Monday, October 6, 2008

Bashing the Creed

I've previously posted two pieces on the Rev. John Beverly Butcher's letters in Episcopal Life calling for abandoning the use of the Nicene Creed in our liturgy. Today, I read two letters in Episcopal Life extolling the virtues of Butcher's position. Here's what these two persons have to say about "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 877).

The Rev. John Beverley Butcher ("Creeds are lacking") is not alone in sensing the creed's complete exclusion of Jesus' life and ministry, mentioning only his birth and death and nothing in between. In the flow of the liturgy, Scripture, passing the peace, prayers of the people, the sermon and the Eucharist, Jesus Christ's ministry and gospel are present. The creed, instituted by Roman decree more than three centuries after the Resurrection, leaves out both entirely. The Council of Nicea's purpose was to institutionalize Roman power and authority.

We are Episcopalians and have been open to the Holy Spirit to help us in the evolution of our worship from the beginning. In the Nag Hammadi discoveries, we are now fortunate to have the gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene to read. None of the four original Gospels nor these new findings contain the creed.

Women also have sensed the irony of referring to the Holy Spirit as "he" when it is a feminine word in both Hebrew and Greek and would best be translated as "she." Patriarchal language is problematic in a church with a woman presiding bishop.

Grateful thanks to the Rev. John B. Butcher's ("Creeds Are Lacking" comments. The creeds are metaphysical abstract statements, probably relevant in the fourth century to philosophical arguing, but not understandable for Christian living or to anything Jesus lived and taught. What really does any of that speculative conjecture loved by theologians mean to the average person, those to whom Jesus ministered then and now?

If the creeds are sacrosanct and cannot be replaced, could an alternative be given as an option? Jesus' summary of the law to love God and love your neighbor is mentioned several times in Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. Why isn't that our creed, easily understood and a guide for living? It also seems to me to be truly the Great Commission from Jesus, not Matthew 28:19, which is mentioned only once and never was called the great commission by Jesus; that probably was the label put on by some Bible scholar when the Bible was able to be printed.

As a life-long Episcopalian, I am heartened by the Rev. Butcher's letters the past two issues and appreciate his bravery in speaking out.

I was so disheartened by these two displays of anomic Anglicanism and how they represent ways in which we Episcopalians are failing Christianity that I was initially at a loss for words. How do you respond to persons who think that the treasure hidden in a field is so worthless as to be tossed out with the rubbish?

Fortunately, my friend and clergy colleague Greg Jones has responded to the first letter in a posting over at "The Anglican Centrist." He doesn't mince words when he writes: "Honestly, when will it stop? When will people in a supposedly educated denomination actually do some historical reading? These statements are sophomoric and reflect a lack of any historical depth or sense." Good questions and an accurate assessment.

Then there's the second letter's sweeping assertion that the Creed trades in "speculative conjecture loved by theologians" but is "not understandable for Christian living or to anything Jesus lived or taught." A thorough reading of a book cited on this blog many times - Luke Timothy Johnson's The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters - easily and definitively refutes such shallow reasoning. (If it's helpful, check out these PowerPoint presentations of the book.)

Reading these two letters, I once again find myself catching my breath at how quickly and easily some Episcopalians are willing to completely dismiss the faith, practice, and witness of the Church. Ignorance is no excuse for throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Caelius said...

It's letters like this that make me think that conservative Protestantism irrationally despises the intellectuals of the present, while liberal Protestantism irrationally despises the intellectuals of the past.

Thanks for the link to Anglican Centrist by the way.

Bryan Owen said...

Good point, Caelius. Thanks for sharing it.

BillyD said...

I was interested in seeing where the two letter writers live, so I went over to EL. One lives in Sedona, AZ, and the other is in Santa Fe. It does not surprise me that people from these two bastions of "spiritual renewal" and experimentation disapprove of the Creeds, or would be in total agreement with an Episcopal priest who works as a UU minister.