Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Going Creedless

Isaac Errett
The other day Scot McKnight posted about those who claim to be creedless. I would prefer the term "non-creedal" to "creedless," but either way, he questioned whether one could be creedless, and pointed to the Churches of Christ as one example of a creedless community.  In pointing to my Stone-Campbell siblings, I had to include my branch.  We too are non-creedal, though perhaps not quite as strongly as perhaps our siblings.  We do have what we call the Preamble to the Design, which serves as an introduction to the denomination's constitution and bylaws (the Design). Our worship committee decided to utilize the Preamble in worship for a little over the month as part of an "experiment" related to a conference at nearby Rochester College. I won't go into that, but there was some resistance to using the Preamble on the part of some, who saw it as a creed. This was true even though the Preamble was written nearly fifty years ago.  Still there seemed to be discomfort.

So, what does it mean to be non-creedal?  I should note that while Thomas and Alexander Campbell rejected creeds at one level, they didn't do so in any whole-sale manner. The question isn't whether or creeds are bad, but how they're used. In looking up something else, I came across this statement from a second-generation Disciple leader -- Isaac Errett.  Errett, interestingly enough, was active starting churches in Michigan and in Detroit, and thus could have been instrumental in planting the church that became Central Woodward Christian Church (my congregation).  He wrote a piece called "Our Position," in which he laid out a series of basic beliefs and practices (much like the Preamble). But he made it clear (though not everyone believed him) that this wasn't a creed. He writes of creeds in this manner, which I think is helpful:

While agreeing that the Bible furnishes an all-sufficient revelation of the Divine will, and a perfect rule of faith and practice, we disagree practically in this; We act consistently with this principle,  and repudiate all human authoritative creeds. We object not to publishing, for information, what we believe and practice, in whole or in part, as circumstances may demand, with the reasons therefor. But we stoutly refuse to accept of any such statement as authoritative, or as a test of fellowship, since Jesus Christ alone is Lord of the conscience, and His word alone can rightfully bind us. What he has revealed and enjoined, eitehre personally or by His apostles, we acknowledge as binding; where he has not bound us, we are free; and we insist on standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, carefully guarding against all perversions of said liberty into means or occasions of strife. [Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union].
Note that Errett emphasizes the rejection of creeds as authoritative statements that can be used as tests of fellowship. This is because even if Scripture is, as he believes, authoritative, interpretations can differ. Thus, only Christ can bind the conscience.  Thus any creed serves as signposts and summations of what a community may believe and practice. They can be helpful, but they can't be used to exclude from the Table. Even as I have no problem reciting the creeds, I feel no obligation to affirm in every way the statements as being authoritative in any final and definitive manner. I think that what Errett is espousing here is a good principle!  

I hope this clarifies "our position" in response to Scot McKnight's questions. 


John said...

He says: "agreeing that the Bible furnishes an all-sufficient revelation of the Divine will," to which I disagree. The revelation of Scripture is incomplete and requires interpretation, guided by the Spirit. The words of Scripture are just words. It is the meaning which the Holy Spirit unveils behind the words, that provides a glimpse of the Divine Will. And rarely more than a glimpse. The Divine Will is unlikely ever to be fully revealed in this world. And it seems that it is rarely "sufficiently" disclosed either. Scripture is but a doorway. We are required to enter through the doorway to find what lies within.

John said...

Again I understand that the issue is about rejecting creeds as a test of fellowship. But it appears that Errett expresses an implicit test of fellowship in his assertion that we share a core common belief in "agreeing that the Bible furnishes an all-sufficient revelation of the Divine will, and a perfect rule of faith and practice," and I was pushing back against that pre-conditional assumption. Beyond that I was challenging the notion that any collection of words constitutes a "sufficient" revelation of Divine Will. The Divine Will depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing glimpses of the truth of God and in opening our eyes to see that glimpse. I know that reason and tradition also play a pert, but without the Holy Spirit the logical,
well informed reader will only read words and not the meaning within them.

John said...

Also, as to the notion that love one another only applied within the community of believers - that is so at odds with Jesus message. To begin with the Old Testament, and especially Isaiah are very much directed towards welcoming and caring for the stranger, and worshiping with the stranger on God's Holy Mountain. Moreover, Jesus is constantly meeting with religious outcasts to bring reconciliation, and to bring them within the community of the faithful. Then there is his interaction with Samaritan woman, and the healing of the Centurion's servant. And then there is his initial sermon, where he speaks to his hometown and points out that God often includes foreigners and people not within the community within his salvific work, foreigners such as Naaman and the widow of Zarepath. They didn't like that message either. It seems the self-proclaimed righteous are often resentful when blessings are showered on outsiders. They need to get over it.

Steve Kindle said...

John, where I agree with almost all you wrote here, I find it difficult to accept your statement: "...without the Holy Spirit the logical, well informed reader will only read words and not the meaning within them."

The implication is with the Holy Spirit, we will know the truth. If that's the case, why is there so much disagreement among all those who are supposedly led by the Spirit?

John said...

Maybe some are not being led by the Holy Spirit at all? This is where our reason and tradition and nature allow us to validate our understanding. And maybe others, only given a glimpse of the truth, make too much of it. In any event the glimpse we received is important for us to hear, in our time, and in a context. But I'm also certain that no one gets the full truth, perhaps because no one can really grasp it.