and we will reign forever and live with God for all eternity.
Until then, we are called
to follow him
and to become more like him daily.

What can we do but hope for the Lord!

Peter Slofstra is pastor of Hope Fellowship Church, Courtice, Ontario.