In this issue of the parish newsletter I offer a quick peak into our recent vacation, and a couple of more comments about doctrine.
1. Marianne and I had great time in Rangeley, Maine on our vacation. We again took along our Field Spaniels, Oscar and Babette – and our Maine Coon Cat, Kirby. The dogs had a very good time swimming in Dodge Pond! They were really good about swimming out to get a toy and coming right back (for a treat). There was only one time when things got out of hand. We were down by the dock and the dogs were still on their leashes, when a female Mallard duck flew in, plopped down, and started paddling around about ten feet away. The dogs started barking and became just a tad excited. Oscar slipped his collar, but I was able to hold him by the scruff of his neck. Babette got loose and ran to the end of the dock, but didn’t jump in because her leash was caught on a nail. Marianne quickly got to her and grabbed the leash, and we decided that was enough excitement for the afternoon! We didn’t see the duck again, and the dogs went swimming a few more times before our vacation was over. Kirby declined our offers to take him swimming. And now on to the other topics.
2. I was reminded recently about something that seems on first glance a bit odd: Down to this day the Latin and Greek titles for the Nicene Creed are Symbolum Nicaenum (Nicene Symbol) and symbolon tes pistews (Symbol of Faith). In the ancient Greek world a symbolon was half of a broken object, which when joined to the other half, became proof of the bearer’s identity. So, by extension, the Creed became the symbol of Christian identity by which Christians could recognize each other.
3. In my last newsletter article I wrote about an ecumenical approach to achieving agreement on doctrine advanced by George Lindbeck in the 1980s. In his groundbreaking book, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), Lindbeck proposed that by treating doctrinal statements as rules by which we speak about God, we might be able to discuss with other Christians the way church teachings are internally coherent, without getting bogged down in endless circular arguments about how something we say is true, is true, because we have always said it is true. Lindbeck uses the secular example of how Brits drive their cars on the left side of the road, and North Americans drive on the right. It would be fruitless indeed to spend much time arguing about who is right on that topic!
But there are many things that various Christians can agree on, and they can agree not primarily because these are things that each group has always said they believed, but because they represent core truths about Christian Faith. Often, these are things that we can all agree should not be said about God.
Here is an example of how this approach might work:
The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Father and Son are co-eternal, and therefore the Church has insisted that the Creator of the universe is essentially loving, forgiving, and merciful. But the violence attributed to God in parts of the Old Testament seems inconsistent with the Christian belief in a loving Creator. In this case the doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Bible is a divinely inspired document that has been written and handed down through the generations by fallible human authors, and that the actions and motives attributed to God by these authors must always be interpreted through the offering of God Himself in the Life, Suffering, and Death of our Lord Jesus.
“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8, RSV.
Therefore, we must not say that God is violent or actively encourages violence.
I pray that you would take from these comments about the Nicene Creed, that
a. by calling the Creed a symbol (or sign), the Church has never said that it should be received symbolically, but instead, truthfully as “statements of our basic beliefs about God.” (BCP, p. 851)
b. by seeking agreement between Christian churches through dialogue, we all might learn more of what is essential to Christian faith and belief, so that we “may all be one.” (John 17:21)
May God bless you, Michael+