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. :)