Friday, May 26, 2006

Vision #12

Dorothy Sayers told us that we will have either creed or chaos. The storms around the Da Vinci Code reveals this to be true. A creed is simply a standard of belief that endures through different ages and cultures and which defines the parameters of what it means to be Christian. That standard defines the banks within which Christian life is lived and experienced. Without the banks, the river becomes a swamp.

We have a New Testament now because in the third and forth centuries the church set a standard for distinguishing Holy Scripture from interesting and inspiring writing. Contrary to what the current rewriters of our faith would have us to believe, the church leaders did not invent the New Testament or suppress scripture. The Church Fathers merely officially recognized what the vast majority of Christians had believed since the earliest days of the faith. Christians disagreed for awhile about a few books. For example, the Book of Hebrews was suspect for a long time simply because no one knew who wrote it. The book of 2 Peter was suspect too because its style seemed different than that of the first epistle of Peter. Also, some Christians argued that the Shepherd of Hermes and the Epistle of 1 Clement ought to be accepted as scripture because they found them helpful to their spiritual lives. Other than these exceptions, the Church Fathers merely declared what Christians had long believed to be the Christian scriptures. Since then, the “canon” (writings recognized as scripture) has represented a boundary for all Christian believers.

Orthodoxy -- “that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God --” is our common deposit of faith. All Christians of all denominations are accountable to it. We can disagree about much but we if we disagree about what constitutes the Bible, whether Jesus is God or whether there is life everlasting, then we cease to be Christians. We can be nice people, intelligent people or even spiritual people. But we can’t be Christians without Christ and a “Christ” that does not die for our sins and resurrect for our justification is not the Christ that Christians confess. It is a hard choice but Jesus and his death on the cross remains “to the Greeks foolishness and to the Jews a stumbling block but to those who believe the power of God unto salvation.”

During the life of the second bishop of Antioch, while people were still alive who had known the apostles, Christians began to use a statement of faith that they expected new converts to learn. That statement of faith is easily recognizable as what soon evolved to become the Apostle’s Creed. It already contained phrases that so offend modern ears – “born of the Virgin Mary,” “rose again from the dead, “forgiveness of sins,” and “the resurrection of the body” and such like. Furthermore, the phrases were not mere pious metaphors. People died confessing them. They still do.

For a long time, many Christians have been taking a lot for granted. They haven’t felt a need to take an hour or two and memorize a creed or, for that matter, the Lord’s Prayer. They would just go to church once in a while and throw some money in the plate. Christians would always believe that Jesus was God come in the flesh. People would always believe that the Bible was far more than Man’s word about God; it was God’s Word to fallen Man. Others would take care of the foundations. Now we know better.

Each generation of believers must deliberately and consciously nurture, love, honor and absorb the faith. Each generation must wrestle with what it means to say that Jesus is “very God of very God, truly God and truly man.” Each must decide whether or not the apostles were following “cleverly devised fables” or were, as they claimed, “eyewitnesses to the Word of life.” Each must decide whether our faith is a comforting conglomeration of mythologies, allegories and metaphors, or whether Jesus is God come in the flesh.

Every human being has the right to either accept or to reject Christianity’s common heritage. Christians do not have that opinion. Like every Kingdom, the Kingdom of God has borders. Stand on one side and you are in one realm; stand on the other and you are in alien territory.

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