Scales and Playgrounds: Why you need the Creed (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 2)

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Creeds over Confessions

Last week one more friend, one with a graduate degree in theology proudly said, “I don’t say creeds. I’m non-creedal.” This friend is both orthodox and devout in his Christian faith, yet he says, “I don’t want to be bound by statements that limit the faith.” Like so many, he is confusing “creedal” with “confessional.”

A Big, Big Playground

Creeds are not about limiting the faith, but rather about pushing the faith’s boundaries out to their widest possible limit. A creed is about how little one can believe and still be recognizably “Christian.” Creeds give the edges of what C. S. Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity.” Confessions, which came later, do exactly the opposite. Confessions attempt to narrow the conversation from “how little can one believe” to “how much should one believe.” If beliefs are a dartboard, a creed is the outermost circle. “You hit the target, way to go!” A confession is the bull’s eye.

Belief as a bull’s eye is, of course, my friend’s real issue: Whose bull’s eye, whose confession are we to use? Augsburg? Belgic? Heldelberg? Helvetic? Thirty-nine Articles? Baptist? Westminster? …And those are just the ones written between 1430 and 1630! A creed is a fenced playground, but a creed represents the largest playground possible. A confession is the kindergarten play ground – very small and safe. The Nicene Creed is the high school ballfields - a square half mile. If you can’t find room to play at the high school, you really just don’t want to be there.

We Fear Creeds

Creeds have been ignored by evangelicals and progressives alike. Evangelicals busily moved past the creeds in a desire to be culturally relevant and a fear of the world creeping into the church – so evangelicals tightened the reigns with detailed, specific, narrow confessional boundaries. “Are you a Reformed, dispensational, pre-trib, pre-millennial regular Baptist?” “No! I am a Reformed, dispensational, mid-trib, pre-millennial regular Baptist.” “Oh. Sorry, we can’t be friends.” This resulted in “many protestants” – a now collapsing array of denominations.

At the same time liberals were also busy jettisoning historic creeds. For liberals though it was a desire to be theologically relevant and a fear that the world was creeping out of the church.

Scales Before Jazz

photocredit: ehow.com

photocredit: ehow.com

When my children suggested to their piano teacher that they learn popular songs, their piano teacher would patronizingly reply, “We learn scales before Jazz.” The reference was lost on my kids who had never heard Jazz. What they wanted to play was the theme to the after school cartoon, “Arthur.” But the teacher was right, if you know your scales you can play any musical. Creeds are the substance of the faith – The “scales” to teach to every child and newcomer. By definition, creeds are catholic (universal), confessions are sectarian genres. Everyone has a genre preference. But if one doesn’t know the basics, regardless of the genre, what we end up with is bad music.

Creeds unite us around the basic Christian story (the “who” and “why”) rather than the symbols of our tradition (the “how” and “what”). The symbols of our tradition are rich and powerful, but our traditional actions and symbols never stand alone. Their power is that they point to greater truths-the truths specifically expressed in the creeds. Confirmation programs, for example, lose power specifically when our teachers have forgotten to keep the main thing (salvation in Christ Jesus) the main thing. And one cannot master Jazz who has not first mastered their scales.

So Christian, don’t give up your creeds!

The Bible’s Lucky Decoder Ring: The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

About these ads

Not another blog.

Actually, yes.

What will this be about? These are the ruminations of a post-Young Life Episcopal priest who helps people think about walking with the triune God. I will deal with various topics such as youth ministry, multi-ethnic church planting, and the Anglican Communion/Episcopal Church.  I will post rants, resources, and things that make me smile. My name is Matt Marino. I am married to Kari and have two children, Ellie and Luke. I like the Phoenix Suns and sailing. My paying gig is “Canon for Youth and Young Adults” for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, which is a catch-all for getting to do about ten things, at least nine of which are really fun. I am also one of the founders of St. Jude’s Church in the I-17 Corridor of Phoenix (www.mystjudes.com) and lead the Youth Ministry Apprenticeship training program (www.youthministryapprentice.com).

“The Gospel side,” for my low-church friends, is the side of a traditional 2-pulpit church from which the Gospel is read…as opposed to “the Epistle side” from which the Epistles are read. The Anglican tradition is to balance the size of the pulpits with the altar to architecturally demonstrate the value of both Word and Sacrament in worship. Assuming the sanctuary faces east (towards the rising sun and the returning Son), the “Gospel side” is the north, or left side when looking from inside the church. It is from “the Gospel side” that we hear Jesus proclaimed, and from whence the people of God hear the implications of the Good News expounded upon. The people then are tasked with extending the glory of God by carrying His message to the world. Currently the gospel is proclaimed from the center of the church, among the people. Jesus was often in the midst of the people, rather than off to the sides. I seek to live my life the same way.

People want to know up front where their bloggers are coming from. My brief answer: Orthodoxy. There is a term in radical feminist theology: kyriarchy. It is a word with highly negative connotations, somewhat of a catch-all for power inequities. It is a combination of the Greek words: “Kyrios” (Lord) and “archy” (rule). It is literally the “rule of the Lord.” The first creed among the followers of Jesus was, “Jesus is Lord.” It was a response to the cry “Caesar is Lord,” mandated to be shouted by the crowds as Roman rulers would pass through towns. It was also insisted that the followers of Jesus sign statements “Caesar is Lord” during persecutions. To say, “Jesus is Lord” was to defy all illegitimate human authority and systems of the world for another, higher obedience. I have decided to reclaim the word kyriarchy and claim myself as an unrepentant Kyriarchist- someone seeking to right wrongs by placing my own life under the gracious leadership of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and inviting others to know the freedom of the reign of God in their lives.

Matt Marino+  August 24, 2012