Monday, August 14, 2006

More on the Creeds

Over on jesuscreed, I posted the following comment and wanted to share it here. Two of the men whose responses I mostly appreciated asserted that we should both assent to the creeds and have Christian practice if we were to be considered Christians. My question throughout has been "Of what benefit is it to define who is a Christian and who is not by using the creeds?" Can't a person's self-identification as Christian combined with practice that is modeled after the teachings of Christ be the means by which we are known as Christians? Can't creeds and belief statements simply offer us a way to understand our history and some of the debates without turning them into requirements for participation in Christian community?

So here's what I shared earlier today:

...Jesus also talks of the wheat and tares growing up together until the end of the age, not weeding them out prematurely.

I think what I am trying to wrap my brain around is the need to define what constitutes a “true” believer. What is gained by defining it? What is lost?

______ says that some people calling themselves Christians might be following Jesus as moral exemplar rather than assenting to his death and resurrection. My question is: why is that a problem? (for the church) Why must we draw a circle around the one and say “in” and make sure the other is “out”?

In other words, it is one thing to have the creeds as an expression of faith that many assent to and find meaningful. But I don’t see how they enhance or alter a person’s faithfulness to Christ, if a person is choosing to follow and live a Christian commitment.

Meanwhile, there are those who love God and follow Jesus who don’t see the meanings in the creeds that others see and suddenly those same Christians are challenged, excluded, insulted or labeled heretics. To what end?

None of this seemed to concern Jesus at all. He never writes a creed, never questions people’s beliefs as admittance to his inner circle.

If we look at Paul, his emphasis on the death and resurrection in his letters were as much an overflowing joy of discovery and encounter, describing them as the source of his powerful conversion and joy at forgiveness and grace, as they are anything near creedal requirements for Christian commitment. Why would we not simply offer the creeds as historical signposts for deep consideration and contemplation for all who are wanting to follow Jesus rather than as litmus tests for “true belief”?

Is it not possible that we are and always will be encountering these ideas in an ongoing process of discovery and responsiveness? If we make them a test for inclusion in Christianity, we stunt the process of inquiry and honesty related to the propositions. We assume that we are static creatures who never change our thinking or encounter ideas in new ways as we mature and change. And we assume God can’t handle those changes.

Otoh, if we feature the creeds prominently as a part of our collective history, we give each Christian the chance to explore and investigate the claims without fear of losing our relationships within the community or our cherished identity.

Statements of Faith and creeds (as dogmatic assertions, not as indicators of Christian historical self-definition and dialog) can act as weapons. Additionally, they can cause internal dishonesty when one has to choose between what she actually believes and what she is required to accept in order to participate in Christian community.

Christian practice, love for Jesus Christ and self-identification as a Christian leave room for everyone who claims Christ to discover and inquire together, working out the faith in community… much as was modeled in the communities represented in Paul’s letters.

At least, that’s how it looks to me today. :)



Dave said...

It seems to me that the creed proponents have consciously or unconsciously integrated the idea that the church needs a definitive and externally audited set of criteria in order to determine who its members in good standing actually are. This looks mostly like an institutional control method, which has its advantages of course but it gets tricky when we start connecting our assessments to what God actually says or thinks or judges regarding the people that get listed as "in" or "out."

I think you ask good questions. The creeds are an interesting and potentially valuable object of study and contemplation but it does seem to me that priorities are misaligned when they become yardsticks or get used to try and return contemporary Christian practice to something resembling the abusive and punitive methods that the church employed in ages past.

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I don't have too much to add since your'e post expresses my sentiments on the subject. Nice job. I checked out the Jesus Creed blog but couldn't find this particular post. Perhaps it is sandwiched somewhere in the 100 plus myriad of responses. I wish I had more time/ energy to interact but I currently just don't have it in me to jump into the middle of the fray, but I wish you the best. Your'e doing a great job. Keep up the good work and although I don't have the motivation anymore to mix it up like I used to I do enjoy reading your'e responses and attempts to engage the folks over at Jesus Creed....

Ann V. said...

Hi Julie...
I appreciated reading your perspective over at JesusCreed. While our viewpoints may differ, I value your voice in the community. A different perspective is integral to understanding.
I hope you will continue to share.
The Lord be with you...
Ann V.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I think a creed, which I am used to in my denomination, is a summation of the basic beliefs of a church. I wouldn't say that saying a creed (believing a creed) makes a person a Christian, because that is ultimately God's call.

A person could compare the creed that the church uses to what it actually preaches. Is that church in line with the historic beliefs of Christianity?

I've noticed that some "famous" preachers are independent rather than belonging to a denomination. So then, what is their faith statement? Why reinvent the wheel? How does this preacher's words compare with the historic understanding of God?

What about when a person is down in the dumps, ie isn't feeling particularly "faith-full" or worthy? A person can recite the creed as a reminder of who God is and what God has done, and the person can remember that it isn't our feelings that save us, but rather, it is God's work that saves us.

samskeptic said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
samskeptic said...

I think that the fundamental problem is that the identifier "Christian" is so vague that it is practically useless in communicating anything about anyone's particular beliefs about the world. For example, in the past year I have ceased to believe all the supernatural claims made by the Bible. Yet I still find certain aspects of Christian teaching to be helpful. Am I a Christian? I think that any church that I might seek to join has every right to probe deeper to find out exactly what I mean if I say I am a Christian (imagine me teaching Sunday School and teaching little evangelical kids that Jesus was not actually God!). In this sense creeds are helpful, for they are useful summaries of positions that Christians have taken on matters of faith throughout the ages.

Creeds also serve to help groups (such as churches) operate more effectively. If everyone in a church knows that the other members are on the same page, with the same basic beliefs about the world, then that church can spend more time living its mission and less dealing with dissention in the ranks (witness what is happening with the Episcopal church).