the Creed in light of ecumenicism and academia

From Robert Jenson‘s, Canon and Creed:

At this ecumenically untoward moment, there are even renewed concerns about confessional identity. Since the creed and the Scriptures are shared by most of the separated churches, it is unlikely that they will greatly help, for example, the Lutherans discover why they are not Methodists. Scripture and creed are ecumenical possessions, and the churches are at the moment not very interested in the ecumene. Even the officially and thereby in its case permanently committed Roman Catholic Church currently manifests little actual interest in ecumenism at national or diocesan levels. And the mantra among Protestants is “What is the special contribution of our denomination?” “Contribution” sounds ecumenical, but one need not be overly cynical to suspect that the question actually seeks reasons for maintaining denominational distinctives. Neither canon nor creed will provide such reasons; indeed, the most that could be expected from either would be condemnation of the question.

In some academic and ecclesial circles, canon and creed are even assumed to be in competition for our loyalty. The Scripture is regarded as a deposit of ancient Israelite and early Christian “religion”; and the creeds are thought to be the result of later and alienating “philosophical” influences. Harnacks dictum that creedal doctrine is the result of the “hellenization of the gospel,” the latter to be found in a historical-critically edited New Testament, has been often and conclusively debunked, but continues to inhibit many scholarly consciences. Thus it is widely supposed that we can cling to Scripture or cling to church doctrine, or possibly to both in different contexts, but cannot cling to both with the same grasp. The biblical-studies establishment still greets proposals to read Scripture by the light of the creed with great suspicion, or indeed occasional outrage. And a proposal that the creed might be read by the light of Scripture may be met with mere wonderment at how the varied ancient documents collected as Scripture are supposed to help in the alien realm of currently effective church doctrine.1

  1.  Robert W. Jenson, Canon and Creed, Int; Accordance electronic ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 1-2. (if you have Accordance, click here)

was the Creed of 325 “new?”

No. A quick survey of pre-Dan Brown literature reveals that several rules of faith existed in the early 2nd century. These gave rise to the later synodal formulas that themselves later became our great Creeds.

Although the church is dispersed throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, it has received this common faith from the apostles and their disciples:

[We believe] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and the sea, and everything that is in them

And in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation

And in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed the [divine] dispensations through the prophets, including the advents, the birth from a virgin, the passion, the resurrection from the dead and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, as well as his [future] coming from heaven in the glory of the Father, when he will “gather all things in one.”

And to raise up again all flesh of the whole human race, in order that “every knee should bow and every tongue confess” to Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, our Savior and king, according to the will of the invisible Father, and that he should execute righteous judgment toward all.

That he may send “the spirits of wickedness” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly and unrighteous, wicked and profane among human beings, into everlasting fire, but in the exercise of his grace may grant immortality to the righteous and holy, and to those who have kept his commandments and persevered in his love and may clothe them with everlasting glory.

As I have already observed, the church has received this preaching and this faith, even though it is scattered throughout the world, and carefully preserves it intact, as if it were living in a single house. The church believes these doctrines as if it had only one soul and one heart, and it proclaims them and hands them on in perfect harmony, as if it spoke with only one voice. The languages of the world may be dissimilar, but the message of the tradition is one and the same. . . . Just as the sun is the same wherever it shines, so is the preaching of the truth the same everywhere in the world, enlightening everyone who wants to come to a knowledge of the truth. No church leader, however gifted he may be, will teach anything different from this, because no one is greater than the Master. Nor will anyone of inferior eloquence do harm to our tradition, because our faith is always one and the same. For this reason, the gifted teacher can add nothing to it, nor can the less gifted take anything away from it. Just because some people have more or less intelligence than others, it does not follow that they should add or subtract doctrines accordingly. AGAINST HERESIES 1.10.1–3.5


The best resource on the Fathers and the Creed? This one by IVP, which is available on Accordance.

The #BlackLivesMatter Creed

The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed (Long Version)

If you want to sign the Black Lives Matter Creed, please follow this link: Signing the Black Lives Matter Creed.

An Appeal to Christian Congregations and Christians Worldwide

We, the heirs of Black Churches and their traditions, in the Spirit of the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Early Church

1.1 We believe in God Our Creator and the Father, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Source and Fountain of Love (1st John 4: 8) who loves all people from every tribe and nation and who is the same God who appoints seasons of justice and peacemaking (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

1.2 We believe in Jesus of Nazareth – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary – to be the risen Son of God who Ministered and Healed the Sick, Liberated the Oppressed and suffered under the occupation of the Roman Empire where he was persecuted, brutalized, and executed on Calvary. We celebrate the power of God bringing life into that which we thought was dead, represented by the resurrection of Jesus, giving us victory over sin and death (Colossians 2:14-15).

1.3 We believe in the Holy Spirit, Our Comforter and Guide throughout every dispensation who continues to prepare the World for the Good News that the Church Universal is called to proclaim and embody. The Spirit blows where God wills (John 3:9), breathing life in every generation (Ecclesiastes 7:10), making a better tomorrow possible until Christ’s return.

1.4 We believe Black Lives Matter. Scripture speaks of the infinite worth of ALL of humanity (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 9:6), and the Triune God distinctly created us with intentionality and purpose. God loves us in our DIFFERENCES and reveals that the Body will only find true unity in this midst of seeking the purpose of our divinely composed diversity (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:6). The holy writ portrays a sovereign God as caught up in the scandal of particularity moving through the lives of the powerless from the election of Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrews out of Egypt to their Gentile neighbors in ancient Syria, Ethiopia, Persia, Egypt, and Palestine (Amos 9:7). In each of these circumstances we are able to testify to God affirming our differences and addressing unique plights throughout human history.. In the Gospels, we see that Jesus heard the cry of the Syrophoenician woman and healed her daughter (Mark 7:25-30). By sitting and listening to someone who was a cultural minority and recognizing her unique plight, Christ worked to set her and her daughter free from their captivity. The authors and signatories of The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed, express solidarity in word and deed with the movement begotten by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Collors, and Opal Tometi. This solidarity also includes but is not limited to, all other resistance movements such as #SayHerName, #AMillionHoodies, and #JusticeForFlint committed to nonviolent resistance as opposition to racism for the sake of the Common Good.

1.5 We believe the Scriptures reflect God’s Preferential Option of the Poor from Genesis to Revelation (James 1:27, Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:21, Proverbs 17:5). The Prophets of old taught that God loved and provided for all people, and yet widows, orphans, and migrants found favor with God. God requires justice for the poor and judges each government accordingly (Micah 4:3-4, Daniel 4:25-26). Jesus Christ the Son taught Divine Providence, and before he sent out his disciples, he assured them that God’s loving-kindness reached even the smallest of birds, the sparrow (Matthew 10: 26-31). God’s will is for the lowly of society to receive justice so that all persons in the human community can be made whole.

1.6 We believe in the Sanctity of all of life and that the Church should work with society to look after the general welfare of all persons from womb to tomb (John 10:10). We affirm that humanity was meant to live in liberty rather than chains, and that God has bestowed upon women and men the capacity to choose goodness and love. Worship of the Resurrected Savior should lead us to stride towards freedom and a Culture of Life (Romans 5:17).

Given this commitment to life and humanity’s sacred worth, we are troubled throughout this planet, as our brothers and sisters of African descent continue to live under the weight of oppression:

2.1 “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:11-22) We receive the Word through the Apostle Paul that the LORD Jesus was sent to bring peace (Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 2:14) to the nations. Our goal is for a social and spiritual renewal of our cities, our towns, our states, our country, and our planet, and the Gospel stories tell us that such restoration requires a confession of our sins. We reject the false doctrine as though Racial Reconciliation could happen apart from collective Repentance of White Supremacy (Acts 17:30, Luke 19:8-10).

2.2 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” and “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 8:32;John 14:6-7) We reject the false doctrine that love of country means avoiding
telling the Truth about our history. Neighborly love mandates that the Black church speaks truth to power, in love, so that the Church Universal and the World can see where Christ is (Ephesians 4:15): in the lives of the oppressed (Matthew 25).

2.3 “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” and “And when [Jesus] had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Colossians 1:12-4; Luke 4:17-18) We reject the false doctrine that State-sanctioned Wrath is superior to God’s way of Forgiveness and Freedom. Black Churches proclaim the Lordship of Christ, who is the head of the Church Universal as well as all other institutions (Philippians 2:11, 1st Timothy 6:15) We believe that free societies operate in their healthiest states when models the example set by Jesus. Forgiveness, accountability, and restoration should be a community’s priorities when it comes to non-violent offenders of the law. Black Churches call for an end to the War on Drugs, militarized police, the School-to-Prison pipeline, and the closure of the privatized prisons. We support the on-the-ground grassroots efforts of the people of Ferguson as well as #CampaignZero .` Lastly, due to the fact that we value the sacred worth of all persons, and respect those in authority, we must all work together for background checks and gun control to ensure the safety of police officers and civilians alike.

·2.4 “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” and “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Isaiah 32:17-18; Romans 14:17). We reject the false doctrine that Peace should be separate from Justice. Christian justice must include economic equality and opportunity for all (Jeremiah 22:13). Just as swords will be turned into plowshares, so must jailhouses be transformed into schoolhouses. Just as no one should be profiled or harassed because of the color of their skin, no one should be discriminated by employers on the basis of race, gender, religion or, creed (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Human dignity is intrinsic to all human persons and therefore all work is valuable in God’s sight. Education and moral formation are the keys to delivering communities from racial oppression.

2.5 “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) We reject the false doctrine, as though the work of the Nation-State should be confused with the Peaceable Kingdom of God. No government official or arm of the State sits on Heaven’s throne, for only Christ reigns supreme. The Black Church calls on all religious bodies, governments and corporations here and abroad to practice the utmost humility in the quest for a Beloved Community.


The authors and signatories of The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed declare the revealed truth that God is a God of the Oppressed for the salvation of the entire World. Black Churches and Christians worldwide affirm the statement that #BlackLivesMatter. We invite all who are working peaceably for justice to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement and other likeminded organizations.

For the latest updates on The Ferguson Declaration: A Black Lives Matter Creed, follow us on Twitter at @BLMCreed

“For us and our salvation” – who is the “us”?

There is a spot in the Creed of 381 that came under discussion yesterday:

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,

How you read that particular line may be influenced by your understanding of Election, or perhaps, your understanding of the Church v. World, wherein we who are saved are now the “us.” But, what if the “us” is indeed corporate and universal?

Gregory and for our salvation
I guess I need to find the other passage where he finishes this thought

St. Gregory of Nyssa writes,

Those who submit to surgery or cautery are angry with their doctors as they smart under the agony of the operation. But if restoration to health follows and the pain passes, then they are grateful to those who effected the cure. In the same way, when after tedious processes the evil is expelled that had been mixed with human nature and had grown up with it, and when there has taken place the restoration to the original state of those who are now lying in wickedness, then will arise a unison of thanksgiving from all creatures, as well as from those who have suffered chastisement in the process of purification as from those who needed no purification at all. Such are the benefits conferred by the great mystery of the divine incarnation. By mingling with humanity, sharing all the distinctive features from nature (birth, nurture, growth) and going right on to the experience of death, he effected all those aforementioned results, freeing humankind from wickedness and healing even the inventor of wickedness himself. For the purification of the disease, however painful, is the healing of infirmity. ADDRESS ON RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION 26. 1

In another place,

For he who exists eternally did not submit to a bodily birth because he wanted to live, but in order to recall us from death to life. Then since what was needed was the ascent of the whole of our nature from death to renewal of life, he stretched out a hand, as it were, to the prostrate body, and in bending down to our dead corpse he came so near to death as to come in contact with our state of mortality and by his own body to bestow on human nature a beginning of the resurrection, by raising up through his power the whole of humanity along with himself. For that humanity that received the Godhead and through the resurrection was raised up with the Godhead came from no other source than from the mass of human nature. CATECHETICAL LECTURES 32. 2

St. John Chrysostom:

“And the Word was made flesh,” he says, “and dwelled among us.” After saying that those who received him “were born of God and became children of God,” he states the basic cause underlying this ineffable honor, which is the fact that the Word became flesh, and the Lord assumed the form of the slave. The one who is a natural Son of God became a Son of man, in order to make children of God out of the children of men. The lofty is mingled with the lowly but suffers no damage to its own glory, while the lowly rises out of the depths of its lowliness. This is what happened with Christ. He in no way diminished his own nature through this descent, but he raised us, who were sitting forever in dishonor and darkness, up to indescribable glory. In somewhat the same way a king who speaks with care and concern to a very poor person in no way shames himself, but he makes the poor person illustrious and admired by all. In a case of transitory human glory, therefore, association with an inferior does no damage to a superior; how much truer is this, then, when it is a question of that pure and blessed essence that has nothing transitory about it (either by means of loss or gain) but possesses all good things unchangeably and in a fixed form forever? So when you hear that “the Word became f1esh,” do not be upset or disturbed. The divine essence did not change into flesh (it is sacrilegious even to think this); no, it remained what it was and assumed the form of the servant. HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 11.11.3

While St. Irenaeus comes before the Creed, his words here, I believe, help define this phrase:

God the Word restored Man in himself, his ancient handiwork, that he might bring death to sin, strip death of its power, and give life to Man. AGAINST HERESIES

This phrase, by the way, is found in a similar fashion in the Creed of 325.

I believe it doesn’t point to the Church, or to a specific body of believers — notably, it is far removed from the line on the Church. Rather, this line points to the whole of humanity, not just believers (1 Tim 4.10). While there is a rejection that moves the soul out of sight, I believe that St Gregory and others (specifically those who participated in the 4th century theological dialogue) viewed with great hope the eventual salvation of the many. This doesn’t exclude the reality of a hell — in fact, restorationism (as opposed to universalism) must include a reality of hell.

Anyway, I’ve wondered about this phrase for a while so I took this chance to explore it slightly with the Church Fathers.


Maddox, for those interested, details Wesley’s use of the Eastern Fathers (with possible connections to St. Gregory). Further, google the two men. See what pops up. I say this because we are not a cult of John Wesley, and are not limited expressly to him. He gave us the theological tools to go forward, pulling from the first 4 or 5 centuries of Christianity. Even in this, he treated the East better than the West. It may be time for us to include others in our canon of theologians.

  1. John Anthony McGuckin, ed., We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, Ancient Christian Doctrine 2; ICCS/Accordance electronic ed. 5 vols.; (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 81.
  2. McGuckin, 83-84.
  3. McGuckin, 85.
  4. McGuckin, 87.

“the earliest creed is…” moving on…

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I keep hearing this tired refrain:

“‘Jesus is Lord’ is the earliest creed.”

They are pulling this phrase from 1 Corinthians 12.3 although they seem to miss the first part of said verse.

But, honestly, it isn’t.

There are more “creeds” than that in Scripture. The New Testament, a collection of early works assembled later, contains references to traditions pre-dating Scripture (the same canon later assembled by the same church that developed the creeds).

Let me name a few. There is the Christ hymn in Philippians 2.5–11. John 6.52–58 has some resemblance to an early eucharistic liturgical celebration. There is also 1 Timothy 3.16, which while not Pauline (shoot me, but it is Pseudo-Pauline) shows a creedal presence. Let us not forget Matthew 28.19–20 as well. Hebrews 1.1–3 seems creedal-ness, but I will admit that may be stretching it just a bit.

Revelation is liturgical. Hebrews is homiletic. Both do so to point to a belief that Jesus is Lord and what that means. It is not simply “say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you are in like flinn.” In other words, even if “Jesus is Lord” is a creed, it is never without explanation and understanding.

So, how do the creeds and symbols develop? From the baptismal confessions. Indeed, baptism and creeds go together.

From St. Irenaeus:

1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

2. To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in

one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.

Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, 4, 1-2)

From Tertullian,

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith-that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend-it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son,and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.” (Tertullian, the Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter XIII)

St. Hippolytus, in preserving to us the Apostolic Tradition (c. 215) preserves older traditions as well. This is the baptismal formula:

Then, after these things, let him give him over to the presbyter who baptizes, and let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them likewise. And when he who is being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus:

Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?

And he who is being baptized shall say:

I believe.

Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say:

Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Admittedly, the Apostolic Traditions’ worth will be dependent upon the side in the scholarly debate you fall. For me, I’ll go down the middle and say that while it may be assembled later (say, like several books throughout the canon, and the canon itself) it does contain earlier recollections.

To sum, the first creedal statements focus on two things simultaneously: Who Jesus is and what did he do?  We see this developed through the baptismal confessions exactly because we are being baptized into Christ. It is only right to ask the new believer “do you know what you are doing?” and require that they actually tell you.

We can argue all the day long about creeds and litmus tests and the such, but we really shouldn’t argue whether or not creeds were in the early church — they were, before Scripture, and it equalized everyone. We can’t even argue that the Trinity is somehow a 4th century creation. Well, you can, if you want to appear ignorant of history and all.

Check out these from Logos and Accordance.