Pastor Harvey’s Monthly Message
We proclaim a creed, “I believe this…,” almost every Sunday at worship. Why?
I’ve been reading the Rev. Dr. Robert Jenson’s writings about the Triune God and one of the ancient controversies regarding the full divinity of Jesus. You see, in Jesus’ day, the Greek religion and philosophy were pervasive, and both had a significant impact on the religion and thought of the whole Mediterranean region, including the thinking of Jews and Christians. For example, the Jews had long known their God, the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt, was changeable, even open to mortal persuasion. Both Abraham and Moses had argued with God and changed God’s mind.
Now the question as to whether God really changed God’s mind or whether God was testing and teaching Abraham and Moses is beside the point. The Jewish people had a long tradition of comprehending their God in this way.
But along comes Greek religion/philosophy that says God must be unchangeable and impassible. In this context, impassible means it is impossible for God to suffer or experience emotion; no pain or pleasure. Because the Greek culture was so ubiquitous and pervasive in the whole region, these theological ideas started to seep into Jewish (and later, into Christian) theology.
And then Jesus suffers and dies on the cross. And then God suffers and dies on the cross.
How can God suffer and die? It is impossible. It is a paradox.
No wonder St Paul wrote, “22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:22-24 NRS)
This is, at least a major reason for the creation of the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. In the first centuries after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the believers were trying to figure out Jesus. One of the heresies was that Jesus was divine, but more like a demi-god; only a divine mediator between the real
God and us. After all the discussions and arguments, the creeds enunciated the consensus opinion of the believers.
Yep, the creeds leave out a lot of important stuff, for example; all the teachings, parables, healings and the life of Jesus. And there still are questions today about the correct interpretation of the teachings and parables of Jesus. (I don’t think a new creed would solve that question.) But the creeds we do have were the results of the church, the body of Christ, responding to the questions and heresies of their day.
Why do we keep the creeds today when the divine nature of Jesus Christ is not much of a hot button issue? My personal opinion is tradition. But maybe an unintended (or intended) consequence of this tradition is that we also affirm a core belief of the historical Christian faith that we hold in common with our sisters and brothers of the Catholic, Orthodox and ecumenical partners in the Protestant traditions. And through the creeds, we have this constant reminder that although we do have different traditions in practice and different understandings of the faith, we have this in common.
Your Shepherd in Christ,
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