Report on a Modern Church day conference November 2014
by Jeyan Anketell
from Signs of the Times No. 57 - Apr 2015
Eighteen people attended this conference in Lichfield, including our leading speaker Modern Church member Revd Canon David Jennings, Canon Theologian at Leicester Cathedral.
Most of us were from two neighbouring parishes in Lichfield, but a few came from as far afield as London, Lincoln and Stockport. We had four one hour sessions, beginning with an opening address by David Jennings.
Up to 300 AD/CE there were no set services, no creeds and no canonical New Testament. The Apostles' Creed was based on baptismal affirmations, the earliest of which might have been 'Jesus is Lord', which is not fully Trinitarian. Statements in 1 Corinthians might have led to the formation of the Apostles' Creed around 390AD. This was used everywhere at Baptism by the early Middle Ages.
The Nicene Creed was formulated in 325AD, as a political means of enforcing certainty, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. It was first introduced into worship around 470AD, as a test against certain heresies. Biblically, Philippians 2, 6-11 is nearest to the Creed, while 1Timothy 3,16 and the non-Pauline Ephesians 4, 4-10 may also have influenced its formulation.
Are the Creeds believable? Some statements cannot be understood, some are unbelievable. 'I believe in...' implies some sort of verification. There is the problem of the existence of suffering, contrasting with 'Almighty'; and 'love' implies weakness and/or vulnerability. 'Only Son'/'only begotten Son' contradicts 'sons of God' in Job, and '...son of Adam, son of God' in Luke's genealogy of Jesus. How can the 'begotten' be of the same nature as the 'unbegotten'?
The experience of 'sonship' can be very negative for some people. 'Going into hell'; where is this? Likewise 'rising again into heaven to sit at God's right hand'. What does 'substance' mean in the Nicene Creed? What is the meaning of a 'Baptism for the remission of sins' and 'Looking for the resurrection of the dead'? The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) was set up to mop up and clarify certain misunderstandings and wrong ideas about the status of Jesus.
Everyone had the opportunity to ask questions, to speak and to join in discussion, some of which fitted in to David Jennings' presentation. Some were happy to join in saying the Creeds as metaphor and poetry, in solidarity with our current fellow worshippers, as well with our Christian predecessors, without taking them too seriously. Two of us took the Creeds literally and seriously, as Divine revelation given to the Church
Some of us were very uncomfortable with the place of the historic Creeds as part of our worship. We do believe in an ineffable God, with whom we have a relationship/fellowship/communion in prayer, allowing God to think in us. We can accept poetry in hymns and prayers, but our historic Creeds seem more literally binding.
I was the only one who took the opportunity to construct a 'believable Creed' (see Creed 1 below) while the others carried on discussing the issues. Someone who had to leave at lunchtime, submitted a 'Creed' (see Creed 2 below) after the event.
Creed 1: (We have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.)
We believe in a loving, creating, forgiving, enabling and sustaining God beyond our understanding, God who has made us for loving fellowship with each other and with him. The resurrection of the dead is a necessary corollary of God's love. We believe that we are the more fully human, the more fully ourselves, the more fully we share in God's loving, creative and forgiving activity, and that we are called to do this. We believe that God is always fully offering himself to us, and that we will the more fully receive his help and guidance the more fully we open ourselves to him.
Creed 2: (Lesley Allen)
God is God,
Source and Creator of all that is,
Lover and Sustainer.
God in Jesus taught us how to live.
Jesus gave of himself completely
and so gained life in God.
He gave us hope of forgiveness and new life.
God works through us so that we become the people we were meant to be.
Clearly there was no possibility of discussing Creed 2. The Creed 1 text above includes some suggestions put forward during a brief discussion. In an interfaith context, I might find it acceptable to include Mohammed and/or other teachers in this opening sentence.