Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms

The idea of this blog is to express the implications of a Methodist discovering of the reformation, and one of the things we find very common in both Lutheran and Reformed churches is the extensive use of catechisms and creeds.  In the Methodist Church, at least in our day we see creeds going the way of the dodo bird, and I know of nobody using catechisms in the UMC, and I am unaware (I have not researched) if there is such thing as a Catechism approved by and readily used in United Methodism.  If there is, I have never seen or heard of it in my 20+ years as a United Methodist.  I, along with most other conservative United Methodists have insisted on scripture memorization as paramount for our confirmands and youth, yet have spent little time on creeds, and even less on catechisms.  Many fundamentalists would celebrate that "scripture only" focus, but I think it is horribly flawed.

Scripture memorization is an important discipline, but I would contend that it is a less important discipline than catechesis or the memorization of the creeds that accurately depict the faith.  Now I can hear my fundamentalist brethren getting really bent out of shape with that statement and I can certainly understand why.  What I am essentially saying is that you would be better off to memorize a creed which is not inspired, than to memorize portions of the inspired word of God.  At the outset it seems like an absurd argument for me to make, but it is not.

The simple reality is that verses individually taken outside of their context have no meaning.  A verse without its context is just a phrase dangling in space.  However a creed or a catechism that honestly deals with the entire cannon of scripture provides an overall context which an individual verse can be understood within.  This is incredibly important to see.  Confusion around many doctrines exist because the debates always seem to float around one isolated verse being quoted against another isolated verse.  How many times have you heard someone say “this verse presents a real problem to the insert particular theological view point here.”  Yet often times if you read the entire context that contains that particular verse you will see that it actually supports the view point being argued against.  My point is that you cannot make a biblical theology with a simple list of verses.

This is why creeds and confessions are so valuable, yes you should test them against the whole cannon of scripture, and yes you should not just assume the creed writers got it perfect, but at the same time you should realize that the historic creeds and confessions have been based off of scripture in its entirety and are not easily sunk by one verse here or there.

A quick scan of the evangelical landscape will show you a lot of people who know bits and pieces of Christian teaching, and most people know a few verses, and can tell you that God loves the world or that you should not judge others... yet  the sad reality is that it is a small percentage that can actually articulate what the entirety of scripture is about.  Few can look at the whole history of redemption with Christ at the center and just see it for what it is.  Everyone is so used to regurgitating particular new testament comfort verses that they cannot show how God’s goodness was displayed even in Israel’s slaughter of the people who dwelt in the promised land.

Preachers need to take heed here as well.  When I am expositing a passage of scripture to our congregation I am always directly quoting the scripture I am presenting, and continually coming back to it throughout the message.  Yet, as I preach and pull in different events from the biblical narrative, or pull in different teachings from other portions of scripture, I am not so concerned with direct quotation and giving a chapter and verse, instead I am concerned with pulling the common theme of the passage being exposited by pulling in examples from other places in scripture.  The point is that as preachers and teachers we need to be preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God, and that means to preach it as a whole.

Catechisms, and creeds are wonderful ways of teaching the whole counsel of God without having to memorize all 1100+ chapters of the scripture, and is more profitable than only taking bits and pieces of scripture to heart.  As I teach confirmation this year I will be using the Heidleberg Catechism, though I will omit a couple of sections near the end, but I trust that it will be more profitable to the students in the long run than if I had them memorize 50 isolated scriptures which I deemed were important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Take a look at Dr. Braaten's lecture at http://www.lutherancore.org/papers/2010-theo-conf-audio.shtml. He talks about the need to use a map when reading the Bible and he calls the creeds maps.

I'm eagerly awaiting his book which contains the lectures from the theology conference.