I am a big fan of the early churches’ creeds. I appreciate them for their historical significance, for the trajectory that they provide, and for their value as snapshots in the formation of the tradition.
In fact, as a contextual theologian, I adore them as amazing time-capsules of expressions from a very particular time and a definite location. They tell us so much about what was going on, what was a stake, what was being combated and what was already established and settled.
I actually have no problem with the creeds. My problem comes from what certain folks want to do with ‘the Creeds’ and what they try to make them into. Let’s be clear about what they are not:
- They are not timeless and universal expressions. They are very timely and remarkably located.
- They are not litmus tests for modern orthodoxy. There is no sense in retreating into ecclesiastic silos, playing pre-modern word games, or burying our head in the historical sand. Too much has happened, too much has changed and there is too much on the line.
- They are not houses to live in. They are lean-tos (temporary shelters) that were erected along the way. We are still to continue our journey and travel on in our day – in the world that is – and not set up camp in the imagined past.
This is my word picture. The Creeds are lean-tos. They are not museums designed to preserve nor are the cathedrals to be maintained. They are temporary shelters – built with the best materials that were available at the time and in that place. They aren’t blueprints of how every shelter needs to be constructed nor are they houses to be reinforced and guarded. They fulfilled their purpose and provided shelter on the journey.
Christian who get protective of or defensive about the creeds are like people who are hiking with their family, build lean-to out of love for the family and then get mad at the family when it is time to leave the lean-to and continue hiking.
Or like people who love watching birds so they knock out a wall in their house to install a whole side of windows and sky-lights for bird watching. But then they become so fixated on cleaning the glass then they stopped watching the birds and actually get annoyed at the birds for dropping what birds are prone to drop.
The creeds are great. I am so thankful them as historic documents, as developmental snapshots and as contextual expressions.
What I am not so thrilled about is people who get nasty about them, defensive or aggressive. I think it is so odd that they are about things like God’s love and divine relationship… but that they can make someone behave so unloving and take them out of relationship!
I like the creeds. I just don’t like what they do to people who take them too seriously. Like lean-tos, they served their purpose. They were great. Time to move on. We are still on a journey.
p.s. I meant to include this in the post but forgot. I have since said it 3 comments – so I decided to add it.
“Like the book of Revelation and the Creeds - we should attempt to do for our culture and day what they were attempting to do for their culture and day.”