Saint Augustine wrote a small book in 393 that I like to use as a reminder. The book, Faith and the Creed, was an address he gave to a plenary council of the African Church. In it, he exposits a combination of the Nicene and Romano-Milanese creeds. As you would expect from Augustine, the entire short book is good. Yet, I especially like the introduction, where Augustine explains the use of the creed and the importance of its defense. He begins with its use.
But the Catholic Faith is made known to the faithful in the Creed, and is committed to memory, in as short a form as so great a matter permits. In this way for beginners and sucklings, who have been reborn in Christ but have not yet been strengthened by diligent and spiritual study and understanding of the divine Scriptures, there has been drawn up in few words a formula they must accept in faith, setting forth what would have to be expounded in many words to those who are making progress and are raising themselves up to attain the divine doctrine in the assured strength of humility and charity.
The Bible is a big book and theology is an expansive discipline; there is much to learn. The creed serves as an orientation to the Christian faith for those who are new to it. But also, the creed is a reminder for those Christians who have dug deeper into the Scriptures and have lived in the faith long enough to have experienced the conundrums of discipleship, which often engender doubts. Be sure, doubts will arise. Not just because faith includes disheartening mysteries, but also because there exist people who do not believe the Christian faith and who are not content that others should. This is why Augustine makes a case for exposition.
But the exposition of the Faith serves to fortify the Creed, not that it is given to be committed to memory or repeated instead of the Creed by those who obtain the grace of God. But it guards the things contained in the Creed against the wiles of heretics with full Catholic authority and with a stronger defense.
In a word, all Christians need to remember the basics of faith and also we need individuals who will expound the complexities of faith. Few of us would feel comfortable categorizing ourselves alongside the likes of Augustine, one of the great expositors and defenders of Christianity. But, neither with false humility should many of us claim only to be sucklings. The majority of us are in between.
It helps for me to remember this: I am not new to Christianity, though others are and they need the example of my continued affirmation of the faith that they are just beginning to learn. Neither am I a great defender of the faith, though others are and they need the example of my continued affirmation of the faith that they labor so hard to defend.
Those expositors of the Christian faith have been on my mind and heart recently. They are the Christians who get beat up by antagonists, and even by their own hearts and minds. Too often, they also get thrashed about by in-between Christians like me. They choose to wrestle with mysteries and doubts in an effort to give me comfort and assurance. I would not understand the smallest imprint of the depths they explore. And, if I followed them all the way down to those depths, my faith would be rattled to its core. Why am I so quick to accuse these expositors? They begin to dig in search of diamonds deep, but as soon as they hit clay, I chide, “Ah ha! I knew you were going to smear the faith.”
In reality, defending the faith requires getting messy. Often confidence comes only after washing off the caked-on grime accumulated from burrowing for jewels of truth. Are there ways, I wonder, for in-between Christians like me to help expositors clean up after a particularly hard dig? I cannot say I know the best way to help, though I suspect it might involve getting a little dirty, too.
Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.