February 16th, 2017
We’re weeks into a series letting the Apostles’ Creed set our agenda. To what end(s), though? How will we know if our review of its matter is starting to matter?
We’ve spoken briefly as to why the creeds were formulated at all. Summarizing the “faith once delivered” helped the rapidly expanding church see the proverbial forest for the trees in what it meant to follow Jesus. And as it relates to our focus last Sunday, when a movement gets out in front of its core message, the propensity for slight variations to devolve into massive distortions calls for some deliberate, clarifying statement(s) to ensure the fidelity that fosters unity.
The councils that composed the creeds each answered lines of thought that, they determined, were leading the church into errors that would provoke division. Only a patient, deliberative, and prayerful process of mining the depths of the Text would serve both to crystallize notions the church hadn’t had to reckon with before, and also to preserve the unity constitutive of its identity (and for which the Head of the church had prayed fervently–cf. Jn 17). In that sense, the church owes some thanks to the “helpful heresies” that prompted those creed-crafting councils, since it was those theological scrums that inspired the thinking that helped coalesce their thought and unify the church.
That’s how the creeds helped the church then. But how might they now?
Remember Rod Dreher? Specifically his thinking about how the Church might recover some of its fidelity to its foundations through recovering some of its proven practices like that exemplified in the likes of St. Benedict? He’s about to publish a book that crystallizes his thoughts on the so-called “Benedict Option“–that return to particular foundational habits of mind, prayer and community that serve to center the church on its identity and priority. This week Dreher opened up about the contributions the various Christian traditions can make to one another in forming those vital and faithful communities.
Each communion–Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant–has particular aptitudes that have well served them, but could now stand to find a place in the traditions unfamiliar with them. Dreher gives thanks for the Protestants who’ve come to foster close-knit parishes that other traditions have lacked. He acknowledges the robust theological reflection and articulation we often find within Catholic circles (not to diminish the same contribution of Dreher’s own Orthodox world). But it is that same Orthodox community which offers to the whole catholic (lower case “c”) church a rich tradition of liturgy, full of not just words and music, but also rituals of bodily movement that honor our full embodied selves as they also form our souls through the use of those bodies. Quoting James K.A. Smith‘s sense of Orthodoxy’s respect of “corporeality”–of embodied participation–in worship:
A rich liturgy that is not accompanied by sound teaching and strong practices would be little more than an aesthetic experience for a congregant. But if corporeality is how God created us to function, and if our tradition provides us with biblically based liturgies that cement the cultural memory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in our bones, why would we not implement them?
Smith, a Protestant and therefore from a tradition preferring to let the mind be the primary “organ” of liturgical use, sees the need for Protestants and Catholics to discover what their Orthodox brethren already know: the whole body is as much a participant in worship as that thing between our ears.
All to say, grasping what we hear rehearsed in the Creed–it’s meant to do more than inform. It’s making its mark where it’s provoking our praise without restraint. Oh, yes, there are ostentatious expressions of praise which do more to detract (and distract) than extol. But if in fact we have a communion with the maker of all things, the One who shed His own blood for our good, and the Spirit who indwells; if by their concerted work we have a new community which shares in a common forgiveness and a common destiny of life without end, then it makes for an odd first impulse to moderate our appreciation of what is ours, as expressed in the creed.
So should the urge to drop to your knees, or raise your hands, or exclaim extemporaneous praise, you are no fanatic. You are only answering a proper prompting.
The sermon ended, but too quickly, on this note from George Herbert–an excerpt from his “Church Porch“–which nicely summarizes what apprehending the creed may well elicit:
When once thy foot enters the church, be bare.
God is more there, then thou: for thou art there
Onely by his permission. Then beware,
And make thy self all reverence and fear.
Kneeling ne’re spoil’d silk stocking: quit thy state.
All equall are within the churches gate.
Last Sunday during 2nd hour Kevin introduced us to the life of John Calvin as the 1st installment in our segmented short-course through the Reformer’s magisterial work, the Institutes. (Kevin’s PowerPoint slides can be downloaded here. We plan to make audio recordings of subsequent lectures henceforth.)
If Kevin’s work whetted your whistle for an even broader look at the Reformation, both its accomplishments and its regrettable outcomes, someone we’ve appealed to before is well furnished to slake your thirst. Dr. Carl Trueman, here under the auspices of The Masters Seminary, introduces his 19-part course on Reformation history.
We might also add something else from Dr. Trueman on a related Reformation theme, this a lecture about Martin Luther as a troubled prophet. It wasn’t that long ago we prefaced a sermon by appealing to Luther’s problematic legacy. As with many seminal figures in history, their impressive contributions are commingled with actions that nearly relegate them to ignominy. Trueman sorts through the wreckage of Luther’s story to recover its enduring bits while not minimizing its indefensible aspects.
The season of Lent will be upon us in less than two weeks. We’ll continue our newest tradition of commencing that season by holding an Ash Wednesday service at 6pm. More details to come, both on the service and the series that will comprise the season: a study of that troubling and perplexing, stream-of-consciousness musing on life known as the book of Ecclesiastes. We’re calling the series”disabused.” And soon we’ll tell you why.