June 1, 2007

Sufficient for the day

A thought on the feast of Justin Martyr...

Just as we accept the "sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation" so too we regard the Nicene Creed, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral puts it, to be "the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith." What the Nicene Creed leaves out, then, is not essential to the faith. The Creed doesn't tell us everything about God, or much about the church, and hardly anything about discipline or morals; but it tells us enough about the faith in order for us to be faithful.

Isn't it interesting that God appears only to give us enough to keep us hungry for the eventual enjoyment of the banquet — just our daily bread until we reach the heavenly celebration? Can the church not rejoice in its doctrinal rations, and not impose beyond their bare sufficiency? It is in those extra-creedal matters that we begin to divide, and dividing, fail.

Let us fast from the excess that leads to division, and feed one another on the adequate fare God provides.

Tobias Haller BSG

6 comments:

rick allen said...

In fact the Creed says nothing about discipline or morals. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with concluding from that that no moral issue ought to be a matter of division.

If Christian Identity declares its adherence to the Creed, is that alone a basis for reunion, putting aside their overt racism? Is there no moral issue that is constituative of Christianity. Isn't "love," a word not found in the Creed, somewhat more than a peripheral notion?

The creed is "shorthand," with its roots in the baptismal liturgy, later adapted to address Christological controversies, then placed in the liturgy through Carolinian influence (I think), and now functioning as a convenient categorization for certain kinds of Christianity and as a schema for catachesis.

But an instrument of unity? It doesn't unify many of those who accept it--East and West, Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Reformed. And of course many would reject it out of hand--Baptists, Quakers, American restorationists, and our numerous "modern" friends who just can't believe that silliness about the virgin birth.

I consider it a treasure. But surely it is the pre-eminent example of that dogma that has previously been blamed for dividing.

Tobias said...

I agree with much of what you say here, Rick. Ultimately, as with any standard, the Creed will be held to by those who hold to it -- there is a kind of self-selection at work. Being an Anglican minimalist (in the fashion of C. S. Lewis' "mere" Christianity) and card-carrying Lambeth Quadrilateralist, I would hold to the Creed as a sufficient summary of doctrine, beyond which, of course, it is fine (and important) to further develop such matters as a moral teaching and details of church discipline (though the other articles of the Lambeth Quad draw some limits there, too). As I cited in an earlier comment on another post, the idea is to have a minimal set of agreed principles, beyond which much can be allowed but nothing required. I think most of the divisions in the church come not from the Creed, but from various other dogmatic or doctrinal positions.

You are probably correct about parts of the Creed being less helpful to the modern mind, as in the virgin birth. I have no trouble with that doctrine, by the way, and think (in particular in its expanded elucidation at the Council of Chalcedon) to be important in a proper understanding of human nature, and relevant to the present debates on the ordination of women, for example. The Eastern Orthodox have finally picked up on that and it may finally be the wedge that opens that particular sticking point.

In the long run, I see the Creed as analogous to the rules of a particular sport. Everyone agrees to those rules if they want to play that game. Some will play it well, others poorly. A few might even cheat. Some will also be rather nasty, others more friendly. That sounds like the church to me -- a hospital for many sinners rather than a club for the perfect few.

bls said...

Isn't it interesting that God appears only to give us enough to keep us hungry for the eventual enjoyment of the banquet — just our daily bread until we reach the heavenly celebration? Can the church not rejoice in its doctrinal rations, and not impose beyond their bare sufficiency? It is in those extra-creedal matters that we begin to divide, and dividing, fail.

Well put, and I've never thought about it this way before.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, I believe, with you, that the creeds are sufficient to serve our doctrinal purposes. Moving outward from the essentials, which are, of course, necessary, leads to division.

The Scriptures, with the Gospels serving (for me) as the lens through which I read the rest, give us the pattern for living out the Christian call.

The manner in which Christians follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, may vary greatly, but we gather at the table of the Lord because he calls us and says, "Take and eat," and "Take this cup."

Grandmère Mimi said...

I wish I had enough money to employ an editor for the words that appear on the internet as a result of my quick clacking away at the keyboard.

On my previous comment: Of course, the essentials are necessary - a redundancy if ever there was such a thing. How could the essence of a thing not be necessary?

What I meant to say was that adding on to the essentials in the Creed brings about division.

Is it just me, or do any of the rest of you cringe when you read what you've written on the internet?

Tobias said...

Dear GM,
THanks for the clarification, but I got you first time round -- tho' our minds often do seem to run along similar channels.

However, I do understand the feeling about having posted something and then regretting it. At times I think I should have an honorary degree from the University of Oopsala. ;-)