Thursday, November 19, 2009

We Believe vs I Believe

Originally the creed that left Nicea and Constantinople read we believe... At some point in its liturgical use, it changed from plural to singular (I believe). Luther had it both ways -- plural in the sung creed and singular when spoken. Apparently the Latin was singular prior to the Novus Ordo of Vatican II when it became, again, plural. Now a new English translation, more closely aligned with the Latin, is returning to the singular (at least by my occasional visits to Roman Catholic liturgical blogs. Before LSB had it singular (actually, the repetition of the creed from Lutheran Worship 1982, it explored a plural verb (We believe). Knowing that it was going to be a change, I went ahead and rehearsed the plural and the change from Christian to catholic so that we would not judge the new book simply by this proposed change. Some did not like it. Others found it not so different. Most went along with whatever.

I have come to appreciate the "We believe" of the creed more and more. Now I know all those out there who insist you cannot confess for others and how a creed is spoken as an individual's confession of faith. Certainly we keep the Apostles' Creed singular because of the way that creed functions in Baptism as the faith confessed of those to be baptized. But I want to explore a different attitude toward the creed entirely.

I like "We believe" because it reminds us that faith is not an individual matter. The creed (even Apostles') is never distinctly personal or individual. No one of us writes the creed confessed or owns its confession as an individual. The creed belongs to the Church. When we confess any creed we place ourselves into submission under the Church who created and passed down that creed as the faithful confession of what the Apostles taught and Scripture teaches. This is no "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows" but the I believe of one who is being initiated into the Church through the waters of baptism and as part of that initiation expresses submission to the faith by taking the faithful and orthodox creed and owning it as his or her own.

The Protestants among us always define faith individually and I know whereof they come... but as much as each one of us believes for himself or herself, our faith is learned from the Church, our Mother, who imparts to her children the constitutive knowledge of the faith... the Trinitarian Confession. We believe for ourselves as individuals but we confess this faith as children of the Church, our Mother, who was established by Christ and who endures to the end without being overcome by the assaults and arrows of the enemy. Hell's gates cannot overcome her. She belongs to Christ. The Church is not some utilitarian arrangement for those who need help from others. Christ established His Church to be His holy Bride, equipped her with all the treasures that she may radiate His grace to the world, and He protects and defends her to eternal life.

Remember when Jesus speaks of how oft He had wanted to gather the children of Israel under His wing as a mother hen gathers her chicks? Well, just how does Jesus do this today? How does He gather us lost and wounded, marked by death? How does He do this? Through His Church! Where He has placed His Word and His Sacraments, where His ministers stand and speak in His place the life-giving Word of the Gospel, and where His people find their voice under the prompting of the Spirit to say and sing their AMEN to all that He has done. His Church mothers us with His grace with the treasures of His riches that He has entrusted to her care -- the sacred mysterion (word, water, bread, and wine).

When we stand together and speak together "We believe" is it a subtle yet real acknowledgement of our place within this blessed fellowship as children of God. When we pray, we pray "Our Father" even when we pray alone. When we confess, it is our own voice that speak but the words we speak are given to us to say -- the wonderful confession whose first forms predated much of the New Testament and whose words were renewed in Council to answer the heretic and silence the doubting. Whoever would be saved must confess... not what is formed in their feelings or the thoughts are given birth in their minds... no, whoever would be saved must confess the catholic faith and the catholic faith is this... We believe...

What I am saying is not an argument from history or practice but from the essence of the relationship we have to the Church in which the Holy Spirit works to continue to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify each of us and all of us together. Luther had this high sense of the Church == reflected in the conservative nature of his Reformation. Calvin, Zwingli, and the other radical reformers were much bolder when it came to dismantling the sense of Church or transforming it from that Mother who give us life to an organization of rules and laws and minimum requirements.

When the Lutheran Confessions speak of Church and Ministry, of unity and fellowship, of liturgy and preaching -- it is within this sense of the one, the holy, catholic, and the apostolic Church. This Church exists not for her own glory but to glorify her Lord, soon to be her husband in the marriage supper of the Lamb for all eternity. This Church has the authority of Him who has chosen her -- His Word and His Sacraments, the means of grace. This Church instructs us in the faith and calls us to rightful submission when we would speak of what the faith is -- exchanging the freedom to speak as we might to speak the words that were first others before they were ours... This we believe. . .


Chris said...

Saying "I believe" as opposed to "we believe" is not a revelling of individualism, but a reassertion that no one is saved by another man's faith.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I cannot say that I fully grasp the furor that saying "We believe" is odd -- especially in a Church context. The congregation should hold to the same faith. Especially give the fact that no one that I know has a problem with "Our Father".

We have gotten to the point where we focus so much on the fact that *I* believe that we do so to the detriment of confessing that belief to which we hold.

Jonathan said...

I never did get the "catholic" to "Christian" transition of TLH to LW. I know the stated reason was that "Christian" was a better interpretation, but I can't help but thinking it also had something to do with signifying separation from the big "C" of the RCC, at least at some level, and maybe also on another level, separation from the LBW crowd who kept "catholic."

Unknown said...

I would really like to use the "we believe" but as I sit in Bible class and hear congregational members say things like - "Mary only gave birth to the man Jesus, not to God." or "I think we have been wrong about infant baptism." or "One really can't expect people to come every Sunday to service because people have other more important commitments." So, I go with "I believe"

Past Elder said...

At a minimum, we say I believe because that is what the text says, credo, and we say Our Father because that is what the text says, pater noster. The latter is from Christ, the former is not. What more is there to say?

Lots apparently. The councils that established the creeds were not composing a liturgical text, they were composing a conciliar creedal statement, for which a plural, we believe, is entirely appropriate.

We do not meet for mass or other services as a council in session. That is why its liturgical use is singular, and its conciliar use irrelevant.

The singular expresses, liturgically, that indeed no-one is saved by another's faith nor can one confess another's faith. At our services we are not issuing a corporate statement but confessing faith. There is no we believe in this context.

What is more, the corporate side of it that our 1960s reformers want to express with "we believe" is already there. When I believe, that is not only my salvation, but the salvation of the whole company of the saved, the body of Christ the Church, which is also singular, not many or plural. Therefore the one body speaks in the singular too. I believe.

When I believe, I also become part of a body, which also says I believe. The "we" is so complete that it is singular too.

Re "catholic", it is simply an otherwise little used word now for whole, complete, entire, or universal. If a heterodox church uses it as a proper adjective in its name, that's too bad. But no matter how large or well-known that heterodox body is, it should not cause any alteration in the practice of the reform of the Church to its Gospel truth. "catholic" is not "Catholic".

Nor do we do well to adopt and adapt the latest heterodoxy it has let loose on the world instead of the Gospel by conforming our liturgy to their new one.