Ancient bones, new flesh

For new hymnal, a creed is reimagined

Sep 16, 2019 by

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It’s been said that those who write the hymns need not care who writes the creeds. Hymns shape churchgoers’ beliefs far more than sermons or Confessions of Faith.

Thus the stakes are high for the Voices Together hymnal, coming next September from MennoMedia. We might wonder if our favorite hymn will be there. But our favorite creed? Probably not.

In an era of reading from screens, we’re even less likely to crack the high-numbered pages where creeds and prayers dwell quietly like dusty volumes in the church library.

Yet non-musical worship resources offer valuable instruction and inspiration. The summer issue of Leader magazine, published by MennoMedia, includes more than 40 pages of sample content being considered for Voices Together. Of the 48 entries, 18 are acts of worship to be spoken rather than sung.

One of these stands out as an artful combination of historical depth and current relevance — and demonstrates why hymnals need updating about every 30 years.

The statement is a creed, a way of declaring one’s beliefs that Mennonites traditionally have not emphasized. In fact, we sometimes claim to be non-creedal. What really matters to us is how a person lives, not the words anyone claims to believe. We are practical Christians, more concerned with deeds than doctrine.

To critique creedal faith, we’re likely to point out that the Apostles’ Creed omits Jesus’ entire life, skipping from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” A creed that’s silent about Jesus’ lived example can’t fully define our faith.

Yet Mennonites appreciate the Apostle’s Creed’s summary of key biblical truths and the way it connects us to the earliest centuries of Christianity. There it is at No. 712 in Hymnal: A Worship Book, which Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada have used since 1992.

And there it is again, in the Voices Together sampler — but transformed, with new flesh on ancient bones. The Apostles’ Creed has become the Immigrant’s Creed, written in 2018 by Presbyterian mission leader José Luis Casal.

This new version affirms everything the historic creed does: almighty God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection, the life eternal. They express these beliefs as an immigrant would — or as one who stands in support of immigrants. Among the eight declarations:

— “I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean, who was born away from his people and his home . . .”

— “I believe that the church is the secure home for the foreigner and for all believers who constitute it.”

— “I believe that in the resurrection God will unite us as one people in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.”

What could be more Anabaptist than to take a historic creed that falls short as a statement of discipleship and rewrite it as an affirmation of solidarity with immigrants?

The revision couldn’t be more timely: According to a 2018 survey, only 25 percent of white evangelical Protestants say the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees. We need an Immigrant’s Creed.

And we need Voices Together, which will include new works by Anabaptist writers and composers in a collection of words and music spanning from the era of the early church to the 21st century.

The best worship experiences make tradition fresh as we rediscover the Ancient of Days whose mercies are new every morning. The Immigrant’s Creed does this, and there are many more examples to look forward to.


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