Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Creed A Good Thing?

I recently heard a story from a friend about something that took place in her church which absolutely baffled her. The pastor began a teaching series on the apostle’s creed. He walked the congregation through the meaning of each of the concepts of this ancient statement of faith. He even went so far as to explain the meaning of words that might be “offensive” to some of his congregants. My friend said that he did nothing more than lay out the basics of our faith in a clear and concise way. At the conclusion of this series the pastor asked his congregation to join him in affirming this creed together in their public worship service. After such thorough teaching there was now no reason for anyone to be confused about the truth claims of the creed. But before the congregation had finished the last line, a whole family of faithful congregants stood up and walked out of the service. They refused to be part of a church that used a written creed in their worship service. It’s absolutely amazing how many people question whether a creed is a good thing.

Is a Creed A Good Thing? (Taken from Twelve Drummers Drumming)

Perhaps you have heard people say something like, "Christians don’t need creeds, they don’t need doctrine! They just need to love Jesus!" I have certainly heard people talk like that. It sounds right until you ask, “What do you mean?” For if you ask a simple follow-up question like, "Who is Jesus?" he or she will, without fail, begin to unfold his or her own doctrine. For if, in trying to answer the question “who is Jesus,” he says something like “the Jesus of the Bible." You need merely ask, "And what does the Bible say about Jesus?" You will soon see that any answer he gives reveals his doctrinal viewpoint.

The fact is we all have doctrine! Our doctrine may be “homemade,” something we have pieced together ourselves from countless experiences, teachers, preachers, and personal feelings. Or, we may have learned much of our doctrine from some seasoned mentor. However we came up with it, we all have some sort of doctrinal system, formal or informal, that forms our practices and beliefs. The question is not whether we have doctrine or not. It is impossible not to have doctrine. For the conscientious Christian, the question is, How does my doctrine compare with what the Bible teaches and what the saints through the ages have believed? Am I marching to the steady beat, the common rhythm of my faith?

The family that walked out of my friend’s church did not understand what the pastor was trying to do. We live in an age that denies the existence of absolute truth with such loud shouts that it drowns out the music of our faith that has played through the centuries. That pastor was merely trying to beat the drums a little louder in order to help his people find their place in the music again.

I received this e-mail from a younger member of the congregation. As it raises some pertinent questions (and difficult ones at that!) I thought it might be some fodder for conversation. Please add your thoughts, and let's get some dialogue going!

Am I marching to the steady beat, the common rhythm of my faith?

This question leapt off the page when I began to read Twelve Drummers. Though I know the typical answers, I struggle with it nonetheless.

It is my experience that today’s society asks us to eschew labels and yet simultaneously embrace them. We desire to define ourselves by these labels, but not to be bound by them. I don’t think that churches are any different in this regard.

I have always attended a church. More often than not, it has been a quasi-charismatic, non-denominational, Evangelical church. These churches have been happy to tell me that Jesus is Lord, that Easter is about the Resurrection, and that the Bible is a very, very important read.
Beyond this, I’m sorry to say that there was little formal teaching. I gleaned things from Sunday School, VBS, and my Christian school Bible classes. I was left to the very differing whims of the Southern Baptist, ex-Pentecostal, and former Lutheran.

Upon meeting someone my age who was very catechized, I realized that my beliefs were…interesting. This is not to say that they were incorrect or even uninformed; no, they were just different from those of someone who served in the same realm of religious life that I did.

What I am trying to get at is that the churches I grew up in didn’t want to try too hard to be ‘penned in’ by the confines of an absolute catechism. I both appreciate and mourn this idea, and I believe that it has much to do with my level of difficulty with the aforementioned question.
I am surrounded by good, loving, Christian people of all colors and stripes. This adds to my life greatly. But it also means that I am sitting in the middle of a very mixed up pot of beliefs. Why does this matter?

Well, if we are trying to walk to the ‘common rhythm’ that the question presents, we have to come down to the bare minimum that the drummers are drumming!

If we have all manners of beliefs on who the Holy Spirit is and who is saved and what the process of sanctification includes and WHAT on EARTH should the choir wear for the Christmas concert, then we really have to simmer this pot down very, very low.

What we come down to are several things, and these things are usually those that are included in the Apostles’ Creed: Jesus was a man, Jesus was God, He died, He rose, and the other ‘basics’.

The problem is, if we only stick to these basics, we are left with a large problem.

Someone who is living a homosexual lifestyle can believe these things and yet, according to ‘mainstream’ Christianity, not be considered to be living within the Biblical framework that we are trying to uphold.

We can say that the issue of morality is not a salvific one. Indeed, if we are to be judged, we all fall miserably short. And yet, we know that it is important to try our best to adhere to Biblical principles on Christian living.

While even casually perusing the Bible, I can see many examples of how even the most conservative of modern Christians do not practice the ideas of the Old and New Testaments. We understand that some things were ‘for a time’, and that time has now passed. If you are a woman, you are most likely able to speak in church or hold a class in which you instruct women and men. This would not have been kosher, so to speak, during Biblical times.

How then do we know what to cast off and what to retain?

Commonality is a difficult thing to understand, as people and institutions are fickle by nature.
In order to march to a common beat, we need to carefully define what set of drummers we are following.

In today’s times, there are many people in the band, and it seems as if they all want to be in the drum core. I hear many beats, many rhythms, and many sounds that cause me to get lost.
Lately, it isn’t about staying away from those whose beliefs are widely different from our own. No, it is more important to know what subtleties and slightly varying scores will cause us to forget what tune we are supposed to be playing.

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