Saturday, January 27, 2007

a query re creeds

The following query has been posted in the Non Theist discussion
group.

> QUERY: Why are you interested in the question of Quakers and
>creeds? What > does it mean to you to be a member of a noncreedal
> religion? Is noncreedality a central concern in your life as
Friend?

I have developed my answer to it, a little, and post that, here.

I am interested in the question of creeds within the Religious
Society of Friends because I have to question whether, in
actuality, we truly lack a creed. I think we have at least a
fistful of them, among us.

Some within the Quaker Movement have written creeds and
acknowledge them as such.

It also seems to me that the phrase "that of God in everyone" is a
creed for the majority of Friends, although certainly not all.

It also seems to me that what Pink Dandelion calls the "behavioral
creed" (usually referred to, on this side of the pond as "Quaker
process") is very much a creed among Liberals. We are very liberal
in regard to belief but we are very creedal/conservative in regard
to how we behave and function as Friends. This creed is breaking
down on the "left" wing of Liberal Friends, however, where the only
recognized authority is the authority of the individual. Thus,
individualism is fast becoming the creed that may well end up in
a split on the Liberal edge of the Movement. Imagine, some else
being farther "out there" than Beanites like me.

This creed of the individual, as opposed to that of the community
(in the traditional--gathered-- as opposed to modern--sharing
mutual interests--sense of the word,) in the Liberal-Liberal Quaker
world is characterized by a hyper tolerance allowing one to make
up any religion one wants to have (and in so doing combining
elements of different faith traditions and defining words and
concepts in idiosyncratic ways that vary from common usage and
understandings) and demanding that everyone respect it as being
just as good a t/Truth as any other. "Quaker," according to this
view, is like an array of seasonings; whatever suits one's own
tastes can be sprinkled on any dish that one pours from a can or
concocts for oneself out of whatever one has brought home from the
spiritual supermaket. (is sarcasm a testimony? satire? is there
a difference?)

I think this is manifest in the tension between the post script
(although certainly not the letter, itself, Spirit forbid) from
the Balby elders, which is a creed among Liberal Friends, and the
beliefs expressed in Fox's letter to the Governor of Barbados, which
arises to the level of a creed among Evangelicals.

Creeds? I think we got 'em. And I think they cause as much
trouble among as as those who originally hoped to eschew them
knew they would.

7 comments:

jez said...

Often in the past when I have said to others that Quakers do not have a creed, I have meant it and believed it understood that we do not have a written text that we rely upon, because we hold true to experience.

But, I have come to understand creed to be less about a written text and more about a formula or system, in which case your example of 'that of God in everyone' is very much a creed.

Whether they cause us that much trouble, I do not have a sense of, one way or the other.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Timothy!

I've held this one in the light for a couple of days, but I'm finally feeling clear to respond.

I think it is important, once again, to clarify what Friends have historically meant when they declared they did not have a creed.

Among Christians, a "creed" is "a concise, formal, and authorized statement of important points of Christian doctrine. The classical examples are the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. Candidates for Baptism originally accepted short formulas of belief; these gradually became crystallized into creeds. After the Council of Nic├Ža (325) credal professions of faith came to be used as standards of orthodoxy."

(Definition taken from E. A. Livingstone, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [Oxford Univ. Press, 2000].)

What Friends have historically said is that they do not accept the validity of such credal tests of membership. It is not that they necessarily believed that the points made in creeds are false, but they did feel that sincere Christians can differ about the right way to express an important truth, and that such differences should not stand in the way of Christian fellowship.

Friends also rejected the use of creeds because they are unbiblical -- no such test of faith was ever used in biblical times. They particularly rejected the formulation of the nature of the Trinity as taught in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds: no such distinctions appear in the Bible.

To clarify what this means, Baptists also do not have a creed, and for the same reason. The Southern Baptists do not have a creed. Yet the Southern Baptists are very emphatically loyal to their version of Christian doctrine. They do require loyalty to their version of Christian doctrine of all their members.

And quite similarly, the fact that Friends do not have a creed, did not historically stand in the way of their requiring loyalty to their version of Christian doctrine of all their members. They just didn't try to boil their version of Christian doctrine down to a formula that honest Christians might disagree about in good conscience.

If "non-theist Friends" want to use the noncredalism of Friends as an excuse for rejecting theism, or other standard Christian doctrines, while remaining Friends, they still need to understand that most Christians, and most Friends down through history -- and even most Friends today! -- do not accept that noncredalism works that way.

Liz Opp said...

Timothy,

I really appreciate this post. I shall have to sit with the idea of "individualism as creed." Not sure I see it that way, but that's why I'll sit with it.

Another caution I have heard from one Friend in particular is that too often Friends lift up the Peace Testimony to the extent that it nearly has become creedal.

I would expand that a bit and say that the Testimonies as a collection of principles are being talked about as if they are a Quaker creed. There may not be any rote learning about the Testimonies per se, but the acronym SPICE certainly comes close to that.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Johan Maurer said...

This is just an asterisk to your good discussion: The Balby postscript draws from one of my favorite biblical passages, Paul's second letter to the Corinthians 3:6: "[God] has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Liz Opp said...

Well, Timothy, your post has continued to provoke some further reflection on my part, to the extent that I ended up writing more about creeds myself!

Thanks for being the pebble in the pond.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Nancy A said...

For me, it comes down to the difference between creeds and faith/beliefs.

A creed is a way of telling people what they have to believe to belong in a group. This idea may have worked okay in preliterate times, when there *was* only one theory of reality, one institution, one religion. But in the days of universal education, archaeology, science, inquiry, and debate, telling people what to believe is an anachronism. Even if they say Yes, yes, I believe that, and shout it out, deep inside they believe what they actually believe.

I believe creeds are the source of a lot of the dysfunction in churches. People have to pretend to believe them, go through the motions, whether they do or not. Others kind of twist the meaning around to get the creed to mean what they want it to mean, playing word games instead of listening to the deeper spirit behind the words. Yet others have to live in a kind of sick fear because they believe their lack of belief in a creed means they're unsaved, but they are too afraid to let on to anyone else.

I think this is what Fox was getting at. You can't formulate a creed and then stuff it into everyone's head. Otherwise you're telling people to pretend, distort, or lie(to themselves). People have to get there on their own.

I think churches cling to creeds because they believe it helps prevent spiritual drifting. But if the congregants don't actually believe what's in the creed, if they're only giving lip service, then that drift has already occurred.

Lorcan said...

This is so interesting, in light of Marshall Massy's bloging on do Friends have doctrines..
http://journal.earthwitness.org/the-quaker-magpie-journal/2007/2/25/friends-and-doctrines.html . It ties in with the comment thee makes above about fFriends using the same word differently.
I am concerned with static appreciation of words, especially words which describe thought. Liberal and conservative. I am called to wonder, in Man for All Seasons, the film, is Thomas Moore a Liberal or a Conservative? One can say he is radically conservative for following his church over his king, but at the same time, he follows his beliefs over the exigency of politics -- a liberality, as is his appreciation of the law... "Would you grant the protection of the law to the devil?" he is asked, "If I cut a path through the law to get to the devil and I chase him to the ends of creation, and he turns on me, what shield will I hide behind?" The use of Liberal and Conservative, in static boundaries, robs us of a certain degree of introspection about our own souls, I am afraid.

Thine in frith and fFriendship
lor