Monday, May 22, 2006

I believe in creeds

Yes. I believe in creeds. Sunday morning on Speaking of Faith, there was a fascinating (to me) interview with the recently deceased Jaroslav Pelikan.

I was raised in and remain a part of the evangelical "low church" tradition. But one that increasingly does respect (at least in theory, even if not much in practice) traditions of our "high church" brothers and sisters.

Reciting the creeds, I think can be helpful. The Church, through the early centuries formulated creeds as expressing the heart of the faith of Christians in their place and time. They were hammered out with reference to heresies, such as the Gnostic and Arian heresies. Forms of these heresies, along with others the Church addressed, continue to arise. So these creeds continue to express the heart of our faith in a way that speaks against abberations claiming to represent the true faith. The formulation of the creeds was a part of the Church fulfilling our call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God's people (Jude).

Creeds are human attempts to express truth from Scripture on crucial matters, that matter as to salvation and orthodoxy (correct/right belief). Heresy, earlier from a New Testament Greek word simply meaning "schism" or what we might call today cliques (or maybe sects) among true believers, came to mean departures from the faith, so that the result is to no longer to be in the faith. Yet claiming to be Christian. In this sense Jews are not heretics. Whereas anyone or group denying Jesus' resurrection, while calling themselves Christian, would be classified heretical.

Here is the Nicence Creed, one of the early creeds of Christianity still believed in by Protestants, Anabaptists, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, to this day:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Pelikan's 2003 interview with Krista Tippet is fascinating in his profound understanding of the creeds and their place. Also, to learn of creeds continuing to be made (as in Africa), to express the same faith in a different place was also interesting.

God, Thank you for enabling your people to have discernment by the Spirit and Scripture, to see what is true, and thus distinguish it from the false. Let us be those who can express the heart of our faith, and above all, let us be those who live out that faith, in all of life. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, and is, and ever will be, world without end. Amen.


DLW said...

I like the Nicene and Vincentian Creed together as a statement of my beliefs, though I think the latter properly does not specify exactly what is essential for all Christians to hold to.

I also tend to believe that it is personal submission to one's knowledge of God rather than knowledge about God that saves us. I tend to view wrong understandings about God or heresy as more important for missiological then soteriological reasons, with how we deal with heresy ecclesiologically also important for missiological reasons....


Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for your good thoughts here. Your point about submitting to the truth, not just knowing it, is great here.

I think I know what you're getting at on the heresy issue, and am short on time at the moment.

Heresy is important missiologically precisely because it will mean a false gospel, and therefore, not the truth in Jesus, that sets people free.

Thanks for weighing in (I'll have to check out the Vincentian creed).

DLW said...

I agree that it is only the truth that sets us free.

I also think 1 Tim 1:3-5 indicates that Paul associated false doctrine with what produces controversies rather than God's work.

This seems to mandate an irenic spirit that makes the fruits of any reformulations the key test of their faithfulness.


Desert Pilgrim said...

Great post in the Creeds. As I gather with the brothers and sisters of our local community and speak forth the Nicene Creed as a corporate expression, I always sense being part of the preserving of the "faith once delivered unto the Saints". This is also my experience in corporately praying the "Our Father" together. I believe this type of corporate expression has been passed down to us from the early church and is part of God's plan in assuring that the gates of hell will not prevail against us.
Desert Pilgrim~

Ted Gossard said...


I think you have a great point here. Controversy ("controversial specualtions" TNIV) is contrasted to "God's work" in that passage.

I am a believer in an irenic (peace loving and peacemaking- for a fruit of righteousness) spirit. For the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal) and love described (1 Cor 13) seem to resonate with this point.

But there is a time to call a heretic a heretic. We ought to do so with holy fear and sorrow. Not with any kind of a superior or triumphalist air (for lack of a better thought).


Ted Gossard said...

Desert Pilgrim,

Thanks so much for sharing something of your experience and thoughts from your participation in your worship community.

I look forward to growing in this same participation in the Spirit together with all of the mystical Body of Christ and with brothers and sisters present with us.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is heresy and a biblical mandate for preventing it to be taught as authoritative doctrine.

I believe heretics are in danger of misleading themselves and others so that some will lose their salvation. But I think when we align a belief in a specific heresy automatically with loss of salvation that it reintroduces a works-righteousness where right beliefs about God is necessary for salvation. This is what has led to Creedal orthodoxy and the use of violence to force people to believe, since the prevention of their eternal damnation justified the use of violence. It also generally makes theological dialogue mean-spirited as it implies that either you or your opponent are going to hell and tends to make one unwilling to interact with new ideas like those that come from missions work.


Ted Gossard said...


I agree that just because one doesn't line up with the creeds entirely, doesn't mean they're not a child of God. Some heresies were/are less serious than others. And some, called heretics by the Church, are in more eternal danger than others.

I agree that the violence in deed and word coming from the Church toward perceived heretics, is destructive in an ungodly kind of way, and not justified (they were mistaken, acting on what they thought was right; though we can't say that for all that has been done, sadly). But biblical writers didn't mince words with heresies or with reference to heretics, nor should we. Yet we should do so, not in a quarrelsome manner, but with with gentle instruction, though there are times for rebuking sharply (Titus) (pastoral letters).

I'm not sure I'd put works righteousness down where you do, though the way you state your thought is good. Faith is important as to its object. If it is a true trust in Jesus, the Spirit will help one come to understand truth about Jesus that is essential- in time. Those who depart and hold to something else, for example, something less than either Jesus' complete Deity (that he is God) or complete humanity need correction. Of course, for many, their faith may not be something they can express in these ways. Many today seem to hold to Jesus' Deity and a seeming humanity (docetic). They need better instruction. Careful reading of Scripture can help here.

But Scripture teaches that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Therefore the Spirit has led the Church, imperfect though it is, to orthodox formulations in the writings, particularly of creeds like the Nicene. Of course these creeds were based on the reading of Scripture by the Church in response to the teachings called Christian that were taught and influential then.

My take on this, a big subject. Thanks for your thoughts.