Creeds and Doctrines

Many creeds and doctrines have been written over the past centuries that lay out the doctrinal platform of various Christian organizations, especially their approved answer to the perplexing question of the humanity and divinity of Jesus the Christ. These official documents were usually the culmination of the deliberations of a large ecclesiastical conclave or a smaller group of persons of authority within the organization. The documents were often prepared to counter the doctrinal belief of other groups. Creeds are essentially static and are only revised and updated at infrequent intervals. Creeds are often put forth as statements of the belief that must or should be held by an individual to remain an accepted member in good standing of the particular religious denomination. They serve to identify and distinguish one denomination from another. This is partly done to ensure doctrinal harmony among the diverse members of the denomination.

The introduction of an organizational creed or doctrine that everyone is expected to believe can reduce the diversity of opinions within the denomination, especially if it demands strict acceptance of the doctrine and if some members come to the conclusion that they cannot in good faith remain in that organization while continuing to profess belief in a creed that no longer fits with their personal understanding of the spiritual relationship between man, Jesus and God. If enough people feel they have outgrown an organization and desire to split away as a group, this can lead to the creation of a new creed.

Cayce warned about the divisive effect of denominationalism and the perceived need of people to emphasize their differences instead of their commonality and kinship as children of God. This has certainly happened too often in history and in its most violent and repressive form of expression has led to the forced spreading of doctrine by waging war against those of a different faith. This can come with heavy political overtones when governments that covet the territory, natural resources and wealth of a neighbor use or activate religious bigotry in the populace to stir international resentment to fulfill their ambitions. The lines between religious fervor and material greed can become quite blurred in nations that do not follow a policy of separation of church and state. Cayce suggested that people should look for similarities instead of differences in denominational practices and warned about carrying denominationalism to an extreme. A healthy study of denominational differences, including differences between religions, should not lead to inter-denomination antagonism. The readings indicate this non-judgmental attitude should extend to all religions, not just different Christian denominations.

(Q) Mohammedanism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Brahmanism, Platoism, Judaism. (A) As has been indicated, the entity [Jesus] - as an entity - influenced either directly or indirectly all those forms of philosophy or religious thought that taught God was One. … We find the same contentions arising in that called in the present denominationalism, and each one crying, "Lo, here is Christ - Lo, this is the manner of approach - Lo, unless ye do this or that ye have no part in Him." [Edgar Cayce reading 364-9_5]

Some creeds have their origins in the first few centuries after the death of Jesus when there were several competing ideas about the nature of the Messiah. They try to address questions about virgin birth and how much of Jesus is God and how much of Jesus is man and how these two seemingly incompatible natures share space in this one special individual. Some of these early creeds were written expressly to tamp down the various competing ideas that were floating around at the time and to establish and enforce a group mentality among a portion of the population. Creeds can be used as a way to get control over the group of individuals who are willing to accept and declare allegiance to the creed and can separate a population into 'they' and 'us'. Creeds helped the early church to strengthen its authority, consolidate its power and maintain temporal continuity. One group joined forces with the Emperor Constantine and overnight became far richer, more-powerful and larger than any other group. As it gained power and membership it intentionally and unintentionally caused competing ideas to be sidelined and left by the wayside, ideas that may well have had just as much validity as the ideas presented in the creed of the more powerful group. Many beliefs held by various noted scholars and the groups that coalesced around their ideas (Arius, Athanasius, Origin, Gnosticism, etc.) during the first and second centuries after the death of Jesus perished.

You may want to read four of the earlier creeds:

The Apostles' Creed (ca A.D. 100-200), still used by various denominations, is divided into three short sections that begin with I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe in the Holy Spirit.

The Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) is also written in three sections that describe God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is similar to the Apostles' Creed but contains a few more lines of accepted beliefs. It was written in opposition to the, supposedly, heretical beliefs concerning the doctrine of the trinity and the 'person of Christ', especially Arianism.

The Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451) was an attempt to clarify and affirm that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Its opening line ("Following the holy fathers") and closing line ("And the creed of the fathers as handed down to us.") stress tradition and church authority as a source of information.

The rather long Athanasian Creed (6th-8th century A.D.) begins and ends with the chilling lines "Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally" and "This is the catholic faith; one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully" It certainly is not a document intended to extend the hand of friendship and tolerance to those who may entertain different ideas.

Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds   and   Chalcedonian Creed

Most people let the authorities do their religious thinking for them, probably because they have attended many services as a child and have become comfortable with or indoctrinated into a particular belief long before they reach a level of maturity that enables them to think carefully and critically about what they believe and why they believe it. They do not study competing ides or rationally consider how the truth of man, Jesus and God falls within the cacophony of ideas that exist. Sometimes the believer may come to the conclusion that a set of beliefs just feels right and sometimes the believer may not particularly care about the theology and are more drawn to the friendship and fellowship showed by the congregation. Maybe the soul intentionally incarnated into the society that would offer a religious setting with which it was already comfortable. Religions are part of the experience that souls can have in life and that offer them the opportunity to make spiritual choices. The choice of religious denomination to attend should be made with the intention that God is be the guiding force instead of Self or institution doctrine. Continued use of that attitude without fear of making changes when the spirit leads the way will allow the person to arrive at the ultimate Truth about God, the meaning and value of soul activity in human society and the best approach and activity for spiritual advancement.

Creeds don't have to be a statement of uncompromising dogmatic beliefs that flow forth from higher religious authorities every century or two. They can be personal and intimate documents that reflect the individual spiritual condition and can and should be changeable and fluid and be allowed to morph over time. They should take shape out of the individual's current ideas about his or her place in the universe and about how Jesus and God fit into that picture. Why shouldn't creeds be written by individuals instead of, or as well as, by committees of religious leaders without being hampered by institutional expectation that you must believe only the official creed if you want to continue to be a member in good standing in the organization? It would help the person writing the creed to clarify their ideas, to discard some ideas when they no longer seem to fit. It should be done without trying to replicate any historical document just because it is promoted by a particular denomination. In no way should it be imposed on any other member to enforce an uneasy unity any more than the institutional creed should be a means of compressing the allowed spiritual thoughts of a congregation into a smaller, more-manageable space. A personal creed does not have to threaten or conflict with an organizational creed. They can co-exist even if there are differences. Just as an institution should not coerce a member to believe in one particular creed, so the individual should not insist that the organization alter the official creed to conform to a personal belief.

Within the context of a congregation, the ideas with in these personal creeds would be like a collection of overlapping circles of different diameters, some clustering around a common center and others offset in various directions. The congregation would recognize, accept and embrace the idea that there is a wider range of beliefs and opinions among its members without making an issue of it. The institution would accept the wide variety of opinions that already exist in any congregation and carry on its formal activities around the central cluster of core beliefs without demanding that every member must believe only the set of religious beliefs that fall within a small circle centered on the exact spiritual location defined by the institution. This approach would also require that congregations respect each other's opinions, which could be shared or not among members depending on personal choice.

In practice this is probably what happens in most congregations to various degrees, but depending on the congregation it might be done openly and freely or might be driven underground by strong pressure to closely conform to the established doctrine. Of course, after careful consideration some individuals might find that their core beliefs and circle of spiritual ideas fall too far outside of the norm and may feel they would be more comfortable worshiping with more like-minded individuals, the process that gives rise to denominationalism. Denominationalism does not have to be a serious problem as long as each denomination respects the beliefs of others and no denomination thinks it has a God-given authority to intimidate, slander, deride or harm another because of the differences in official sanctioned beliefs.

Why do we so easily relinquish our privilege and right to research and prepare a written document of our personal spiritual beliefs to any institution. How many people find themselves mumbling through certain lines of a creed which makes them uncomfortable and which is being read aloud in a religious service; publicly mouthing the words but privately not really believing a particular line, or at times allowing the mind to wander away to provide distance from the words or refusing to repeat some part so as to not connect 'I believe' with the part we don't really believe. It surely puts some people in the unenviable position of standing before God and lying to him.

Why can't a creed be personal instead of institutional or as least stand side-by-side with the institutional creed? Why can't it express the current beliefs of the individual. Why can't religious organizations refrain from coercing the individual into subscribing to a specific mode of thinking or a set of ideas embedded in concrete matrix, unable to change or grow as the individual soul mind matures and reaches out toward God? Why can't a creed be dynamic instead of static, be elastic so that it can stretch and grow with the spiritual growth of the individual and reflect an improved personal understanding of the nature of man, Jesus and God and more importantly the growing awareness of the soul and its relationship to God? A personal creed might be a lengthy document or might be as short as a couple of lines.

He that loves me will keep my commandments. What are the comandments? "Thou shalt have no other GOD before me", and "Love thy neighbor as thyself." In this is builded the whole LAW and gospel of every age that has said, "There is ONE God!" [Edgar Cayce reading 364-9_5]

Why can't creeds be taken out of a desk drawer once a year and be dusted off, revised and updated so that it becomes a living document that reminds the individual where he or she has been spiritually and reflects the growth of the soul mind throughout the life of the individual. It doesn't have to be changed. Perhaps the person is comfortable in the old skin, but the process can serve as a reminder and offer opportunity for reflection and spiritual reassessment. Let it show the spiritual progress of the individual instead of the ideas of the past centuries, reflect the developing spiritual mind and better understanding of the seeker in light of new experiences and exposure to new ideas and better represent where the soul currently stands in the greater scheme of things.

A personal creed can mark our current spiritual understanding. It might represent our spiritual place today and tomorrow and maybe next year, but might not fit well after a decade or a major life crisis. In that case and after careful consideration rewrite the creed and exchange the old skin for new skin. Don't allow the document to drive the individual thoughts and activities but allow the Christ Spirit to create the conditions that may reveal a need to revise the document. This is the downside of an institutional creed versus a personal creed. The institution doesn't know when personal spiritual growth demands a new skin. It wants the individual to remain in the old skin and keeps pushing the person into old skin even when it gets too tight. Institutional creed is made for the institution not the individual. Too often, its function is to control the narrative, not to provide a framework or core set of ideas around which individuals with different ideas can congregate.

When an individual decides to write a personal creed it should come from a loving heart and a mind that desires to express the truth of God wherever that leads. It may require study of ideas and subjects that are outside the norm for the individual. It should not be a simple recitation of ideas that the person has been used to hearing from childhood, but after careful study and prayer may contain many or most of those ideas. It won't necessarily express truth with a capital 'T' but will represent the closest approach to Truth that the individual can currently conceive. A set of these documents spanning the lifetime of an individual adult might be quite interesting and fulfilling in later years as the individual looks back through previous documents to observe the progression of ideas that are documented on the pages.

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