Jaroslav Pelikan in his interview with Krista Tippett at “On Being” gives four primary arguments that demonstrate in his mind “The Need for Creeds:” https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/jaroslav-pelikan-the-need-for-creeds

1. Specificity

Pelikan argues that

Religious faith needs creeds because religious faith “in general,” prayer addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” sentiment about some transcendent dimension otherwise undefined, does not have any staying power. It’s ok to have that at 10:00 on a Sunday morning when you head out with your friends somewhere. But, in the darkest hours of life you gotta believe something specific. And that specification is the task of the Creed.

It is not entirely clear to me that there is much comfort to be found from reciting a creed when I am facing “the darkest hours of life.” Whether I like it or not, people do not find comfort for the most part in the “specification” of tidily defined dogma, or even poetically expressed doctrines.

We find comfort in the specificity of other people. We receive solace from the people around us who are able to put flesh and bones on faith. When I am suffering, I do not care that much about your definition of the divine; I care whether you are able to hold my hand and speak to me a word of compassion and care.

There is a disturbing dualism enshrined in Pelikan’s argument when he goes on to explain that, in his mind,

much as some people may not like it, to believe one thing is to also disbelieve another. To say “Yes” is also to say “No.”

This is what creeds were created to do. They intend to define who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong. They major in “Yes” and “No.”

It is not clear to me that in the incredibly multi-cultural environment we currently inhabit that we can afford in the church to enshrine at the heart of our worship a verbal expression of “We are right and everyone who disagrees with us is wrong.” Coming to the eucharist does not require correct belief. It requires only a heart that desires to open to the mysterious presence of love that, in Christian tradition, we call Christ and see embodied in Jesus.

2. Protection

The history of the movement of Christianity from one place to another and the translation of the Bible into now more than 2,000 languages, is the history of how one sought in a new setting not to speak the same thing, but to say the same thing. You spoke quite differently. To test the integrity and therefore the honesty and therefore ultimately the authenticity of what you’re saying, that the task of a creed.

Jesus seemed less concerned about protecting “the integrity… honesty… and authenticity” of belief than he was about the fruit of a life lived in love. It may not seem as intellectually compelling as Dr. Pelikan’s argument but Jesus offered a much more challenging criteria for assessing the “authenticity” of faith when he said,

You will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16)

The mechanics of how reciting a creed week by week might preserve the “authenticity of what you’re saying,” are elusive.

Jesus seems to have been under the impression that the Holy Spirit was adequate to preserve the truth believers needed to know:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13)

Creeds may be a means for passing on a witness to the truth from one generation to another. But “truth” is not a dogmatic formulation. Truth is a living presence. Jesus said,

‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ (John 14:6)

Jesus left no creeds. He required no one to subscribe to a specific set of theological doctrines. Jesus invited people into a living relationship. He sought surrendered hearts and trusted the work of God’s Spirit to impart to his followers the truth they needed to know.

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