Thursday, January 31, 2008

Creeds and divisions

I'm currently reading 'The End of Religion' by Bruxy Cavey. I'll post a longer article on the book when I'm further into it, but its raised a few issues in my mind which I'll comment on in a few posts here.

In the chapter I read last night, he spoke about the council of Nicaea, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed in passing. And made two points which I'd never thought of before.

I'd always thought that the point of the creeds was to affirm the common beliefs of Christians, to reinforce our unity in Christ. And I suppose both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed do this, but go back to 325AD. There were many Christians, each trying to follow Christ in some way or another, and they had some form of communion with each other. OK, so they may not have agreed on every point, but they were all Christians and (as far as I can tell) generally viewed themselves and each other as such. Then the creed was devised and agreed by the majority of folk at the council. This instantly marked a minority of those present as heretics. All of a sudden, two Christians who agree on almost everything relating to how to live and how to worship their Lord are divided. One becomes a heretic, the other is affirmed. Is this a good thing?

Are any of the creeds good things if they underline divisions and separate Christians into two groups, the orthodox and the heretics?

If someone is seeking to follow the example of their Lord, live according to his teachings and is filled with his Spirit, does it actually matter if they consider him to be not of the same substance as the Father or not? I suspect not. And yet, this was one of the things which separated the orthodox from the heretics back then.

Another thing that I had never really noticed about the creeds is that they say nothing about what Jesus said or did during his life on earth. They jump straight from 'born of a virgin' to 'suffered under Pilate' - nothing about Jesus's life at all in there. That seems a bit lacking to me.


Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the arguments that people make against a constitution; that the parliament as a process sustains the essential features of the government of this country, and should be adjusted if it doesn't, whereas a written constitution allows someone who is not a part of this process to have authority to come in and change it based on the structure of language. An interesting idea, as sometimes people have gained authority from their ability to make logical rearranging of the creed, rather than being judged by their lifestyle and application of the truth. It almost feels like an attempt to replace the word in flesh with a word in writing again; reversing from the new covenant into something more palatable, but I'll be very cautious there, as the word in writing and the law in our hearts should have a symbiotic relationship. It always seems to me that the purpose of creeds is to highlight division, but the appropriate response to that division is understanding, forgiveness, discussion and prayer.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hello anonymous.

I live in the UK. A country which does pretty well without a constitution! So I don't really see the need for such things.

And the mroe I think about it, the more I see that creeds and 'statements of faith' do create divisions and I really don't see this as a good thing.

(Not that I really classify Christianity as a religion, but...) Christianity is fractured and divided into more sects and denominations than any other religion in the world. Yet. we're supposed to be the body of Christ. A dismembered and fractured body is no good to anyone.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

It is a more than somewhat distorted presentation of church history to say that everything was rosy and unified until the creeds came along.

The early church had many battles, both from without - persecution - and from within - the rise of heretical teachings and sects.

The Arian crisis in particular lasted many years and did much damage. It was to try to restore unity and accord among the acrimonious factions that had arisen that the council of Nicea was called.

Even towards the end of the time the New Testament was written we can see the rise of heresy and the use of confessions as a litmus test of orthodoxy. cf 1Jn 4:2 & 2Jn 1:7.