Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Creeds, Confessions, & Questions

As I am blogging my way through the Heidelberg Catechism, it came to me that while creeds and confessions are very helpful for defining beliefs for a specific community because they wrap things up nice and neatly, they are also very difficult because they wrap things up nice and neatly.

When the Heidelberg Catechism was written, it was because Lutherans and Calvinists were arguing about the Lord's Supper (this makes sense why the book I have says to compare it to Luther's Small Catechism, to see the similarities and differences).  This orderly set of beliefs had to be written to make sure everyone got it right.

And, in my limited knowledge of church history, weren't the creeds usually written as a response to some kind of heresy?

How many church websites have a page called "What We Believe"?  Many, if not most of them, do this.  People checking out the church want to know before they take one step through the door whether or not they agree with the beliefs of the church, and the church wants to be up front and open about what its beliefs are.

There's only one problem with that.

It doesn't appear to leave room for questions or doubts (especially if the "What We Believe" list is peppered with Bible verses to prove the belief points that are being made).

The thing is, I do really love the Nicene Creed, and the Apostle's Creed is something I learned at the Presbyterian Church I attended; it was a usual part of the service; the "Confession of Faith" part, I think.

I heard a sermon series one time about one of those creeds; I can't remember which, and while somewhat interesting, I think it served more as proving the creed so that people could feel confident about their beliefs.  And that's great for a lot of people.  But not everyone.

But what if we have questions?  What if we have doubts?  What if we don't have everything settled in our own minds and hearts?  Is there room for that?

When we refer to creeds and catechisms and statements of beliefs and say that all the answers to questions are contained in them, it closes the door.  Sometimes, the door is slammed shut and locked.  What if we want to think and discuss these ideas, especially regarding a church's "What We Believe" statement?  What happens if we disagree with anything on the statement, either outright or the way a Bible verse is used to proof text the statement?

What has been your experience with these things?  Have you ever discussed any of them with anyone "official" in a a church?  In your experience, are pastors usually willing to discuss the issue, or do they just say things like "well, the Bible says..." and that's it?


Dean Safe said...

The thing that I appreciate most about being a liberal Christian in the ELCA church (much like Presbyterian) is the openness to question. My pastors are not afraid to jump into conversations with me about what I'm thinking about.

In regards to the Apostles and Nicene Creed - I really enjoy them! They're one of the hallmarks of a Lutheran church, and while it does wrap up our belief sets pretty well, I think that, at least in my experience, it does allow room for questioning, as well. I'm leaning more towards Christian Universalism now, for example, but I still believe in the Creeds and the Bible. It's all a part of feeling comfortable in being allowed room to ask questions - and if you can't, or don't feel comfortable doing so - then it's a bad place to be. I found that in my two years at a conservative church, and my growing up in a ELCA church, the liberal denomination is much more open to questioning. I think that allowing for those questions makes faith much more vibrant, real, and honest, rather than just believing in "what the Bible says".

Wow...I just got long-winded. Sorry. :)

Kelly said...

No problem with being long-winded--be as long-winded as you want.

Sometimes I wonder where we get the idea that we can't question. I don't think anyone ever actually said it was not ok, but I still somehow had that impression.

The one time I engaged a pastor in discussion (via email) about an issue with which I disagreed with him (women in ministry), he basically just ended up blowing me off. It was disappointing.

I think sometimes, there are people who just never think to question, and that's great for them; I don't want to say everyone has to do it.

But I also know that when I say or ask something "different" in a Bible study or through an email and I'm met with blank stares or a chill in the air, I wonder why I bother voicing anything because I get the feeling then that there must be something wrong with ME if I just don't "get it".

Tor Constantino said...

Kelly, this was an awesome post! You are a truly gifted writer. As a believer, I think doubt and faith define each other and are needed.

My favorite scripture is Mark 9:24 where the father of a demon possessed boy says to Jesus about the son's deliverance, "I believe, help my unbelief."

To me, that sums up the Christian walk. If it's ok, I'd like to link to a post I wrote a few days ago on a very similar topic of trust and doubt.

I'm not trying to spam you, but I'd be curious to get your thoughts

Thanks again for a great post!

Kelly said...

Thank, Tor, for the compliment on my writing. It means a lot to me.

I like that scripture a lot, too; maybe I'll put it on my list of things to blog about. I'll go check out your post soon.