Source: Deal Or No Deal? Creed Or No Creed? – QuakerQuaker.
“Friends have no creeds.” We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.
Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.
The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds. I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.
I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before. The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.
Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.
I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.
One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.
This is a continuation of the previous post about heresy and why it has contaminated the church. We all have our opinions of what God wants us to do and believe and we are for the most part not at all tolerant of those who might think differently than we do. It seems when someone has the inherent power to do something about those who disagree with they usually deemed their opponent a heretic and then drive them from their midst. In the post-Constantine age over 25,000 were murdered for not totally aligning with the then current church leader.
I must make it clear that heresy is by no means limited to the pre-Reformation times. Our Protestant brothers and sister have become very good at it. They might not any longer be executing those who they proclaim heretics but they have become very proficient at shunning and dividing when they can’t agree. 39,000 versions of Jesus Christ! Shame on us for fracturing so easily about man-made beliefs. I believe that our fracturing is one of the primary causes for the current church implosion. We as believers are somehow supposed to pick the one true church and then go about shunning all the rest. How can a new Christian even begin maneuver through that terrain?
Jesus clearly told us he wants us to be one just as he and the father are one. What happened? I will be studying that in the coming weeks and report more info then. One of my primary sources for this info is a new book I recently encountered entitled The Fractured Church by Bill Sizemore. It will be interesting to see more info about how we have become so fractured. One interesting question this book presents is will Jesus come to us while we are so fractured or will he do something to bring us back together before his appearance? A question that deserve some time to study and contemplate.
My initial thoughts on the effect of heresy in the church is that it has done almost irreparable damage to the church of Jesus. We have become so stiff-necked in our beliefs that we just can’t tolerate anything representing the diversity that were so common in the early Christians. I truly believe that what makes the United States a world leader is our diversity. We are almost totally the results of immigrants. Likewise the Christian church could become a leader in world spiritual rejuvenation if we simply celebrated diversity in our midst instead of prosecuting it.
Am I saying that there are no reasons that would justify fracturing the church? I am absolutely not saying that! But what I am saying is that it is insane to believe that there are 39,000 reasons to fracture.
The Emergent church movement that I am hanging so much hope on sees this in a completely different light. They deem diversity in thought as a plus. Here is what Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church says about that:
They (the emergent church) value open and inclusive approaches to Christianity and are less interested in having all the answers than in living the questions. Emergents wish to participate in communities of faith that take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Emergents believe that following Jesus isn’t just about getting to heaven when they die, but is about partnering with God to bring heaven to earth in the here and now.
My study of the early church leaders is to show that there was much diversity in the early church that was later driven out. Many, if not most of the “church fathers” believed things that are now considered heretical. Ignatius was certainly no exception.
Ignatius and Irenaeus had definite ideas of how the young Christian congregations should be governed. Both authoritarians, they were hardly advocates of participatory democracy. Still, they respected the remarkable diversity of the churches and did not try to enforce any standardization. — The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)
As indicated by the above quote for The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox, Ignatius was a contemporary of Irenaeus. Even though they were powerful men in the early church they did not get into micro-managing the various congregations they were involved with. Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch after Saint Peter and St. Evodius. There are seven letters, commonly known as epistles today, attributed to him. One of his major beliefs was the value of the Eucharist He called it a “medicine of immortality”. He, strangely to us today, had very strong desire for bloody martyrdom in the arena. He I expresses rather graphically in places.
An examination of his theology of salvation, technically called soteriology, shows that he regarded salvation as one being free from the powerful fear of death and thus to bravely face martyrdom. The idea of original sin was not part of his agenda for salvation but instead was to free us of our personal sins committed in our lifetime.
One of the interesting things about Ignatius is that there is now swirling doubt as to the authenticity of the seven letters attributed to him. Some evidence seems to point to one person who later modified the content to meet his view of theology. Without being able to find much about Ignatius I will leave the quote in The Future of Faith of respecting the diversity of the church as the main focus of this post.
Next time I will be starting to relay stories of the early church. Up front I want to make sure you understand that this journey into the history of the church and how we got here will be a mosaic rather than a timeline approach. It will also likely be a “people’s history type account. That is it will where possible be based on accounts of the common people rather than the primary leaders of the time.
It will be a mosaic instead of a timeline. In each post I will give you a small piece of the history that may not necessarily be connected to the previous piece but is an important part of the overall study. It is just too boring, at least for me, to just give the details of each succeeding year. When we are finished I think we will have a pretty complete picture of the whole story at least as I can humbly tell it.
I am really excited to get this underway. Sorry for all this preliminary stuff but I want you to understand the method to my madness so to speak. 😉 Please let me know if during this process there are any pieces of the mosaic that you think I should cover. I would love to add them to the ideas list for future study and posts.
Finally, I don’t want to you think that I am only going to cover where the church got it wrong. I will also be giving pieces where they got it right indeed. I also don’t want you to think that I believe that there was some sort of conspiracy involved to take the church away from Jesus Christ. I truly believe that most, but probably not all, of the church’s history makers had for the most part a pure heart in the words and practices they might have initiated. But, we must also recognize the corrupting influence of power in us human beings. I’m sure most of the people who helped form the current version of the church thought that the ideas they presented were inspirations from God even if some weren’t.
To further illustrate the idea of a mosaic telling a story here is a picture I took on a recent trip to the Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio. It is made up of thousands of other pictures. I hope my mosaic is as clear as this one when it is finally finished. 🙂
Ok, so next time I will finally be putting in the first piece of the mosaic in place. I can’t wait to give you all of the pieces I have discovered to date. But I have many more to yet be fabricated. I pray you will learn as much from this study as I have and will.
Until then I bid you peace…..