Ditch the Creed?

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There is a solid discussion ongoing among some internet-UMCers.

Rev. Jeremy Smith seems to think so and attempts to make the case with an essay that summarizes a longer sermon preached by Dr. Raymond E. Balcomb, a former pastor of First Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon. The post is a follow-up to another creed-critical post from about a year ago that came in response a tweet in which I quoted Tom Noble on the importance of the Creeds for the people called Methodist. You can read my response to Jeremy’s earlier post here.

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: Do We Need the Creed? In Dialogue with @umjeremy #UMC.

This is my pondering as of late.

  1. The Development of a creed (beginning with the rule of faith) predates the Canon.
  2. The various creeds have helped to solidify Christianity around a central tenet, that Jesus Christ is God the Son.
  3. The creeds are based in Scripture

Because of this, I consider the Creed as part of Scripture. It is canonical. It is canon.

There, I said it. I cannot see a Church without a Creed.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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24 thoughts on “Ditch the Creed?

  1. I have had problems with the Creed every since I did a course on Early Church as part of my first degree. In the first place, I can’t escape the suspicion that the Council of Nicea was a political put-up, to isolate Arius (whom they had not understood) because Constantine wanted everyone singing from the same hymnsheet. In the second place, the whole life and ministry of Jesus is relegated to the gap between “…became incarnate of the Virgin Mary…” and “…suffered under Pontius Pilate…” In the third place, I can’t escape the feeling that the Fathers in translating everything into a Greek philosophical world-view have missed a lot of the Semitic world of Jesus and his Hebrew-thinking forebears. I wouldn’t want to ditch the Creed altogether, but is certainly not the only way of summarising the faith. I use it when necessary, as a statement which can be shared by Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Non-Chalcedonian, thereby symbolising the whole Church in its various branches. But as a personal statement – no, thanks. I prefer the credal formula offered by David Jenkins when he was Bishop of Durham (not bad for an evangelical Methodist, affirming one of the the most notoriously liberal Anglicans of the 20th C!): “God is. He is as he is in Jesus. Therefore there is hope.” Oh, yes…

  2. Having only attended a few Methodist church services, I have not noticed an obsession with creeds. They seem to be rather Lucy-Goosey (a technical term), with creeds. Which is a good thing. Or am I going to be disappointed in the future, and get them jammed down my throat?

  3. The claim is that

    The Summary of the Law is not based on Scripture, but is literal Scripture. It predates the Canonization process and the Creed.
    The Creed was not originally formed for regular worship, but was formed for occasional rites of worship.
    John Wesley removed the Articles of Religion that mandated the use of the Creed. By your reasoning, he thus did not create a Church.

    Thanks for the engagement on this topic, Joel!

    • Your comment field stripped out the bullet points for some reason. Let me write it a different way:

      First, you claim the development of the Creed predated the Canon and is based on Scripture. Correct. However, the proposed alternative “Summary of the Law” is not based on Scripture, but is literally Scripture. It predates the Canonization process and the Creed.

      Second, the claim of the blog post is that the Creed was not originally formed for regular worship, but was formed for occasional rites of worship.

      Third, John Wesley removed the Articles of Religion that mandated the use of the Creed (though he recommended it in his outline of Sunday worship). By your reasoning of “I cannot see a Church without a Creed,” he thus did not create a Church that mandated the Creed.

      I hope the above is more clear now that it is written in narrative form.

      • But, I’m going to have to argue that the Creed predates canonization of Scripture. We know that a creed predated some of Paul’s writings (before Scripture).

        Still not sure about your second point.

        Your 3rd point… The Creed (big C) helped to organize the Church (big C). I am not speaking about the UMC, but about the Church universal. Would Wesley have said he began a Church?

        • What creed predated Paul’s writings or the Gospels? Like before 100 CE? I’m honestly curious.

          I accept your clarification: Big C Creed helped organize Big C Church. That’s fine, and the Church of England/Methodism strand is well within the creedal tradition. I just wish Wesley wrote down why he stripped the Articles of Religion of that requirement.

  4. As Dr. Darrell Bock said in a discussion about the development of the Canon, the songs, sermons and episodes of Jesus’ life were clearly circulating around the early apostolic church, with a clear cut narrative emerging with less than five years. 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 is representative of this fact

    James the Apostle’s letter is the earliest, with at least one dozen parallels between James’ teachings and Jesus’ teachings in the canonical Gospels.

    Formally speaking, the Spirit’s work of divine inspiration was an out working of the seeds of truth coming forth from the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Pentecost demonstrates that Jesus ‘ promises and mission succeeded. Thus on a formal and ultimately material sense, the scriptures birthed the church in so far as the Spirit birthed it forth by ways of the fulfillment of the Old Covenant scriptures and in anticipation of the New Covenant scriptures.

    Clearly the apostolic scriptures, as first order, Spirit inspired texts, did indeed prompt the church to articulate the later creeds. As much as I respect the ecumenical creeds, I would not count them in the Canon for two reasons: the early fathers never deemed them as such and second, the canon is composed only of those books inspired by the Holy Spirit which were received and recognized as the collection of such books by God’s people in the first four centuries.

    • But, this is based on conjecture. The evangelical notion of inspiration is simply that, a notion. It is not found in Scripture and is supported by Statements created long, long after Scripture was written. I believe your statement about the birthing process is more than wrong.

      Further, I’m not sure the Gospels are biographies as much as they are bios. 1 Co. 15.1-6 doesn’t really help your “fact” so much as to suggest Paul received a Tradition, recounted to him years after Christ which he is now recounting.

      As far as parallels, sure, but then again, the Gospels are much later than the authentic writings of Paul and James that the Gospels could be drawn from them, as scholars have suggested.

      Canon doesn’t equal inspiration. I would suggest you read William Abraham for canon and epistemology.

      It would appear you and I are going to severely disagree regarding the nature of inspiration and the process of canonization.

      • Dear Joel: How about this, why don’t I briefly give you my defintion of inspiration, canonization and brief understanding of N.T authorship, then you give me yours. Then lets see how “severe” our disagreement is.

        Inspiration: The unique grace given by the Holy Spirit to the authors of the Biblical books to produce, record and recollect God’s words and message in their own writing styles. Exodus 24:4; Job 23:12; Proverbs 30:4-5; Psalm 19:7-12; Luke 24:44; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16

        Canonization: The recognition, reception and arranging of each inspired prophetic and apostolic book by God’s people. We even see such effort being done before the end of the apostolic age (Luke 1:1; 2 Peter 3:16) and in the days of Joshua and various points throughout the Old Testament (Deut 31:26; 1 Sam 10:25; Ezra 7:6)

        Dating of New Testament documents: My question to you is: which scholars are you consulting? James is most likely the first, followed by Paul’s early epistles such as Galatians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians and so on. The Scholars I consult are men such as William Lane Craig; N.T Wright; Darrel Bock; R.C Sproul; D.A Carson; Daniel Wallace and others.

        The Gospels I would date as follows: Matthew no later than 60; Mark not later than 70; Luke no later than 65 and John no later than 95.

        You are right: Canon does not equal inspiration, being that God did not give an inspired directive as to how to arrange and order the books. Inspiration covers the writing of each Bible book, and is an extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. What follows: canonization, transmission and copying, translation and study, are all ordinary workings of the providence of the Spirit through the efforts of subsequent generations of the church.

        • Just by a brief glance, we stand pretty far apart.

          I will not get into a proof-texting match because it does nothing, on your end, but create a circular argument. For instance, you incorrectly use 2 Peter 1.21. The only verse you point too with any bearing on the conversation is 2 Tim. This is a word applying to the author of 2 Tim’s sacred books. I have to follow Betz and others and see a certain connection between the Pastorals and Plutarch, where we find a similar word to “theopneustos.” Simply, I believe this means it is human used by the divine. There is no “unique Grace,” etc…

          You misunderstand Luke 1.1. 2 Peter 3.16 does point to a Pauline corpus, but that’s about it – and this is long after the “apostolic age.” Further, the Deuteronomists weren’t really collecting books, so much as writing them with a certain theological/ideological agenda in mind, one countered by the Chronicler. Again, this is a circular argument.

          James may be first. I wouldn’t have an issue seeing 1 Thessalonians as first. You’ve listed a nice set of conservative scholars, that’s for sure.

          I’m afraid you’ve got the dating of the Gospels completely wrong. Mark post-73. Matthew post-80. Luke sometime after that. John, early 2nd century. The pastorals, late 1st century. 2 Peter may be the last book in our canon to have been written, nearing the early middle 2nd century.

          You are limit(ed/ing) in your understanding of Canon (and inspiration).

          • Well I can tell by your comments you follow after the documentary hypothesis and higher critical methodology and dating for the New Testament.

            Clearly we are going to differ substantially in the realm of higher criticism and the nature of the text itself. Its been a while since ive read anyone still holding to a second century date for John.

            I dont believe in ad hominem attacks, since it dishonors Christ and is not respecting you. Do understand though that the positions you hold to are not representative of how Jesus, the apostles and the vast bulk of Christendom and testimony of church history.

          • You don’t do ad hom but… “You hate Jesus.” Lovely.

            Yes, I do “follow” higher criticism because it makes sense can be somewhat proven. And no, as far as your last paragraph, I’m sorry, but you are flat out wrong. I could show you, but I suspect in the end you would accuse me, once again, of being unChristian. I pray you are able to, one day, see the limitations you have placed upon yourself.

          • The evangelical notion of inspiration is simply that, a notion. It is not found in Scripture…

            So, Joel, you now seem to admit that this notion is found in Scripture, at 2 Tim 3:16, but that you interpret the notion somewhat differently from most evangelicals, indeed from most lexicons.

          • No, Peter. I qualified at the evangelical notion of inspiration. I believe there is a notion of inspiration in Scripture, but it is not the evangelical type

          • To clarify, I am not defending inerrancy e.g. on matters of science and history, but inspiration, on matters of faith as explained in the rest of that verse.

          • Well, of course there is there are multiple evangelical ideas of inspiration, each of which may or may not be biblical, and there are various interpretations of the biblical idea, which may or may not be evangelical. I would of course claim that the idea which I hold is the true biblical one ;) and it is what some evangelicals hold (well, at least I do, and I still call myself evangelical), but others (e.g. Ken Ham) would certainly reject it. My idea is probably not the same as yours, but it may be closer to yours than to Ham’s.

          • Well, some evangelicals would condemn us both. Maybe all would take exception to your position. But many who call themselves evangelicals take a similar position to mine, even if they wouldn’t be acceptable to hardliners such as the Evangelical Theological Society. Please don’t make the Dawkins and Nye type mistake of assuming that all evangelicals are Ham type biblical literalists.

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