Tag Archives: apostles creed

Challenging Creeds of Christendom

When was the last time you read over your church’s creed or statement of faith? What does it say about Jesus? Have you checked lately?

Our creeds are often reflective of Christendom. (See the Nicene & Apostles Creed)

“Christendom” is the church militant and triumphant—Christ wielding a sword of political and military power.

It began with the 4th century Roman emperor, Constantine. He claimed to be a Christian in order to pander to Christians for support of his rule. It was strictly a political move. Looking around today, some things never change.

Once the church and state merged, Christendom was born. And the first-century Jewish Messiah is gutted for a palatable Roman Christ which becomes a cheerleader for the state.

This is reflected in creeds involving Jesus where his teachings are absent. Doctrine is promoted over and against behavior and adherence to Christ’s commands. At this point, we’re not followers of Jesus, just his fans.

In the following video blog, I mention how a survey of evangelical websites has turned up a sanitized Jesus that is all too common in our churches today.

Why do so many churches leave out their commitment to following the teachings of Jesus? It’s time to challenge the creeds of Christendom and testify to the Jesus of the Gospels. What do you think?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

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Creeds & the Local Church

I’ve been doing some thinking about the difference(s) between dogma, doctrine, and opinion when it comes to the local church.

Simply put… it looks like this.

  • Dogma — Irreducible beliefs of the Christian faith. What do we say about Jesus?
  • Doctrine — Historical or traditional beliefs on a plethora of theological issues. What sets us apart?
  • Opinion — Debatable issues that you’re free to agree or disagree upon. What do you think?

I agree with these three distinctions (leaving room for some overlap), but how do you determine what belief goes where in these categories? And is it possible for a local church (pastors & elders) to proclaim a certain view as “doctrine” but leave room for members to disagree? I think so.

One thing is for certain, this is a task for folks in community together and those who are willing to wrestle with it. That’s an invitation.

Two Ways of Dealing With It

Let me first address two common ways of dealing with these issues, and then I’ll share my working thoughts.

Group One — “Give me Jesus, not your divisive doctrine.”

Some of you know that I spent about five years meeting in homes and interacting with a network of “organic” churches. I had some great experiences. However, many of the folks I ran into sought to downplay the role of theology and creeds (statement of beliefs) for fear that it is divisive and characteristic of the beastly institutional church.

They have a point. Beliefs can be divisive. But I don’t think the answer is to avoid the need for a creed, or set Jesus against doctrine.

So, I’m saying that I know people that don’t seem to think that worrying about dogma, doctrine, and opinion really matters. In their “opinion” (catch that?), we should just wander about in nebulous fashion and refrain from any organization—church practice and theology included.

This group is imagining that there is not a systematic theology at work in the members of their group or church. It doesn’t need to be posted on a church website or posted on the wall of their meeting place, it’s alive in the hearts and minds of the saints there.

A fellowship may not discuss what they believe openly or form a statement of faith by consensus, but it’s at work among them.  Avoiding the obvious need for a creed of theology, mission, and vision will lead to a certain death. That’s if the church even gets off the ground in the first place.

You can’t escape a “theology of the people” who have decided to band together for Kingdom purposes.

Trying to do so will lead to division of another sort. Once more proving that reactionary thinking and practice is not the answer.

I suppose this groups believes that if you stay away from labels and systems of thought that there will not be any division or controversy. They must think this reflects a purer stage of the NT church.

Back when there weren’t any problems, right?

I respect the desire to not be needlessly building walls of separation between saints. I’m all for that. But I can’t espouse the idea that having a statement of belief (creed) is damaging to the church.

In fact, I believe it is healthy and necessary.

Group Two — “Let’s get back to the basics… of the 4th century.”

Then there are other folks who are rightfully fed up with sectarianism in the church but believe that we must stand firm on some basic theological truths about Christ. They believe we should only stick to the ancient creeds in our attempts to articulate the essentials of our faith.

I grew up a Southern Baptist. The SBC has a very lengthy confession (Baptist Faith & Message) dealing with just about every issue under the sun (OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit). Needless to say, I didn’t grow up reciting the Apostles or Nicene Creed. I regret that.

My wife and I attended a Methodist church for a year and we deeply benefited from the recitation of these ancient creedal statements. The recitation of creeds in worship is a healthy way of reminding everyone in attendance of what brings them together and is forming their new identity as members of the universal church.

Hear me out. I like reciting the ancient creeds, but I do think it’s important to remember that the Apostles & Nicene Creeds (4th cent) were written against their own contextual issues of heresy and debated ideas of Christology in the church from ages ago.

Let’s remember the ancient creeds and recite them together in our churches. I’m cool with that. I think there is something deeply beneficial that comes with this practice. But I submit to you that a healthy church will continue to wrestle with dogma, doctrine, and opinion in every age and culture.

The local church can do this by amending the ancient creeds to better address our 21st century issues and challenges.

It’s necessary for a church that wishes to be a relevant organism seeking to make a Kingdom impact in every culture and context. Our evolving world demands it. We must not be afraid to speak to, for, and against issues of our time. We must move forward with courage.

Finding a Third Way

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I have intentions to plant a church in the near future. I do this with fear and trembling. It’s not gonna be easy, but I’m convinced the Lord wants it.

The church today is fragmented in many ways. And I don’t wish to add to the problem by doing more of the same. But a new church plant is gonna require some line-drawing when it comes to dogma, doctrine, and opinion.

For example, some issues of “classical” theology, especially as it relates to our view of God in Christ, need to be revisited in order to reflect a change in the 21st cent church—a church that presently finds herself forced to accept views about God which contradict the revelation of God in Christ, or leave behind belief in a good God altogether.

The church that humbly professes the better view of God in Christ is being a faithful church, not a divisive or dogmatic church.

If we don’t speak up about these matters and courageously hold our ground against competing views that undermine the revelation of God in Christ… what good are we? What Gospel are we proclaiming?

There are other issues related to our culture and context that should be addressed in our creeds. We can’t afford to avoid these issues.

Some positions will need to be taken in response to culture, most others in response to misguided Christians propagating views about God and his sovereignty that don’t look like Jesus. It will require us hold positions that may not be popular, but are necessary to maintain the centrality and supremacy of Christ for authentic faith and practice.

Here’s what I’m saying… what may have been considered “opinion” or a non-essential in one generation can move into the realm of accepted doctrine worthy to be included in a church’s creed and statement of faith if it is needed in our response to bad theology and pagan culture.

The creeds of the local church should move forward in every cultural context, though never away from Christ who is eternal in the heavens.

The way forward affirms the importance of beliefs, expands on matters critical to our confession of Christ, and is willing to draw necessary lines in order to be faithful to the Kingdom.

This third way looks like Jesus Christ of Nazareth—Truth for the church and culture, saturated in love and grace for every age.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Have You Checked Your Filters Lately?

I remember reading a story where a student sitting next to Albert Einstein turned to him and asked, “What do you do?” Einstein replied, “I am a student of physics. What do you do?” The student replied, “Oh, I finished studying physics last year.”

I think it’s important to be reminded that as followers of Christ, and as believers of the Scriptures that reveal Christ, we ought to see ourselves as students on a continual journey of learning and enlightenment unto Jesus—the true source of all wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-4).

“Disciple” means one who is a student and a learner.

The Journey of Life & Death

The Christian journey is one of multi-lane freeways, straightaway interstates, winding single-lane roads through hills and valleys, and the occasional hike off the beaten path into the mysterious unknown.

It’s a journey that recognizes that need for constant change and evolution of thought and practice. It’s characteristic of life itself. It’s built into all of creation. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s also common to our spiritual life.

And now that Christ has promised us resurrection life, we know that death is only a part of the journey. It’s even a necessary part of our spiritual growth. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt 16:24-25

If we’re going to grow on this journey with Christ, we must be willing to revise, adjust, and sometimes change our views and our living based on new insights into the Lord. We’re going to have to deny ourselves.

We may even need to give up what we discover to be broken, sometimes even idolatrous, theological and biblical frameworks, and allow the Lord to give us a new vision and understanding altogether.

Are You Willing to Grow?

I’ve met many evangelicals who dislike theological challenges, even seeing them as an evil intruder seeking to demolish their faith or the faith of others. This shouldn’t be if we’re on a true journey with Christ.

I will go so far to say that if there hasn’t been a change in you and your beliefs for some time now, you’re probably not growing in the Lord to the extent he desires. Change is a part of “growing” up into Christ.

As followers of Christ, we should welcome challenges. When we’re challenged and honestly receive that challenge, it causes us to rethink and reexamine our previous beliefs and living. It’s characteristic of a living faith that is always moving forward in the Lord.

I see this as a win-win for us. You will ultimately discover that either you were on the right track with your previous belief, thereby strengthening it all the more, or you will find that your belief and practice were wrong, and correct it according to new light and understanding.

And we should never let the consequences of that change deter us from making the necessary moves toward truth that sets us free to faithfully follow Christ. If we’re out of our minds, it’s for Christ’s sake.

Check Your Filters

I have found that one of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual growth are the filters by which we perceive and judge ideas that are new to us, or that we’ve simply been told are bad for us by people in our group that we trust.

Filters are meant to screen things out that don’t belong. But the more threads or restrictions to the settings on those filters, they can actually work against you.

What happens when our filters end up collecting valuable items that are perceived as trash by the filter?

Have you ever had an important email unknowingly get collected in your SPAM box? Have you ever found a diamond ring or some other valuable item in those filters of yours? It happens.

I believe this sort of thing happens quite regularly to Christians on journey with the Lord. How does this happen to us when it comes to theological challenges? And what can be done about it?

Preunderstanding & Presuppositions

Our spiritual growth is stunted when we do not recognize how much our own cultural context and situation in life has shaped our theological perspectives. Please stop and think about this with me.

Consider this…

I’m a white Southerner. I was raised in a small East Texas town with no black people in a dry (no alcohol) county. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church that pledged to the Bible and the American flag during Vacation Bible School. This theological upbringing forged a commitment to reformed theology, Left Behind eschatology, and that women can’t be ministers in the church. And that’s just the beginning of it.

My wife grew up in a “King James only” congregation. This means that they only believe the “authorized” English version of the Bible should be read by Christians. Her tradition was even more dogmatic than my own. They forced girls to wear culottes at their church camps! (In case you don’t know, “culottes” are knee breeches first worn by men in the 16th century.)

Do you think these things impacted (and still impact) the way we think? Of course! And your own upbringing has shaped you as well. You need to acknowledge this if you wish to grow.

Our preunderstandings and preconceived notions that we bring to the biblical text and the Christian faith, (both consciously and unconsciously) greatly impact the way we think and live.

This preconditioning causes us to think that we already know and understand something about the Scriptures, making it harder to face the challenges that the Lord may be bringing our way to grow us spiritually.

Cultural Christianity

Our own cultural context and formation is a subtle aspect of our preunderstanding. We can easily attempt to interpret Scripture according to our cultural norms, and miss the real meaning.

For example, if Jesus said, “love your enemies” (Matt 5:38-48) but our culture has already shaped our thinking on the matter, we must immediately interpret Jesus in such a way that does not conflict with our cultural norms.

What is the norm here in America? Well, some killing and violence is acceptable as it promotes security, democracy, freedom, etc. Therefore, your filters force you to privatize and dilute the teachings of Jesus. As a result, the Bill of Rights often ends up trumping the real Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.

So much for serving two masters (Matt 6:24).

Regardless of how Jesus lives this teaching out, and the indisputable fact that for the first three hundred years of church history Christians refused military service and rejected all forms of violence, we are tempted to conform Christ to our cultural Christianity.

Duvall and Hays write in their book, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible:

Our culture is a combination of family and national heritage. You learn it from your Mom at breakfast, from the kids on the playground at school, and from television. It is a mix of language, customs, stories, movies, jokes, literature, and national habits. For Americans it is comprised of Big Macs, Barbie Dolls, Tiger Woods, and the Back Street Boys all mixed-in with George Washington, Babe Ruth, the Mississippi River, Walmart, and the space shuttle. (pg. 89)

Did you grow up in a big city or a small town? Did you grow up Protestant, Catholic, or some other tradition? Were you exposed to other cultural and theological viewpoints growing up? Have you ever spent any time outside of North America? Did you grow up in a healthy family? Were you rich or poor? Was your dad around? Did he show you love?

As it pertains to “love your enemies”… how often were you taught the teachings of Jesus in his historical context and shown how to live them out in your own? And I don’t mean the American Jesus version.

All of these things (and much more) matter when it comes to our cultural Christianity and learning how to navigate in the world on our faith journey. They add to the prefiguring of the settings on our filters.

For better or worse, our cultural context shapes our biblical worldview.

I don’t believe that everything we’ve ever been taught is entirely wrong, but we do need to recognize that our traditions and influences (good or bad) have added to the settings on our own filters.

Our preconceived ideas and our cultural baggage often keep us from knowing the first-century, olive-skinned, Palestinian, construction worker from Nazareth, that believed he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. 

Remaining Objectively Honest

It is true that being totally objective in biblical interpretation and in our Christian walk is impossible. However, simply being aware of our cultural upbringing and the filters that our own traditions have prefigured for us will help us to look afresh at the ancient Scriptures and consider how we might better follow the counter-cultural Christ in our own context.

I do believe that some basic historic presuppositions and settings on our filters should be used when choosing to walk the Jesus way. I recommend the historic Christian creeds, like the Apostles Creed.

This confession leads us to embrace the Scriptures as inspired testimony about God’s work in the world through Jesus of Nazareth.

Beyond this general confession of our faith in Christ, we ought to be open and honest with other brothers and sisters in pursuit of Jesus. In fact, Christians ought to be leading the world in exploration of wisdom and knowledge. We know the Source. What are we afraid of anyway?

This is only possible by being mindful of the filters guarding our hearts and minds. And adjusting those filters when it’s necessary for further growth.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. We have all been conditioned to read the Scriptures and follow Christ according to our own traditions and cultural norms. Have you checked your filters lately?

How have your filters been prefigured for the Christian life? What is stopping you from reconsidering certain challenges to your theological and biblical worldview? Pray the Lord will help you grow.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

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