DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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Why bother to say the Creed?
by Tony Windross

One Creed or another is said at many Christian worship services, and this unfortunately causes enormous problems for lots of people. There are three different Creeds officially in use, but the one most people come across is the Nicene Creed (set out below).

This began life in 325 at the Council of Nicaea as the deliberations of a group of theologians and politicians who were called together to come up with a party-line as to what Christians believed. After they all went home, the debate continued, and the Creed didn't arrive in its final form until the Council of Constantinople in 381.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Creed forms a convenient shorthand summary of the primary symbols of Christian belief, and is therefore useful as a way of reminding ourselves of what we're officially about.

But as an introduction to Christianity, or as a help to faith, it's pretty useless. This is because it appears to be full of claims that most people, including many churchgoers, couldn't even begin to accept as true.

Lots of those who attend church keep quiet during the time when it's said, or have a pause when it gets to a bit they find particularly unhelpful (or even offensive), or say it but have a bad conscience about being hypocritical.

So what can we do about it? The easiest thing, of course, would be for the Church to stop saying it at all.

It doesn't have to do that. The only necessity in religion is what people put there. The Creed was invented by people, and it can be scrapped (or ignored) by people if they/we want to. We might ask, do we actually need a Creed at all?

Any Creed is as much a product of its time as a piece of old pottery. It's important to remember that when we say it, we're not pretending that we see things in the same way as the people who wrote it. That would be impossible, and indeed, undesirable. The world has moved on a long way in the last 1700 years, and our understanding of almost everything has changed out of all recognition.

The Creed has been referred to as the "football song of the church", and this is a wonderfully irreverent and perceptive thing to say. It reminds us that when we say it we are, in effect, saying, "I'm a member of that gang". We're proudly stating our solidarity with this particular group, and subscribing to its general outlook, just as we do when we sing the National Anthem.

In other words, it's not about stating a series of religious facts but about being part of a community of fellow enquirers.

Perhaps if the Creeds always were set to music they would cause a lot fewer problems. After all, we sing lots of hymns with the most peculiar ideas, but if they have good tunes, then the words often don't matter much.

The problem of the Creeds is the problem of many other areas of Christianity - it's about the clammy hand of the faith of the past reaching up and threatening to squeeze the life out of the faith of the present.

As an historical religion, Christianity is always going to have a problem with old understandings of the faith. Like our religion, we are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of the past as well. The understanding of the faith preserved (fossilised?) in the Creed is historically important but can never be the last word.

In religion, nothing can ever be the last word. To quote T S Eliot, "We must be still and still moving, into another intensity". The danger of Creeds is that they tempt people into thinking that the story is over and that all we're required (indeed allowed) to do is to keep replaying it, over and over again.

In fact, the story is new for each generation, who have the task of continuing and re-presenting the faith in terms that resonate with their own time. The number of "timeless truths" of religion is very small, and they're wrapped up in historical packaging that masks what's underneath.

Anyone who demands that 21st century Christians take literally the words of the Creeds is consigning Christianity to the dustbin of history. Those of us who are unwilling to see this happen have a duty to make known as widely as possible that things don't have to be like this, that it is possible to be a thinking Christian and use religious symbols imaginatively and creatively.

The Creeds are pointers to the faith of the past. It's up to us to be pointers to the faith of the future.

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