Thursday, January 28, 2016

Explaining the Creeds (and a bit about Coriolanus and the Republicans)

I spent a portion of the night reading Shakespeare's Coriolanus, in place of watching the debates, because the struggle around republicanism in that tragedy has compelling resonances with our current national politics. But I'm engaging Shakespeare slowly, so now a break.

In the break, I fielded a call tonight about the creeds. I think this may interest folks. First, we talked about how less compelling the creeds are to many of the Christians we know, ourselves included. This isn't to say there isn't content to our faith, but creedal Christianity seems strangely foreign. I still say the creeds, confess the creeds, believe the creeds, but they just lack a je ne sais quois.

As a Lutheran pastor I've had to know a bit about the creeds. They are the foundation of our confessions, central to our connection to Trinitarian theology. So what is the difference between the Nicene and Apostles' creeds? Well, you could say the Apostles' is liturgical, and the Nicene is conciliar. The Apostle's creed is a confession of faith, centered in the liturgy of baptism. We say it at baptisms. It's what you're supposed to believe as someone being baptized.

The Nicene creed is different, and was worked out and adopted by theologians and church leaders at an ecumenical council in Nicea in the patristic era of the church. It's we language, committing a community of people to a shared faith, and resolving disputed issues about the nature of God, the connection between Christ's death and resurrection and salvation, Christ's "natures," and more.

I mentioned in the phone conversation two things I think were left out of the creeds that I think would make them more compelling today. First, there's not much in the creeds at all about Christ's life, his ministry. It's all about his conception, death, and resurrection. It passes over what is so central to many of us contemporary Christians, his life. Second, there's nothing in the creeds about Israel. It skips straight from creator God to Jesus Christ. This is unfortunate, because it opens space for all kinds of Marcionite-like heresies disconnecting Jesus, the church, and Christian faith, from God's covenantal history with the people of Israel.

All of that being said, ultimately the creeds are confessed in order to witness to the unity Christians have not only through a meal, through baptism, through our love... but also through what they believe. Christianity does have noetic content. There are things to be believed, content to learn. That's not a bad thing. One working definition of a Christian is someone who can say, "Credo." And then keep going.

No comments:

Post a Comment