Unmasking the Sources of Christian Anti-Semitism - Part 1

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 28 April 2004 0 Comments
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I have been having a problem of conscience lately, having to say the Nicene Creed during service at Eucharist. I do not believe what I'm saying and don't know how to approach this with honesty without standing there just idly waiting for it to be over with. What can you tell me about how to approach this?


Like so many people you are a victim of the Church's propaganda, which suggests that the creeds were divinely inspired and that they have captured the essence of the Christian faith so completely that there is no room for doubt or questions about them. Neither assertion is accurate.

Creedal development began in the third century as baptism formulas. They varied from community to community and only slowly evolved into the form that we now know as the Apostle's Creed. That creed, however, was deemed inadequate to guard the Christian faith from error by the fourth century's Council of Nicea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 387. Both of those councils were filled with political wheeling and dealing, with compromise and negotiation. To suggest in later history that this process was somehow divinely inspired or that it somehow captured eternal truth for all time would have come as a great surprise to the delegates of either convention. For the Church centuries later to persecute and even to burn at the stake those who might question or challenge a particular tenet of these creeds simply demonstrates how the uncertainty of faith and the insecurity of life can combine to create a hostile, demonic and killing response.

All creeds are simply statements of what people in a particular age believe about their religious system at that time in human history. A creed inevitably makes the assumptions of the age in which it was formulated. Virgin births, for example, were the typical way ancient people accounted for extraordinary lives. It was also in touch with the ideas of reproduction prevalent at that time. No one would salute that explanation of reproduction in our day. The creeds also assume a Ptolemaic worldview that located the earth as the center of the universe. In a post-Copernicus space age such assumptions are nonsensical. Creeds are "Hymns of Love" sung to the God in whom we believe. The words are never to be literalized. They are to be entered.

Someday, when that is understood, the Christian Church will rewrite the creeds but that rewritten version will, in time, also become misleading and irrelevant. That is the fate of all human written material. Creeds are designed to lead us beyond their words to the God experience they seek to articulate. If you treat them that way, they are aids to worship. If you literalize them or turn them into faith texts for orthodoxy, they become destructive. You might try singing them. Sometimes that makes the distinction I am trying to make a bit clearer.

-- John Shelby Spong




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