That's what the Rev. John Beverly Butcher of Pescadero, CA says in a letter published in the August 2008 issue of Episcopal Life.
Fr. Butcher first made a splash in the pages of Episcopal Life back in June 2008 when he argued that Episcopalians should drop the Nicene Creed from services because it impedes the “natural flow from the ministry of the word into prayer.” He also said that the Creed "is not an essential part of the shape of the liturgy.” I responded to Fr. Butcher on this blog by noting several ways in which the Creed is, indeed, a crucial part of the shape of the liturgy. And I concluded as follows:
We clergy have promised to be conformists. We have voluntarily relinquished all rights to ecclesial (and thus liturgical) disobedience. And when we willfully break that solemn vow, we should be held accountable by the Church. If there was accountability in our Church with this sort of thing, then priests who drop the Creed from the Sunday liturgy and commend doing so to others would be disciplined.
Now Fr. Butcher is making an even stronger negative statement about the Creeds. Here's his recent Episcopal Life letter:
Perhaps you have noticed that the creeds speak of the birth of Jesus and then of his death. There is no mention of the life of Jesus, no mention of the teachings of Jesus, no mention of the healing power of Jesus
The heart of the gospel is missing. The creeds are defective and need to be taken out of service. Instead, let us proclaim clearly the gospel of the Resurrected Jesus, "The seed of true humanity is within you. Follow it!" Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) 4:5
I'll begin by simply noting that the Church Fathers and other early Christians would be surprised to learn that "the heart of the gospel is missing" in the Creeds. Perhaps even earlier than the second half of the second century - well before what we in the West now call the Apostles' Creed took the form in which we know it today, much less the final version of the Nicene Creed - various "rules of faith" which look a lot like the Apostles' Creed were widely used in preparing persons to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It's an understatement to say that these creedal formulas were regarded by the early Church as an indispensable means for the formation of new Christians and for the reaffirmation of the Church's faith by the baptized. From the beginning, "rules of faith" - and later, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds - were regarded by the Church as succinct, memorable formulations of what is, indeed, the heart of the Gospel. This carries over into late 19th and 20th Century Anglicanism with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral's affirmation (repeatedly reaffirmed by successive Lambeth Conferences and General Conventions of The Episcopal Church) of "The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol" and "the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith."
In short, the Anglican tradition embraces the historic Creeds as indispensable means by which we know what is at the heart of the Gospel. So while we do, indeed, affirm (echoing the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary to salvation and serve as the rule and ultimate standard of faith, the Creeds help us discern what exactly in Scripture is necessary to salvation, and what exactly in Scripture serves as the rule and ultimate standard of faith. As I have written before about the Nicene Creed: " ... like a compass that always points north, the Nicene Creed points us in the right direction. The compass is not the destination just as the Creed is not God. But it would be much easier to get lost as to what is truly essential for reaching the goal of the Christian journey without it."
Fr. Butcher is, of course, correct to note that the Creeds do not include articles about Jesus' life, teachings, and healing power. He regards that omission as proof positive that the Creeds are "defective." However, he goes off track in drawing the conclusion that we should therefore jettison them. For the truth is that the Creeds were never intended to say everything important about Jesus. (I note that even the Gospel according to John says that about itself in chapter 21, verse 25. Should we therefore throw it out of the canon of Holy Scripture?)
The Apostles' Creed was not accepted for use in the Church, nor was the Nicene Creed hammered out over the course of the 4th Century, in order to displace the content of the Gospels concerning our Lord's life, teachings, and healing power. On the contrary, the Creeds and the Gospels are meant to supplement each other. They are not in competition. So Fr. Butcher's conclusion constitutes a "throw out the baby with the bathwater" argument.
And finally, I cannot help but note the significance of the fact that in his letter, Fr. Butcher's example of "clearly" proclaiming the Gospel takes a most interesting form: quoting the Gnostic Gospel of Mary (Magdalene).
I find it puzzling that after Fr. Butcher expresses the concern that the Creeds omit Jesus' life, teachings, and healing power, he chooses to quote a Gnostic rather than a canonical Gospel. Coupled with a call to jettison the historic Creeds, this choice takes on added significance in light of the fact that part of the purpose of codifying the "rules of faith" in the form we call the Apostles' Creed was to combat the heresy of Gnosticism (and the Nicene Creed builds upon that rejection of Gnosticism in addition to its rejection of other heresies). Plus, the Gnostic Gospels do not affirm what the Church means by (in Fr. Butcher's words) "the gospel of the Resurrected Jesus." On the contrary, they deny the full humanity of Jesus, his death by crucifixion, his bodily resurrection, and the Christian hope that our bodies (and all of God's good creation) will also be redeemed and transformed by resurrection.
In conclusion, I cite what I've written before about the Nicene Creed:
As "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith," the Nicene Creed underscores that there are boundaries and norms that define the Christian faith and that differentiate it from other possible faiths. Christianity is not a recipe for relativism, nor does it affirm subjectivism. It's interesting in this regard to note that the English word "heresy" derives from the Greek hairein, meaning "to choose." The Creed reminds us that Christianity is not an individualistic, "pick and choose what you like and discard the rest" faith. ...
The faith of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed is the norm against which individual opinions and judgments are measured and found more or less adequate, or wrong.
My concern is that the call to jettison the Creeds while quoting a Gnostic Gospel as a warrant for such an action constitutes a rejection of the boundaries and norms that define the Christian faith from other possible faiths. In its appeal to Jesus' life, teachings, and healing power, such a move may appear like a good one to Christians who are committed to the this-worldly implications of the Gospel. But besides the fact that such a move opens the door for the private judgment of individual opinions to supplant the faith of the Church, it also sets up a false dichotomy - as though this-worldly and other-worldly hope do not constitute one hope. A thorough reading of N. T. Wright's Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008) provides a nice counterbalance to this error.