Donald Richmond: “In too much fullness is some want…” –Sir John Suckling in Chapters into Verse Over the past number of years I have repeatedly heard Roman Catholics emphasize the “fullness of [Roman] faith.” Within the grossly misguided context of evangelizing other Christians, this emphasis asserts that Roman fullness has something a bit more to […]
KB Categories Archives: Creeds
Every week I plan worship for my church’s worship services. Our church has four of them; one is traditional, led by choir and orchestra and the other three are modern, led by band and vocal teams. We are, for the most part, unburdened with the conflict that seems to arise in churches when more than one style of worship is present. Our church members and attendees don’t seem simply tolerant of the other’s worship service choices; they are supportive – despite our differences. I believe our services share several qualities that aid in this unity: each service shares the same space; each service shares the same (for the most part) leadership and no matter the style, each service shares the same doctrine. You may assume that the same doctrine is expressed in each service because they are all located in the same building. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the case. While emotional unity is one of the most important qualities to monitor in churches that offer worship services in different styles, it is likely not the root of most disunity. I believe that the primary reason for my church’s unity is found in our common doctrinal beliefs – and the key to doctrinal unity may not be as rooted in preaching as you might think. Rather, the key may be found in a theological principal that has been around since the 5th century: Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi. A loose translation of this phrase could be, “the way you worship shapes the way you believe.” Many churches may suffer from a lack of unity because they do not understand the power of this principal.
Written sometime between 435 and 442, Prosper of Aquitaine’s original phrase is, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. This translates to “that the law of praying establishes the law of believing.” Prosper was a student and follower of Augustine and originally wrote this to support Augustine’s fight against Pelagianism, or the belief that people are born without a “sin nature.” Pelagius thought people were born innocent, without the curse of original sin via Adam and Eve. In 325, the Council of Nicaea settled this and other issues when they adopted the Nicene Creed. The Council of Bishops knew that belief in original sin is crucial to understanding Christ’s role in the redemption of creation. Though his efforts to champion orthodoxy, Prosper promoted the awareness that prayer and worship are the believer’s first expressions of faith; the church’s teaching (credendi) is made tangible through the church’s prayer and worship (orandi). Simply stated, the way a church worships not only reflects its beliefs, worship actually shapes a church’s faith and doctrine. According to Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, faith gives birth to and “shapes” worship, but it is worship, that by fulfilling and expressing faith, “bears testimony” to faith and becomes thus its true and adequate expression and norm: lex orandi est lex credendi.
In Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Christians are encouraged to ask God to reveal where He is at work. From that point, when the praying believer becomes aware that God is at work, this awareness becomes God’s invitation for the believer to join in His work. Blackaby writes that whenever the praying Christian becomes aware of God’s invitation, a crisis usually manifests that must be overcome in order for the person to fruitfully comply with God’s invitation. As individual Christians (and by extension, worshiping congregations) successfully navigate these cycles of revelation and response, a greater depth of discipleship is achieved and more fruit is produced for the Kingdom. Simon Chan shows the same holy dialogue is found in corporate worship. He wrote that when God reveals Himself to us as the church, worship is the best response. In worship we can actually participate with God. Our worship either shapes us into disciples or something less: Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.
Many times Protestants don’t agree with Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi because they understand worship as something that naturally flows from a believer’s faith and doctrine. There are biblical and historical precedents for both. My purpose in writing is not to promote one over the other, but believers, especially evangelicals, must realize that no matter which concept they want to be right, both regularly occur in every church. Therefore, it is extremely important that we plan, structure and lead our worship services with the greatest intentionality. The concept of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi is instrumental in creating the primary theology for worshiping communities. As opposed to the academic study and discourse of theology (secondary theology), worship actually does theology. If this is right, then the theology and doctrine of our churches could be expressed as Lex Orandi Lex Credendi et Agendi: Worship shapes our belief and action.
Assuming our worship does shape our faith, in what ways is this accomplished? How can we learn about worship’s effect on our faith as we think and express it? In most evangelical churches, the primary way to understand our purpose as the church is through the lens of the Great Commission. My church reads this together at the end of every worship service. Historically and liturgically, this functions beautifully as the “sending” portion of our services.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
Many evangelical churches go to significant lengths attempting to use their worship services as a means to fulfill the Great Commission. The consensus among many is that we must make our congregational worship more “attractional” to those with little or no understanding of church culture – we don’t want to do anything that inhibits the lost from hearing and understanding the Gospel. Sometimes, in using the church’s corporate worship as a tool to fulfill the Great Commission, churches take shortcuts. These shortcuts often have unintended side effects. Theologian E. Byron Anderson believes that as we seek to capture the attention of the unchurched, there is a growing tendency to dispose of or hide our often unexplored worship traditions (Anderson uses the words “liturgical” and “sacramental”). Continuing, Anderson states, “Replacing these traditions are patterns and practices that more readily express the unfaith of the seeker than an invitation to the particular ethical way of God in Jesus Christ.” In other words, whatever our worship most resembles is where we will be leading our people.
Is This Just an Opinion?
A biblical perspective of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi can be found in Isaiah 6. The first eight verses are referred to as Isaiah’s call and are commonly used as a biblical structure for planning worship. The framework for this worship sequence looks like this:
1) We come into God’s presence and being in His presence compels us to worship Him.
2) By worshiping God, we see Him for who He is.
3) Then we honestly see ourselves for who we are.
4) This leads us to confession and repentance.
5) When we repent, God mercifully forgives us, cleanses us and declares us clean.
6) Now we are fit to hear Him speak.
7) He speaks, calling us to join Him in His work
8) As we respond in willingness, He commissions us to go.
The biblical understanding of Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi comes in the rest of Isaiah chapter 6 where God gives Isaiah the message he is to bring to Israel; it is not a pleasant message. God asks Isaiah to bring a message of judgment to Israel. Israel’s chief sin is Idolatry. It seems that as Israel’s corporate worship became more inclusive of and accessible to other cultures, the values of these other cultures crept into Israel’s worship. These values included the worship of idols. Psalms 115 and 135 are examples of where the impotence of pagan idols is described:
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of a man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts them. -Psalm 115: 4-8
After generations of idol worship growing in practice and influence, God calls Isaiah to tell Israel,
Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand. Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and turn and be healed. -Isaiah 6:9-10
This passage doesn’t, as some believe, demonstrate doubt of God’s everlasting kindness and grace. Rather, it’s an example of what happens when an entire people group continues to willingly walk away from God. If Israel longs most for the idols they worship, then God will deliver them over to the desires of their hearts. The people worship things that are blind, deaf and mute and God allows them to assume the qualities of those things they worship. When we insert things into our worship that are more of culture instead of God, these become the things we most desire. God will then deliver us over to the desires of our heart and we will assume the qualities of those things we worship; Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.
Church history also demonstrates that the way we worship creates doctrine, and in turn faith. One of these examples comes through perhaps the most defining action in Christian life, baptism. Baptism has always been a tangible evidence of God’s grace through Christ Jesus. In the Patristic age of the early church, evidence for the life transformation of each baptismal candidate was formally vouched for by the candidate’s God-father or God-mother. These individuals were the church representatives who served as the candidate’s one to one faith mentor through the duration of their pre-baptismal discipleship process; a process that could last up to three years. Even though baptism was never meant to achieve the “work” of salvation, its status was so revered that it was considered necessary for the demonstration of salvation. This is evident in the early church in the writings of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem that in the late 4th century:
“Great indeed is the Baptism offered you. It is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption”
“The bath of Baptism we may not receive twice or thrice; else, it might be said, Through I fail once, I shall go right next time: whereas if thou failest once, there is no setting things right, for there is One Lord, and one Faith, and One Baptism: none but heretics are re-baptized, since their former baptism was not baptism.”
Infant mortality was much greater in the 5th century than today. It is easy to see why the worship practice of infant baptism gained popularity as a worship practice when believers understood the only path to heaven goes through the waters of baptism. Even though Tertullian strongly cautioned against infant baptism at the turn of the 3rd century, 40-50 years later Hippolytus accommodated the practice in his Apostolic Traditions:
“You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves, their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family should speak.”
Two hundred years later, the practice of infant baptism had become so widely practiced in the church that Augustine wrote, “This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.” Somewhere along the line, churches began the widespread worship practice of baptizing infants without articulating a theological reason. Through worship practice alone, infant baptism had become so accepted, that even Augustine tried to make a theological argument by simply pointing to the pervasiveness of the practice. Have today’s churches also adopted doctrinally dangerous practices in worship based more on felt needs than solid theological grounding?
Can I Get a Witness?
Examples of how Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi impact churches don’t have to be negative ones. As I wrote earlier, my church, as the closing act of worship, reads or recites together the Great Commission. My Pastor instituted that change to our worship order over a year ago. At a recent staff meeting, while discussing the many changes that have occurred in our church over the last year or so, our Executive Pastor brought out the point that before our entire worshiping congregation (four different weekly services) began saying these words, the direction and attitude of our church was quite different. Since the advent of this new worship practice, our church has changed its goals and vision in a way that has made off campus ministries and starting new churches a prime directive. It seems that hearing Christ’s charge in our own mouths for countless weeks actually changed our primary theology and in turn, the values of our church. Something that was formerly of less value became primary. Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi.
Turning the spotlight on yourself is always harder than turning it on other people. While discussing the content of this article, my Pastor asked me if my own faith and values have been changed through intentional changes in personal and corporate worship. After reflecting, I realize the past few years of considering Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi have increased my regard for using the Psalms in personal and corporate worship. As a worship planner, Lex Orandi – Lex Credendi has motivated me to spend much more time considering scriptures than songs. When I choose songs, the lyrical content is usually of much larger concern than the music itself. The greatest change I recognize in my faith is that now, rather than wanting to get away from people to spend “quality time” with God, I am much more interested in finding “quality time” through worshiping God with others.
Questions to Consider
- Are you as intentional as you want to be when planning or entering corporate worship?
- In what ways does Lex Orandi Lex Credendi motivate you re-examine your church’s worship services?
- How is God revealing Himself to you over this concept and how will you respond?
- In relation to the way you worship alone or with others, are there any changes you would make?
Anderson, E. Byron. Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves. Collegeville, Minnesota. A Pueblo Book. The Liturgical Press: 2003.
Bass, Ralph E. What About Baptism: A Discussion on the Mode, Candidate and Purpose of Christian Baptism – Revised Edition. Greenville, South Carolina. Living Hope Press: 2010.
Beale, G. K. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology or Idolatry. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic, 2008.
Blackaby, Henry. Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Nashville, Tennessee. LifeWay Press, 1990.
Chan, Simon. Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community. Downers Grove, Illinois. IVP Academic, 2006.
Cyril, St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis of the Five Mystical Catecheses. London. S.P.C.K., 1960.
Hilgartner, Rick F. “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Word of God in the Celebration of the Sacraments.” Catechetical Sunday Newsletter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. September 20th, 2009.
Hippolytus. On the Apostolic Tradition. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2001.
Kavanagh, Aidan. On Liturgical Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota. The Liturgical Press, 1992.
Schmemann, Alexander. Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann, ed. Thomas Fisch. Crestwood, NY. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990.
Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 1980.
Chris Alford: Here’s a wonderful chapbook from AFFN Contributing Member Dr. Donald Richmond on the Apostle’s Creed. He writes, “The thesis is simple: Creeds not only defend and define doctrine, Creeds also determine the confines of community.” The introduction is here, and you may download the remainder in a .pdf format.
Christian Creeds have been used to both define and defend the historically revealed and received faith. Defining identity and defending against heresy were two crucial responsibilities of the early Church. The Church and the world needed to know the boundaries of proper belief and behavior.
The need for definition and defense continues to be of utmost importance. As long as there are competing religious systems, counterfeits, heresies and cults, there will always be a need to define and defend the faith. Truth exists, and it must be perpetually defined and defended. Karl Barth, likely the most important theologian in at least 500 years, has written that to say “yes” to truth is to also say “no” to every other theological competitor. Ascription to Christian truth will of necessity force us to deny every competing philosophy and theology that is contrary to God’s written revelation and to the affirmation of the universal Church. We must not forget this.
Beyond definition and defense, however, the Creeds offer a very clear picture of community and relationships. The Church is the community which the creeds define and defend. The classic Christian creeds seek to set the boundaries of community based upon the Triune nature of God as the Three-In-One. If we actually embrace what we recite in the Apostles’ Creed, we will enjoy a distinctly Trinitarian community. Creed is critical to community.
In this series of reflections I have chosen the Apostles’ Creed as the center-point of my meditations on creed and community. There are at least two reasons why I have chosen this particular creed; one is personal and the other is practical. Personally, the Apostles’ Creed is the creed most familiar to me. I say it every day when I participate in the appointed Daily Offices of prayer. From a practical standpoint, however, the Apostles’ Creed is a baptismal creed, and, as we all know, baptism is our first church-sanctioned introduction into the Christian community. Consequently, it is important that we appreciate the Apostles’ Creed in at least some of its community implications and applications.
In this series of meditations on the Apostles’ Creed, attention is given to some of the broad applications that this particular creed has upon building Christian community. In no way are these thoughts intended to be exhaustive, but, rather, they are intended as introductory ideas that may warrant further attention. God wants us to be one, a unity amid diversity. It is my hope that these reflections will contribute to the fulfillment of God’s intention.
To download and read the complete paper, please click here.
Image above, right: Twelve Apostles. Contemporary icon. Konstantinos Yannakis.
What is the question behind the filioque debate? The answer is to define what the filioque is. What is the filioque? It is an addition to the Nicene Creed about the Holy Spirit. The term comes from the Latin word “filioque,” which means and the Son. What is the theological and historical debate related to the filioque? The answer to this question is two-fold. First, the debate centers on the addition of the clause and the Son without convening the whole church in an ecumenical council to make a decision regarding the clause. Secondly, the debate questions whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or does He proceed from the Father and the Son, or does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father, but was sent by the Father and the Son after His ascension? I contest that the Protestant understanding of the nature of the Trinity is lacking. As Wayne Grudem says in his textbook, “Is there a correct position on this question? The weight of evidence (slim though it is) seems clearly to favor the western church. In spite of the fact that John 15:26 says that the Spirit of truth “proceeds from the Father…” (Gudem, pp. 246-247). He admits that the evidence the western church has (to include Protestant and Roman Catholic churches) is slim. The evidence is not slim at all. It is very incorrect. The exegesis on this matter only goes so far.
It was in the shadow of Arianism and the fear of it that was a major factor in the inclusion of the filioque clause more than we have realized. The western church theologized to the extreme the opposite of Arianism. Doing this, they hoped the issue would be settled and the church could move on without this fear any longer. It is said that the clause was added to counter the 6th century Spanish (Germanic) Arians. They were denying this essential and orthodox truth, which was that the Son’s eternal existence in the Godhead and the Holy Spirit’s deity and procession. However, it is thought that the Arians only issue at that time was Jesus Christ’s uncreated nature and eternality of the Logos (Word – John 1:1) They did in fact deny that the Holy Spirit is God, and Lord or Master. In the fourth century, from the writings relating Arius and his missionary Ulfilas he says that the Holy Spirit is “Neither God nor Lord/Master, but the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son.” Therefore, Arianism denied the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, in AD 589, a provincial church council in Toledo, Spain, modified the Nicene Creed so it would state that the Holy Spirit would proceed from the Father and the Son. This was done without the knowledge or consultation of the Eastern Church or even the rest of the Western Church body. Some have said there may not have been any particular motive for this change, because it looks like something a scribe would do to mend the text. Again, we see the possible intention to the change was to strengthen the defense of the Trinity. The defense was actually an overreaction to Arianism that ultimately led to be one of the key reasons for the Great Schism. The filioque clause spread through the western part of the church. In 796, Paulinus of Aquileia defended the filioque clause at the Synod of Friuli, which indicates that it was opposed, and after about 800, it crept into the liturgy in the Frankish (Germanic) Empire. Some Frankish monks used the filioque clause in their monastery in Jerusalem in 807, but eastern monks disputed it as improper. (Gonzalez, p. 312) Because the Frankish monks were from the west, the matter was escalated to the bishop of Rome (Pope Leo III). He approved of the sentiment, but he opposed the change in the wording. Leo arranged for the creed in its original form (without the filioque clause) to be engraved on silver tablets and he had them placed at St. Peter’s tomb. After the split between Rome and Constantinople in 1054, the filioque clause became part of the Nicene Creed in the Roman Catholic Church. This happened at the Council of Lyons, in France, in 1274.
In 1439, at the Roman Catholic Council of Florence, the Roman Catholic Church invited the Eastern Orthodox Churches and attempted a reunion. There were many issues, some of which seem trivial today, but the most important ones were the papacy and the filioque clause in the Creed.
At the time, Islam was spreading by warfare, and Orthodox lands were under attack. (Gonzalez, pp. 289-293) The Eastern Orthodox delegates to the council agreed to everything the Roman Catholics wanted, but they were under pressure. All attempts to make peace had failed. The Orthodox wanted military aid from the west, and the pope agreed to help them, but only if they signed the agreement. Therefore, they all did, except for Markos Eugenikos, the titular bishop of Ephesus. He did not sign the agreement because he thought it was a sell-out. The pope announced that without Markos’ signature the deal was off. When the Orthodox delegation returned home, only Markos was hailed as a hero, because he was the only one who did not compromise his integrity—the others regretted their actions. In the west, Markos is viewed as the man who prevented the unity of the church. In the east, he is St. Mark of Ephesus, “the conscience of Orthodoxy.”
I contend that the filioque clause be removed from the Nicene Creed for the following scriptural, theological, and procedural reasons:
A recent discussion, sponsored by First Things on “The Future of Protestantism,” has generated many important considerations. During one of the exchanges between the Rev. Dr. Peter Leithart and Rev. Dr. Carl Trueman, the latter questioned what appeared to be Leithart’s Christian minimalism— a challenge which Leithart rejected. Upon hearing this exchange, especially Trueman’s inquiries, I had an immediate response: Why not Christian minimalism?
Indeed! Why not? Although I am not an historian, it seems that the Church has repeatedly rejected simplicity. Instead, and unfortunately, we have complicated the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Out of fear, much like Eve’s, we have consistently added to God’s revelation. This inclination is not in keeping with biblical revelation as evidenced at the first Jerusalem Council, and suggests (albeit under different categories) ongoing Judaizing tendencies within the Church. That is, in other words, we have established dogmas that are not biblically justifiable (strictly speaking) and enshrined doctrines that tend towards isolation. The systems we have created smother God’s simple revelation and retards relationships. We have, as such, built walls and not bridges.
The first Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) asserts a principal that must be prioritized. Having converted to Christ, Gentile Christians were being told that salvation in and through Christ was not enough. Specifically, according to the “party of the Pharisees” (vs. 5a), they needed to keep the law and its expectations of circumcision (vs. 5b). After hearing a presentation by Paul and Barnabas, Peter asserted that the Gentiles should not be “troubled” by additions to the gospel of Christ (vss. 12–19) but should embrace certain basic expectations. This “seemed good to the apostles and the elders and the whole church” (vs. 22); a position that had both theological and practical implications. Paul accepted and applied this emphasis upon minimalistic simplicity.
But the Church has not been so swift to assert such simplicity. Examples of this would, no doubt, fill a book. However, let me cite a few Socratic inquiries: Are Copts, because they reject all Councils beyond the 3rd, truly not Christians? Are members of our Orthodox family not truly Christian because they venerate icons? Are monks not Christian because some of their historic teachings MAY lend themselves to “works righteousness?” Is the Latin Church excommunicated because of the filioque? Is the Greek Church excommunicated because of its rejection of the filioque? Is the Eastern Church excommunicated because a Pope said so? Are Luther and Calvin heretics because Latin and Eastern churches reject them? Are Anglicans heretics because at least one Metropolitan, or even an entire denomination, said so? The questions are endless, and more often than not reflect an unwise and impractical emphasis upon pronouncing “shibboleth” properly (Judges 12: 6).
To be sure, issues of orthodoxy and orthopraxy DO matter. Essential shibboleths do exist. Theology and thought, liturgy and life, dynamically intersect. God IS interested in these things. Nevertheless, examples of hair-splitting exist to the point of producing baldness. And, by extension (pun not intended), the realization of our receding “hairline” has resulted in our applying a host of theological gels, goops, glues and sprays that render us ridiculous. Much of our Theology has become a sad yet obvious comb-over.
The question, among other questions, is “What is essential?” When Leithart was asked what his “Reformed Catholicism” would look like, his answers (no doubt tied to the schedule he had been keeping) were succinct yet scant. When offered, they were also far too broad (by and large) to be functionally applicable— although his emphasis upon local communities, while limited and limiting, was well taken. As such, adding to a cacophony of voices, I will add my own limited perspective.
An effective Christian minimalism will be bounded by the following guidelines.
Holy Scripture will be acknowledged, asserted and upheld for what it is: The “inspired” (2 Timothy 3: 16) “word of God” (1 Peter 1: 25) to humans, from God, through humans (Hebrews 1: 1). It must be admitted, however, that problems exist among fellow Christians regarding both the nature of the Text and the number of books that are contained therein. In both cases, however, a reserved minimalism should be employed. Regarding the latter, ALL Christians embrace the 66 books of the “Old” and “New” Testaments. These should be firmly proclaimed. Regarding the other books, varying in number between Greek and Roman Christians, we should have freedom to choose. I, as an example, hold to an Anglican perspective: The other texts, known variously as the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical texts, are good for edification but not for establishing doctrine. As such I would encourage their private reading— as did Athanasius. It must be stated, as well regarding these 66 books, that the Church has uniformly accepted the Holy Bible as “authoritative” and imperative to life in Christ in all of its socio-psycho-pneumatic applications (2 Peter 1: 3). Regarding the former, the nature of the Text, it is sufficient that we acknowledge and adhere to these texts as the inspired written word of God that has practical authority over our lives.
Historic Creeds are central to an ecumenical authority, antiquity and apostolicity. They are not, as they are rooted in the Sacred Text itself, disposable declarations. I recall some years ago hearing a minister (I use the word loosely), after urging us to recite one of the Creeds, encourage the assembly to sit or stand according to our rejection (sit) or acceptance (stand) of this Creed’s affirmations. Talk about misfiring “pistons”!! As CHRISTIANS we do not have an option on this matter. We either say “no” or “yes.” If we say “no” to these assertions, we are not Christians. If we say “yes” (keeping in mind that these assertions reflect significant head, heart and “hand” changes) we are Christians. Please know that I am well-aware of the need to wrestle with questions and issues. Some people, at times, struggle with certain articles of faith. As well, there is the unfortunate gloom of the filioque to be addressed— which, thankfully, has begun (but inadequately) to be rectified in some corners of the Church. When I was first “Commissioned” in 1980 my certificate suggested that this document would remain effective as long as I upheld “the three articles of faith (the Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian)” and “shall be found living and teaching in accordance with Holy Scriptures.” This tri-fold expectation (believing…teaching…living) seems very reasonable to me, and I have found that such broad rubrics work well in a wide variety of denominational settings– including among those that are not, strictly speaking, creedal. I am reminded by my friend, the Rev. Dr. Chris Alford of the Epiclesis Community, that the Creeds are models of minimalistic simplicity. Amen!
Catholic Practice is also critical to ecumenism. Admittedly this is a difficult concept to embrace. One problem, among many, is the issue regarding the nature and need of being “Catholic.” My ROMAN Catholic friends assert an entirely ROMAN focus. My Protestant friends assert a far more “universal” application— even to the point of changing the word “Catholic” to “Christian” in the Articles of Faith. Some of my other friends, drawing from both, assert a catholicity that profiles Vincent of Lerins’ dictum. Each of these positions has advantages and disadvantages attached to them. The “catholicity” folk, as an example, cannot entirely assume or assert a time when all Christians subscribed to an essential Vincentian Canon— in its emphasis upon an all…everywhere…always experience. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, will have a hard time asserting its claims to sole authority, antiquity and apostolicity. Similarly, as well, my Protestant friends will need to account for their flat (quite accurately described) rejection of “Catholic” priorities and, instead, insist upon a tepid “Christian” qualifier. Properly understood, we are Catholic or we are not Christian. Christians must have distinct Catholic identifiers. As such, along with Holy Scripture and Historic Creeds, a viable and visible Catholic ecumenism will enthusiastically embrace biblical Sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist inform the day-to-day practices of committed Christians. While endless discussion and debate has been generated by the Sacraments, and their number, the Bible is quite clear about two. We are told in Holy Writ to be Baptized. We are told in Holy Writ to participate in Holy Communion. Both Sacraments, regardless of denominational nuancing, assign salvific importance to them (1 Peter 3: 21 and John 6: 53). As such, regardless of subtle nuancing, we cannot escape the biblical imperative attached to each. Quite frankly I do not care one whit about sprinkling, pouring, dunking, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or a whole host of other negotiable qualifiers. What I do care about is active, informed and transformative participation in them— leaving each assembly, even within denominations, to embrace the practice(s) suited to them.
Moral Imperatives are also crucial to Christianity— a word, frankly, to which I have some resistance. Our life in Christ engages “head,” “heart,” and “hands.” Faith is not simply a matter of belief (although proper belief is important) it is a matter of behavior. Walking with God has certain moral expectations. If we BELIEVE in God, we must strive to BEHAVE accordingly. In other words, Scripture, Creeds, and Sacraments challenge us to live according to the calling of Christ (Ephesians 4:1–16). Christians do not get to do as they please. We are called to live in and by the Holy Spirit as a holy Catholic Church.
This calling has dynamic implications, and is found in the Apostles’ Creed. Here we say that we believe in the Holy Spirit, under whose creedal and practical subheading exist the HOLY (my emphasis) Catholic Church, the communion and saints and the forgiveness of sins. These affirmations are not arbitrary. It is not as though the composers and compilers, having arrived at the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, were scrambling as with an Appendix to draw their thinking to a swift but carefully notated conclusion. NO! To be a HOLY Catholic Church, who lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, will have dynamic impact upon our communion and upon our need to live lives of radical forgiveness. Our behaviors are not afterthoughts of our beliefs— they are inherent to them. To BELIEVE in God, as well as in each of the other creedal affirmations, places behavioral expectations upon us that dynamically intersect (and at times interfere) with the lives of other people. Morality is critical to a Catholic ecumenism.
The forgiveness of sins, for many reasons including “the life everlasting,” is where a robust Catholic ecumenism must begin. And, sadly, it must begin with ME. Near my community is a church that appears to be enjoying some evangelistic success. Their numbers are very high. Their programs are expansive. They do “good work” in our communities. However, when they are mentioned to me, I have frequently referred to them as the “Jesus Lite” church. This was and is not a holy response. It is not, properly speaking, a “spiritual” response. It is, quite frankly, biblical slander. Thank God for a brother who challenged me regarding my attitudes and actions! And maybe that is what we should do for each other. We could all use a good challenge to our pet doctrines, arrogant assumptions, bold assertions and militant dogmatism about the non-essentials. Leithart is correct: We need each other as communal and Christ centered correctives. (And, as Leithart also noted, we will have a lot to discuss.)
The Eucharistic Expectation provides a fitting conclusion to these thoughts. In 1 Corinthians 11, the setting of which is a divided Church, St. Paul’s review of “The Lord’s Supper” calls us to serious personal and social reflection (vs. 28). His warning, not to eat or drink in an “unworthy” manner, is chilling (vss. 27 and 29). I think most Christians are aware Paul’s cautionary statements. Unfortunately we all-too-frequently apply them personally, but not socially. We acknowledge, and seek to rectify, our personal guilt— but fail to do the same regarding our denominational guilt. We prohibit Christians who share a basic faith and practice, a “mere Christianity,” from the Table because they do not speak “shibboleth” with the same denominational accent. What nonsense! What SIN and unmitigated arrogance! Is it not enough to say, and agree upon, that we affirm what Jesus and St. Paul said about Holy Communion? It is, according to both, “body” and “blood.” Let us not get lost in a tangle of misguided philosophies and denominational qualifiers. It is simple: DO WE OR DO WE NOT ACCEPT AND BELIEVE WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT THE TABLE? This same simplicity might be applied to a great many other theological issues that we have systematized and philosophized out of all practical reason or usefulness.
If we Christians are serious about the foundation of our faith and practice, Holy Writ, God’s written revelation, maybe we should suspend all Eucharistic celebrations until such time as we are reconciled (Matthew 5:24). No functional ecumenism = No Eucharist. I am quite aware of many of the difficulties with this proposal. I am well aware of the difficulties associated with confessional and denominational rewrites. History CANNOT be re-written, but much of it can be repented of. Come let us reason TOGETHER. No functional ecumenism = No Eucharist.
Image at top: “Minimalism 9.” Photography by Joe Lencioni. March 24, 2008.
One of the principal confessions we make when we recite the Apostles’ Creed is that we believe in “the holy Catholic Church.” But what is “Catholic?” Depending upon our theological underpinnings, we can either be far more stringent (such as with the Society of Pope Pius X) or far less stringent (such as with Creedal Baptists) in our interpretations of this word. In either case, and in every representative position between them, the word and theology of “Catholic” must be understood. Let me explain, extrapolate and apply this.
Those who are limp-wristed and light-in-the-loafer will entirely wimp-out on the “Catholic” question by insisting upon changing the word to “Christian.” They will say that “Catholic” means “universal” and, therefore, because of this, we believe in the “Christian” Church. In fact, however, they are not the same and, if we actually believe our Lord’s call to unity, catholicity cannot be so easily dispensed with. Changing the word “Catholic” to “Christian” simply means that we have a very inadequate understanding of Church. One need not be a ROMAN Catholic to be Catholic, but being Catholic is as necessary as being Christian. We are Catholic Christians or we are not Christians at all.
So what is the OBJECTIVE catholicity to which we all must subscribe? Must we insist upon Apostolic Succession (in one form or another), the Episcopacy and clear heretically-inhibiting diocesan boundaries or, more broadly, can we simply assert that the “Catholic” Church is an entirely mystical body consisting (as in the United States) of vagrant souls seeking satisfying (but essentially stultifying) “spiritual” factories dispensing liturgical and sacramental goodies?
When the Creed was composed, referencing all three Catholic Creeds as well, it was intended to (1) Defend doctrine, (2) Define the Faith and (3) Determine the limits of the community. How community was to be defined was of critical import. Everyone was not “in” (as Unitarians and some Episcopalians think), and everyone was not “out” (as some snooty high-churchmen say), but, given some measure of freedom within limits, clear boundaries could be set and secured. A Christian could not say that they were “in” without subscribing to community boundaries. Similarly, a Christian could not say (as many are prone to do today) they are “out” of the Church but worship and celebrate Christ and his redeeming work. IF you are a Christian, a Catholic, you must BELIEVE certain things to be in community with God and others. IF you are a Christian, a Catholic, you must BEHAVE in a community manner. That is, in other words, Christ, Creed and Community and Church work together — or not at all.
This, of necessity, impacts the “Scripture Alone” adherents. There are many well-meaning and devout believers who insist upon this priority. And, of course, they are not entirely wrong. EVERY Christian understands and appreciates the need for God’s written revelation, God’s written Word. It is indispensable! Every Catholic Christian, however, recognizes that an oral tradition preceded the written text. God spoke and God acted before the text was written. The community communicated the message, such as with the four Gospels, long before the texts were standardized and canonized in writing. It was the CHURCH, the CATHOLIC CHURCH (better the CHURCH CATHOLIC), who determined the canon of Holy Scripture. Look at your Bible’s Table of Contents. Who determined what “Scriptures” were canonical and which were not? Someone, somewhere and somehow had to decide. As much as we must turn to Holy Writ, as much as it stands as our indispensable standard, it cannot be our “alone” standard. Scripture alone means that we are standing alone — without reference to the Catholic community to whom the text was spoken, entrusted and written. We have another “Catholic” standard with which to contend. Catholic must be consulted.
To be the CHURCH CATHOLIC we must believe in the Holy Spirit. In some way it must be understood that the Church is a pneumatic entity. Church is not a building. Church is not what we do. Church, a word that Karl Barth discouraged us from using, is the community of believers who are united to Christ by Spirit, Scripture and Sacrament. If we do not have the Spirit, according to St. Paul, we DO NOT belong to Christ (or each other). If we have no Scripture, we CANNOT KNOW Christ (or each other). If we have no Sacraments, principally Baptism and Communion, we ARE NOT alive in Christ! The Church Catholic is the community to whom Spirit is given, Scripture is entrusted and Sacraments are faithfully administrated. We must be a Church CATHOLIC simply because these are not gifts given for our own personal, subjective and denominational machinations and manipulations. Catholicity is our Christian calling. No “Catholic” means no “Christian.”
To be the CHURCH CATHOLIC we must be holy. If we do not have the HOLY Spirit, or, more precisely, if the HOLY Spirit does not have us, we cannot be holy. We must have Spiritu in order to know Sancti. This is a gift and a grace that must not be overlooked. However, one does not know the crisis or the process of sanctification without knowing the Church Catholic. God is not in the business of simply sanctifying ME. God sanctifies US…as St. Paul states quite emphatically. “Me” Religion must submit to “We” Religion. “Christian” must in some way submit to “Catholic.” Unity and Unction go hand-in-hand. The Totus Christus flatly rejects, renounces and repudiates any religion that is not entirely “Catholic.”
To be the CHURCH CATHOLIC we must be a communion. What is a communion? A brief and broad examination of Holy Communion will provide us with some insight. When St. Paul outlined his expectations regarding Holy Communion, in a church marked and marred by division, he demanded (1) Unity or Catholicity (cf. 1 Cor. 3 and 1 Cor. 11: 17 – 21), (2) Community (cf. 1 Cor. 3 and 1 Cor. 11: 22), and (3) Covenant (1 Cor. 11: 23 – 25). Whoever does not share in these things is guilty of blasphemy (1 Cor. 11: 27). This requires “body”-scrutiny (1 Cor. 11; 28 – 31). We are not to be camp-Christians, each ascribing to some exclusive (and often biblically elusive) denominational fidelity. I am of Augustine…Aquinas…Bellarmine…Luther…Calvin…Cranmer…Munster…. is not much different than the “camps” of Paul or Apollos. Paul DEMANDS catholicity! Paul DEMANDS unity! This is not, simply, intra-Church unity, it also is inter-Church unity. We are a community of believers who are united by the covenant of Christ’s finished work as exemplified through the sacramental activities and graces that we all share. Communion means communion. Communion requires communion. We are “one bread” and not separate and separated loaves. To have Holy Sacraments (or Ordinances) we must have a whole Church. “Bits & Pieces” is a somewhat modern song, not an ancient and essential Sacrament.
To be the CHURCH CATHOLIC we must practice radical forgiveness. Between the Christian’s hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5: 6) and its realization of purity of heart (Matthew 5: 8) stands the frightening expectation of the exercise of mercy (Matthew 5: 7). To move from the intention of righteousness to the realization of purity, we must EXERCISE mercy. Shakespeare tells us that “the quality of mercy is not strained.” But, in practice, it is. It is a pain. It is a strain. It is annoying.
Mercy is a very Catholic practice. It is not, philosophically, a Christian practice that is nebulously expressed to ghostly people. Mercy is easy if we have absolutely no one to whom we are existentially and eternally committed. Rather it is an intently and intensely practical discipline to be exercised among real people with whom we are really connected. Jesus spoke these Beatitudes by coming down from the mountain and speaking to his disciples. That is THEM. That is ME. That is US. That is WE. We need a Catholic community to be a Christian community. In order to do this we must step down from our denominational superiorities, possibly our denominations entirely, and find and function within a God-intended and God-ordered catholicity of Spirit-power, sacramental and sacrificial-practices and scriptural and social priorities.
To be the CHURCH CATHOLIC we must be the CHURCH CATHOLIC. We must be a CHURCH, not simply or only an ecclesial community. We must strive to embrace, and be embraced by, what Church is and means. Not my church. Not your church. Not even OUR church. HIS CHURCH, GOD’S CHURCH, IS CATHOLIC. And HIS Church is a universal Church that is Christian in its catholicity and Catholic in its Christianity. To be Holy Catholic we must be Wholly Catholic.
Almighty and Most Merciful Father
You have given us Your
Saints to help us
on our earthly pilgrimage.
by and in the same,
know Your Word
walk with Your Son
live by the Spirit and
worship with Your Saints
to our Heavenly Destination.
The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a widely-published author, is Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Order of Saint Benedict, and is connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.