Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A toothless watchdog

If creeds are so useful for the truth they may contain, but are not authoritative for our salvation, then we might as well call Moby Dick by Herman Melville a creed. Scripture is quoted in the novel, so it contains some inerrant truth, right?

People view creeds as watchdogs to protect a group from heresy, but if the creed has no real authority, then it is a toothless watchdog. One bit of prose is as good as another, provided there is some semblance of truth in it.

As long as we are all free to dissent with this phrase or that nuance of meaning without endangering our soul, then why have the creed in the first place? Because it's a crutch. Everyone is deathly afraid of what would happen if there were no creeds, thinking that chaos and heresy would be just around every corner. But that implies that they are not at the moment, which I deny emphatically. Creeds have been used for centuries now, with the same chaotic and divisive results. How many Christian sects and denominations do we have now? Thousands, no doubt. If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep getting what we're getting.

The meaning of the word heresy, as it was used by new testament writers, was not departure from orthodoxy, but a schism. We can discuss all day long what the appropriate circumstances are for a schism, but the fact is that creeds have engendered more of them than they have ever patched up, simply because they introduce fallible language and opinions into what is intended to be an authoritative document.

But again, if Christians don't have to consider them authoritative, then why have them? Perhaps we should make nothing a test of fellowship that God has not made a test of salvation. Then the real watchdog against heresy becomes the inerrant Word of God. And there is an additional benefit; it has real teeth.

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