By Stephen Marshall-Ward
I think the beginning of a new year is a great time to look at what is most important in my life. You may feel the same way. This last Fall I finished the Requiem project alongside my dear friend, Michael Austin Miller. (The full title of our project is “From Death to New Life: A Requiem Mass for the Church.” See the “Requiem project” link above and my other blog posts for more information.) In this blog post, I want to lift up the Creed (Credo) from this Requiem project. It is an attempt to bring us all back to what is most important.
I grew up with no recitations of any creed. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church we really didn’t have that tradition within our liturgy or our practice. But when I became a student at Bob Jones University I was required, as all students were required, to memorize the university’s creed. We said it aloud together in chapel every day, 5 days a week, and in church on Sunday morning. It is a fine creed. It does line out what they believe and, as with most creeds, it is an attempt to unite people around specific theological beliefs and practices. The most common recited creeds within the traditional Church (meaning everything from the Catholic Church to the mainline Protestant denominations) are the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Our Requiem project looks at the Reformation 500 years ago. In it, we examine that that Reformation, with the leadership of Martin Luther, was an attempt to clarify and expose specific theological problems and problematic practices within the Church at the time. But in so doing, I think most people would agree, the Reformation 500 years ago was a Reformation that ended up dividing the Church. It became a time where distinctives were lifted up and it is one of the greatest reasons we now have so many divergent and distinct denominations and many more factions within many of those denominations, especially across America.
Our Requiem project embraces the belief that the Church (worldwide) is now in its next major reformation. When I read what people are writing and theologians are thinking, it seems to me that this next Reformation is a call away from distinctives and toward unity – focusing on what binds us together rather than what separates us. In order to do that, I think we need to simplify things and get back to what is truly most important – what is at the core of Christianity.
This is what we have attempted to do in the Credo in our Requiem project: call out two clear teachings of Jesus as most important. His answer was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments clearly put everything else in perspective. When all other clarifications fall short these two concepts clarify and bring us back to what is truly Christian.
In an effort to bring these commandments into the present, we call out some of the things that have separated us and have even marginalized groups of people within the Church. Our proposed Credo, and our entire Requiem, calls these things out to say we will no longer be part of these marginalizations and these exclusions within the Church. We are calling ourselves back to these two greatest teachings of Jesus that he called out as most important.
As we begin the new year, this Requiem – and specifically this Credo – is a call: a call back, a call to simplicity, and a call to unity. It is a call to continue the reformation process by breaking through the exclusionary distinctives and divisive barriers developed as a result of the last Reformation. This is a call to live out God’s love as demonstrated through the life and example of Jesus. May it be so.
The text of our Requiem project’s Credo is as follows:
Lyrics have been adapted from the Inclusion Statement from All Pilgrims Christian Church, Seattle, WA
We are faith-communities (or we are a faith community) valuing and celebrating diversity.
Through God’s love and with Christ’s example,
we set aside all human barriers and divisions
and invest ourselves in the healing of prejudice, exclusion, and hatred.
We are open to, and affirming of, the full participation of all
as equal members in this one body;
people of all colors, ages, economic circumstances,
sexual orientations, gender or transgender identities,
physical and mental abilities, education levels,
and conditions of health.
We consider no commandment to be greater than this:
“We shall love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength
and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
Through God’s love and Christ’s example.