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.
There are other erroneous statements in that post by my friend, but this one is one of the most repeated and baseless claims. This is not the function of the Creeds, nor was it the tool of anyone in the early Church. I’d argue it wasn’t a tool in the medieval Church either.
The earliest creeds were used before Scripture was settled as a way to test, instruct, and build the Church. Further, the creeds and baptismal formulas were the simplest expression of the Christian faith. Simply, put… Christians were to believe in God, Jesus, and just a few other things. Nothing about Creation, except God is Creator. Nothing about Jesus, except the rudimentary story. Jesus was born of Mary, crucified, died, buried and rose again. This is best seen in Tertullian. He develops it, but he was an outcast as well.
This is not to say the earliest Church did not believe in the deity of Jesus. That’s another post.
Everything is used by those in power to dominate someone else. That doesn’t mean we have to see the object by its use. This is the same thing I encounter when I speak about Scripture. Many have given up on it.
As one commenter recently said… written by men, translated by men, studied by men. Or, its a fairy tale. Or it condones slavery. Or a host of other things SCripture was used for.
Christogram (labarum) with Jesus Prayer in Romanian. Jesus Prayer in Romanian Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, Fiul lui Dumnezeu, miluieste-ma pe mine pacatosul. English translation Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. This image appears on the cover of all editions of Romanian translation of Philokalia Français : Christogramme entouré de la Prière de Jésus en roumain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Allan “I’ll be a Duke fan regardless of how awful they are until the day I die” Bevere points out another blogger’s post regarding the theological showdown in the Fourth Century. I’m just going to meme this and say it happened not just in the Fourth Century, but in 343 in the city of Sophia, Bulgaria, formerly known as Serdica. This council was called to remedy the continued war between those who were supporting a more reconciling station with Arius (the East) and those who sought to maintain the Apostolic tradition as handed down by the only begotten, but not made Son of God (the West).
Athanasius and Marcellus of Ancyra stood there, accused of blasphemy, murder, and treason. The Bishop of Rome, Julius I, defended them through his representatives. After all, he had shield them for some time now. But the Eastern bishops, being the sniveling little sots and sons of Arius that they were, refused to allow these two mighty men of God to take their place rightfully as Bishops, even though they were recognized and sponsored by the Pope. The Eastern bishops soon abandoned the council as they would abandon God the Father and the God the Son, to separate them as if one was lesser than the other. The Western Bishops attended to their duty and established a most forthright and beautiful creed, it was, to unite the one true Church. It reads:
We declare those men excommunicate from the Catholic Church who say that Christ is God, but not the true God; that He is the Son, but not the true Son; and that He is both begotten and made; for such persons acknowledge that they understand by the term ‘begotten,’ that which has been made; and because, although the Son of God existed before all ages, they attribute to Him, who exists not in time but before all time, a beginning and an end. Valens and Ursacius have, like two vipers brought forth by an asp, proceeded from the Arian heresy. For they boastingly declare themselves to be undoubted Christians, and yet affirm that the Word and the Holy Ghost were both crucified and slain, and that they died and rose again; and they pertinaciously maintain, like the heretics, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are of diverse and distinct essences. We have been taught, and we hold the catholic and apostolic tradition and faith and confession which teach, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost have one essence, which is termed substance by the heretics. If it is asked, ‘What is the essence of the Son?’ we confess, that it is that which is acknowledged to be that of the Father alone; for the Father has never been, nor could ever be, without the Son, nor the Son without the Father. It is most absurd to affirm that the Father ever existed without the Son, for that this could never be so has been testified by the Son Himself, who said, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in Me;’ and ‘I and My Father are one.’ None of us denies that He was begotten; but we say that He was begotten before all things, whether visible or invisible; and that He is the Creator of archangels and angels, and of the world, and of the human race. It is written, ‘Wisdom which is the worker of all things taught me,’ and again, ‘All things were made by Him.’ He could not have existed always if He had had a beginning, for the everlasting Word has no beginning, and God will never have an end. We do not say that the Father is Son, nor that the Son is Father; but that the Father is Father, and the Son of the Father Son. We confess that the Son is Power of the Father. We confess that the Word is Word of God the Father, and that beside Him there is no other. We believe the Word to be the true God, and Wisdom and Power. We affirm that He is truly the Son, yet not in the way in which others are said to be sons: for they are either gods by reason of their regeneration, or are called sons of God on account of their merit, and not on account of their being of one essence, as is the case with the Father and the Son. We confess an Only-begotten and a Firstborn; but that the Word is only-begotten, who ever was and is in the Father. We use the word firstborn with respect to His human nature. But He is superior (to man) in the new creation (of the Resurrection), inasmuch as He is the Firstborn from the dead. We confess that God is; we confess the divinity of the Father and of the Son to be one. No one denies that the Father is greater than the Son: not on account of another essence, nor yet on account of their difference, but simply from the very name of the Father being greater than that of the Son. The words uttered by our Lord, ‘I and My Father are one,’ are by those men explained as referring to the concord and harmony which prevail between the Father and the Son; but this is a blasphemous and perverse interpretation. We, as Catholics, unanimously condemned this foolish and lamentable opinion: for just as mortal men on a difference having arisen between them quarrel and afterwards are reconciled, so do such interpreters say that disputes and dissension are liable to arise between God the Father Almighty and His Son; a supposition which is altogether absurd and untenable. But we believe and maintain that those holy words, ‘I and My Father are one,’ point out the oneness of essence which is one and the same in the Father and in the Son. We also believe that the Son reigns with the Father, that His reign has neither beginning nor end, and that it is not bounded by time, nor can ever cease: for that which always exists never begins to be, and can never cease. We believe in and we receive the Holy Ghost the Comforter, whom the Lord both promised and sent. We believe in It as sent. It was not the Holy Ghost who suffered, but the manhood with which He clothed Himself; which He took from the Virgin Mary, which being man was capable of suffering; for man is mortal, whereas God is immortal. We believe that on the third day He rose, the man in God, not God in the man; and that He brought as a gift to His Father the manhood which He had delivered from sin and corruption. We believe that, at a meet and fixed time, He Himself will judge all men and all their deeds. So great is the ignorance and mental darkness of those whom we have mentioned, that they are unable to see the light of truth. They cannot comprehend the meaning of the words: ‘that they may be one in us.’ It is obvious why the word ‘one’ was used; it was because the apostles received the Holy Spirit of God, and yet there were none amongst them who were the Spirit, neither was there any one of them who was Word, Wisdom, Power, or Only-begotten. ‘As Thou,’ He said, ‘and I are one, that they, may be one in us.’ These holy words, ‘that they may be one in us,’ are strictly accurate: for the Lord did not say, ‘one in the same way that I and the Father are one,’ but He said, ‘that the disciples, being knit together and united, may be one in faith and in confession, and so in the grace and piety of God the Father, and by the indulgence and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, may be able to become one.’
No doubt, Marcellus himself, the sainted man of God and loyal soldier of Christ, drafted most of this himself. Blessed be he.
If you remember, from a long time ago… I have a deep admiration for Marcellus of Ancrya. He was a fighter for Western Christology, something later corrupted, as everything usually is, by the East. Plus, he believed in a type of universal reconciliation, but then again, in those days, who didn’t, right? In his defense of the proper terminology in defining the relationship between the Father and the Son, and oddly enough, he insisted only on Scriptural terminology.
Anyway… as I was praying with the Apostle’s Creed this morning, I prayed the United Methodist version, but honestly, it was missing Marcellus’ key phrase which is preserved in the Roman Missal:
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen
Sure, Marcellus is really the cause of the East-West split, and yes, he is eternally trashed in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, but in the Apostle’s Creed, for many, many Christians, Marcellus wins…
I’m a big fan of the Nicene Creed (technically the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 for the sticklers), and I have found a great deal of value in reflecting on what it does and doesn’t say. I especially value the creed because it facilitates the intersection of two important parts of my life….
my interest in the development of Christian theology through history. That said, there is something that has been bugging me about the creed lately. When reading it, we essentially get only a list of facts about the Father, Son, and Spirit.
…..I must firmly insist that all that we know about God is firmly entrenched in a narrative, but how well does the creed place God within that narrative?
See the previous post. Also, do you see Arianism in the modern Church?
Arianism, long latent even before it had a name given to it by a man born long after the heresy developed, erupted in Alexandria at the start of the State Church due to a dispute between Alexander, Bishop of that city, and the conservative Arius[i], one of his presbyters. Erupting over a contested passage[ii], the contest soon spread throughout Egypt and into the Levant, roundly dividing the priests and bishops into the two camps, although those two camps were not as neatly defined as their leaders who have us believe. While Arius and his most ardent followers most likely aligned symmetrically, as were Alexander and his, the tiered supporters did have disagreements amongst themselves. Each had their theologians, with Arius, a poor theologian, defended by Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Nicomedia, joined by the lapsed Narcissus of Neronias and Alexander supported immediately by Athanasius who would later be accompanied into exile by Marcellus of Ancyra. Letters, documents and position papers were produced, leading to excommunications and eventually, an Imperial call for a council.
In 325, Constantine summoned hundreds of bishops, but only a fraction attended, and nearly all of them from the East. It was to decide, for all time, the position of the Church. After heated disputes[iii], a Creed was introduced by Eusebius and without little change, was accepted as a middle ground to both sides. This Creed was roundly supported by Marcellus of Ancyra and others because of the inclusion of the word ὁμοούσιον (consubstantiálem, Lat.) tying Christ to the same substance as the Father, directly refuting, at least in the majority opinion, the notion that Christ is a creature, made by the Father. The Creed of 325 differed greatly from the Creed of 381 which developed, although with the fight over of the completion enjoyed by the Son, the formula of the Spirit. Further, with its focus on more of the ontological nature of Christ, the Creed of 381 tried to forever put to rest the heresy that there was a time in which the Son was not.
Arianism’s problem for Christianity resides in the question of Incarnation and Atonement. If Christ was a created being, and although higher than the angels, could salvation be affected? Christ, as orthodoxy considered Him, was God in the Flesh, which was necessary, via developed theology, to bring about Salvation because in the Atonement, Christ through His divinity accomplished the ultimate sacrifice. As Melito of Sardis would say, God died; or as Athanasius would say, God became human so that humanity could become divine. It diluted the deity of Christ to a high and perfect creature, but a creature none the less. And if the blood of bulls and goats did nothing, how could another mere creature, regardless of his own divine status? Arius, while attempting to drive the Church away from polytheism which he perceived in Alexander’s speech, drove the Church into the ancient heresies of Ebionism and in some small way, Gnosticism.
[i] So is the argument by Rowam Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book, Arius: Heresy and Tradition, Eerdmans,
[ii] I would venture that it was Proverbs 8, in which Wisdom (Christ) is said to be created, although most likely Arius was using the LXX. Constantine in his letter to Alexander would write, When you, Alexander, demanded of the priests what opinion they each maintained respecting a certain passage in Scripture, or rather, I should say, that you asked them something connected with an unprofitable question. See Constantine to Alexander and Arius, 6
[iii] One of my favorite stories is that of Bishop Nicolas (St. Nicholas) who upon hearing Arius’ full treatment walked over to the heretic and with as much strength as he could muster, punched Arius – in front of the Emperor, no less!
The Apostle’s Creed is a favorite of mine, so too the topic of translation. While we sit and debate the proper method of biblical translation, I think that an example such as this should enter into our conversation. How would you translate something so simple as the Apostle’s Creed into a foreign culture so as to make it compatible with their mind? The following was translated for the Maasai people in East Africa.
We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High Go
d in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe.
So, how does this translate into the topic of bible translation? I think that cultural and local experience plays a part in biblical translation, dispelling the notion that a word for word translation (which is hardly completely possible) is always needed or preferred. If the point of translation is to get the audience to understand what is being said, we need to open up a little on those translation styles.
In discussing Methodist theology with my wife, we were talking about the nature of the Godhead and how the Methodists (more specifically, the United Methodists) might view non-Trinitarians. This subject came up because we were discussing the theological diversity found in the Methodist church, especially since I have ran into a self-pronounced Oneness-Methodist.
Beyond that, though, is the various Methodist creeds, namely that of the Korean Methodist,
We believe in the one God,
creator and sustainer of all things, Father of all nations,
the source of all goodness and beauty, all truth and love.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
God manifest in the flesh,
our teacher, example, and Redeemer, the Savior of the world.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength.
We believe in the forgiveness of sins,
in the life of love and prayer,
and in grace equal to every need.
We believe in the Word of God
contained in the Old and New Testaments
as the sufficient rule both of faith and of practice.
We believe in the church,
those who are united in the living Lord
for the purpose of worship and service.
We believe in the reign of God
as the divine will realized in human society,
and in the family of God,
where we are all brothers and sisters.