Disciples -- Are We Really Creedless?
I am a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We claim to be a non-creedal church. Our founders were somewhat averse to creedal statements, believing them to be divisive. The "devil is in the details." One of our old slogans was "No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible." It sounds good, but are we really creedless?
I recently finished reading George Lindbeck's post-liberal tome -- The Nature of Doctrine (a book I should have read long ago). Lindbeck argues for the primacy of a "cultural-linguistic" understanding of Christian doctrine/theology -- in contrast to propositional and experiential-expressive versions. In the Cultural-Linguistic model, which appeals to me, doctrine is understood to be a set of grammatical rules that govern the way we speak of faith. Leaving aside propositionalism, which no one on the center-left spectrum embraces, whereas the experiential-expressivism of liberalism starts with the premise that there is a common religious spirit, which religions express in different ways. The cultural linguistic model differs from this model in that it assumes that Christian faith is formed/taught. Doctrine serves to guide this process.
With this brief background, I want to raise a question for my friends and colleagues within the Disciples community. If we are non-creedal, what does this mean with regard to our faith expressions? Here is what Lindbeck says, which I want to lay out as a way of stirring a conversation:
First, in reference to the inescapability of doctrine, it would seem that the creedless Christianity" professed by a number of groups (including, for example, many Quakers and the Disciples of Christ) is not genuinely creedless. When creedlesssness is insisted on as a mark of group identity, it becomes by definition operationally creedal. Indeed, usually it becomes at least semiofficial, as in the slogan used by some Protestants, No creed but the Bible." What this aphorism is directed against is not doctrines in general, but postbiblical doctrines -- or more precisely, the official status of these doctrines. (Most biblicistic Protestants, for example, adhere in practice to postbiblical Trinitarianism: they do not deny what the Nicene Creed teaches, but they ignore the creed itself and act as if its teachings were self-evidently scriptural). [The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, 25th Anniversary Edition, p. 60.]
It is this question of the inescapability of doctrine that we need to address. From and experiential-expressivist perspective, a view that is very attractive, it would seem possible. But there are problems, and those problems have to do with our ability to speak with some coherence of what it is we profess (believe). Now, beliefs need not be imposed or coerced, but at the same time there is the question of whether the Christian faith is an individualistic one or one that is expressed in community. So, Disciples and others, what do you think about this issue of creeds/beliefs? Can we get along without them?