Friday, January 21, 2005

Maybe These Words Don't Mean What We Think They Mean

I'm a big fan of creedal Christianity -- the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc. I grew up in a movement that pretended these great statements of faith didn't exist. "No creed but Christ" was our motto. "Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent."

That's what we said. It's not what we did. We created our own creeds -- ignorant of the history and tradition of creedal Christianity -- deaf to the wisdom of great thinkers of the past.

So, when I started studying Christianity academically, I was suspicious of the creeds. I thought there must be something wrong with them. They must be some kind of non-biblical construct which led the church into darkness until guys like Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone came along to liberate us all and restore the church to its original purity.

Wow! That sounds pretty arrogant when you write it out like that!

Anyway, I soon found that the creeds are helpful statements -- brilliant in their simplicity. Short synopses of what orthodox Christianity holds near and dear. The best way to stay out of an unneccessary fight and distinguish between core essentials of the faith and matters of opinion is to stick with the creeds.

At least that's what I thought until fairly recently. I have spent a lot of time in 1 John over the past several years, but I'd never connected the dots until lately. It seems that 1 John 4:8 is one of the clearest statements in the Bible: "God is love." Yes, love is more than mushy-gushy-touchy-feely-warm-fuzzies. Love is tough sometimes. Love calls the beloved to maturity. Love rightfully demands fidelity. But love also covers over a multitude of sins and always believes and hopes for the best from the beloved.

All this to ask this question: Why are the creeds mostly silent on this? God the Father is the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ -- his only begotten Son -- is our Lord, and he will return to be the Judge of all people. But there's nothing I can find that even hints at the concept that God has chosen to identify himself as love.

In fact, the Westminster Shorter Catechism -- a document I have benefitted greatly from and frequently quote -- says that God is "without body, parts or passions, immutable." I've never noticed this before, but I must not be reading the same Bible as the guys who finalized this statement. The God I read about is passionate! Passionate for justice. Passionate for mercy. Passionate for people. Passionate for his own glory.

Do we have to make him dispassionate in order to maintain his sovereignty and immutability? Maybe those words don't mean what we think they mean.