The Creeds: love songs that our ancestors in faith sang to their God by John Shelby Spong
The following from Bishop John Shelby Spong was written as a response to this question: “Are the creeds, the doctrines and the dogmas of the church, an expression of the way people thought 2000 years ago?”
All creeds, doctrines and dogmas will reflect the worldview of those who framed them. No creed drops out of heaven, fully written, complete with paragraphing and punctuation. All creeds are shaped in debate and represent the winning formula, some times having been forced to consensus by something as human as political compromise.
The first creed of the Christian Church was just three words: Jesus is Messiah. In time Messiah was translated Lord. When Constantine became Emperor after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 C.E. he sought to unify his country under the Christian banner. This was why he called the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to force the Christians to form a creed that would be the basis of that unity. That is the Council that produced the Apostles' Creed.
But unity did not result and the Church discovered that Christians could say the creeds verbatim while meaning very different things. The creed had too much interpretive room in it to be the basis for unity. So another Council was called to close out the loopholes. That is when the Nicene Creed was created with all of its loophole closing clauses. Who is Jesus? "God of Gods, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father." Each phrase was designed to diminish wiggle room and thus create unity and conformity.
Even that did not work so, much later, an even more convoluted faith statement was adopted called the Athanasian Creed. The primary purpose of each creed was to define who is part of the true faith and who were outside the true faith. So every creed is a boundary maker.
I do not regard any creed, doctrine or dogma as eternal. I am not sure that in the light of modern biblical scholarship we would have or could have come to the same creedal conclusions and I wish we would go back and reargue the issues of Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon.
I say the creeds regularly. I do not think of them as strait jackets to be worn whether they fit or not. I view them rather as love songs that our ancestors in faith sang to their God. Love songs like the creeds always use language that cannot be literalized.
Try to view the creeds this way and see what a difference it makes.
~ John Shelby Spong