Faith Without Creeds – Part II

Athanasius: Burning Books and Killing Dissenters

Pragmatticus had been so provoked by the raw desire for preeminence evident at Nicea that he wanted to see if anything had changed. He found a vantage point high up in the rafters where he could see and hear everything that was going on below. Sometimes he just cussed under his breath but the longer he listened the more provoked he got! When he couldn’t hold his peace anymore he started making comments (but avoided cussing) through the PA system. No one was sure who was speaking or where the voice came from but it was mighty hard to ignore.

Pragmatticus: Hey Smarticus! (this was Athanasius’ nickname because he had such a high IQ) You started banning books and killing your brothers in Christ just for reading things you don’t like? Did you think you were doing God a favor?

AUDIENCE:  Murmuring. No one knew what to think about such a negative remark.

Our Creed is the Only Way to Think About God!

Athanasius:  People! People! Let’s ignore this unpleasant comment and press ahead with our gathering! The glorious purpose of our Creed was to establish what are the right beliefs about God. That is how we know who belongs in the church and who does not! What could possibly be more important than that? As you know very well, enlightened souls who agree with my views belong in the church! All the misguided wretches who disagree with me deserve to be cast out! We voted on it and made it so at Nicea and for good measure again at Chalcedon!

Do Creeds Judge Another Man’s Servant?

A Still Small Voice was heard saying “Who art thou that judges another man’s servant? He that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” Strangely, the Still Small Voice had not come through the PA system. People heard it nevertheless, and it made almost everyone most uncomfortable. Athanasius apparently didn’t hear it or simply decided to ignore it altogether.

AUDIENCE:  Deafening silence. There wasn’t much of a response to the words spoken by that still small voice, even from those who could actually hear it.

Can Creeds Separate Tares and Wheat?

Athanasius:  You all know we needed a creed in the fourth century and no doubt Christendom still needs one today! The unlearned disciples of those days held some very primitive beliefs!  They were pathetically unable to make the fine theological distinctions we made. Our creed enabled us to decide which believers are wheat and which are tares! It also had the added benefit of making us very important and notable. Thanks be to God! Our eloquent and very precise creed established our place as true authorities in the Kingdom! This empowered us to take action! Once we finished it we were ready and willing to start weeding God’s fields with vigor! To make things even easier we had the Emperor’s blessing and the power of his army to help us!

Aren’t Jesus’ Words Enough?

Some so-called believers (just a bunch of pathetic losers) complain that Jesus never commanded us to condense His teachings into a creed!  They say that if He wanted us to write a creed He would have said so. Some of these eccentrics whine that His words are enough and that we shouldn’t add to or subtract anything from them. These people proclaim that Jesus, in fact, believed and taught a creed called the Shema of Israel! “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the  Lord is one!” How ignorant, arrogant and shortsighted can you get! That notion may have worked for awhile but it is so contrary to our trinitarian dogma that it must be discarded. These people pretend that demanding acceptance of our creed somehow goes against a few vague scriptures! That is not the case at all! God knows our hearts and He is the One who gave us such powerful intellects!

Faith Without Creeds is Dead!

Let’s get down to some serious business brethren! You may have read that faith without works is dead but I’m here to tell you that faith without creeds is also dead! I know that may sound shocking but if you think about it for a minute it makes a lot of sense. We voted on it and you know it’s true! Come on brethren! Can I get an Amen?

Audience: A few scattered amens were heard.

Our Creeds Are Impressive and Scholarly!

Is there anyone here who doubts the need for an authoritative, scholarly and profoundly impressive spiritual creed? We all know that scripture can be difficult to understand and is prone to all kinds of different interpretations! My question to you is “Why should we allow that to get in our way?” Can anyone question the fact that we have cornered the market , so to speak, on God and that other opinions are thus indisputably wrong? While the words of the Bible may sometimes be vague and mysterious our creed is definitive and clear!

Do “Church Fathers” Understand More Than You Can?

Scripture may indeed come from above but it is often too ambiguous for our purposes. Our creeds come from the world of thoughts and ideas we live in. Creating a good one requires the skillful arrangement and interpretation of Bible verses and few people are capable of doing it right!  Our creeds are just right for us and we did a fine job of crafting them, if I do say so myself. Many primitive Christians scratch their heads and wonder how God can be three “persons” and one “substance”. Their biggest problem is that they lack theological sophistication! Theologians are called upon to understand many things that are beyond the reach of simple believers. It would be nice if everyone was as smart as we are but we all know that is just not the case.

We Do Not Tolerate Disagreement With the Trinity!

We have studied and pondered things and parsed words with intellectual precision! Our writings are extensive and we intend to continue! We refine our arguments endlessly and proudly proclaim that we are ever learning more and more and more!

Let me humbly remind you that we have advanced degrees! We are Doctors of Divinity and Doctors of the Law and we agree that our Creed is of the utmost importance! Assenting to our statement of faith may not seem to be the first and greatest commandment but it comes exceptionally close. We may put up with a lot of bad behavior in the church but we have not and will never tolerate disagreement with our beloved Creeds!

Salvation By Faith Plus Trinitarian Dogma

And so dear friends and beloved companions in the Gospel it goes without saying that believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God is a great start. But… to truly arrive in the Kingdom of God requires an appreciation of the beauty of Trinitarian Dogma. This is why we can safely say that not only is faith without works dead, faith without Creeds is also dead! Oh yes! I know this sounds shockingly candid and stark but think about it! Unless we draw a clear line in the doctrinal sand there is no telling what calamity might befall the church!

Excommunicate Those Who Dispute Our Creed!

Hold your head up and declare without embarrassment that faith without creeds is dead! I have said it openly for you and have paved the way! To all those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior but deny the authority of our creed I say “Be gone with you! As long as we have anything to say about it you shall have no part in the Gospel or place in God’s Kingdom! How’s that for clarity? Excommunicate the heretics proudly! Banish them with gusto! By this shall all men know that you are on the right team!

May God bless you all richly.

AUDIENCE: Amen and amen and amen again!

 A Still Small Voice whispered something important once more but the noise of the audience drowned it out and no one heard.

 Pragmatticus lived up to his name and began cussing up in the rafters.

 PS: Does anyone honestly think that faith without creeds is dead? That’s an outrageous idea!  We don’t believe it and hope you don’t either. If the things you read here at theologyallstars.com make good sense to you please send a link to others who might like to hear. Thanks and God Bless.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

It’s Greek To Me – Part II

Arius Was History’s Biggest Loser

Moderator: Well folks let’s keep moving on. Now it’s time hear from our next speaker, Arius. He may have represented most of the Christians of his era but that didn’t keep him from losing his debate with Athanasius. What a shock it must have been to the majority of believers to wake up one morning and discover they had become a heretics overnight! That’s how it goes when your side loses and Arius lost for everyone when he lost to Athanasius! Let’s give a real All-Stars welcome to one of history’s biggest losers, Arius of Alexandria!

Arius’ Writings Were Confiscated, Banned and Burned

The Audience: Tepid applause. One heckler shouted, “I hope you’ve come to your senses Arius!” Another yelled, “It’s a good thing you’re already dead Arius! Otherwise we’d probably have to take care of that for you!”

Arius:  Hello everyone! It is so nice to see you again too! I think you all know the Reunion organizers asked me to take part in this panel discussion as the official ambassador for the ancient theological term homoiousios! I was hoping passions and tempers had cooled down a little since Nicea but maybe not! By the way, I put some of my writings on the back table but I see they’ve already been confiscated so please feel free to distort and censor my comments in any way you like!

Was Jesus Subordinate to His Father?

Quoting Jesus can get you in a lot of trouble! If you stop and think about Jesus’ statement “My Father is greater than I” it doesn’t look like there is any co-equality between the Father and the Son does it? Jesus actually said a lot of things that showed how much He was submitted to His Father’s will.  I know it upsets some people to say that the Father is greater than the Son but it didn’t upset Jesus! It’s pretty clear that’s what He believed. Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God and our Savior, Redeemer and Lord. He is the Messiah and even more, but He is not co-equal with the Father! You can’t create co-equality without homoousious and you can’t create the Trinity without co-equality! That’s why I wasn’t too fond of it… even if it is Athanasius’ favorite word.

Audience:  Heresy! Nonsense! Blasphemy! Why should we even listen to him?

Is Denying Homoousious a Damnable Heresy?

Athanasius: Damnation Arius! Yes damnation upon you and your damnable ideas and your damnable words! If you deny Homoousious you have denied Jesus’ co-equality with the Father! And to deny homoousious is to deny our beloved Trinity! If I had a good stick I’d smite you on the head right now!

Arius: Hold on a minute Ath! I thought we were having a panel discussion and I’m not done talking yet! Don’t you think you should at least hear me out? I want to talk a little about homoiosious and why so many theologians thought it was a pretty good word before and even after the Council in Nicea.

Athanasius: We’ve heard enough Arius! … and don’t call me Ath! I don’t like it.

The Audience: That’s right Arius! He’s not your Ath, he’s our Ath and don’t you forget it!

Athanasius: What say ye everyone? Shall we give him the brass boot of fellowship and send him packing?  Ignore everything he just said! Why I’ve got half a mind to read the Athanasian Creed out loud right now. That way you can all remember how you are supposed to think just in case anyone has forgotten!

The Audience: Great idea! Go ahead Athanasius! Lay it on us!

Athanasius:  (Blushing) Well alright then if you insist. Here goes…

                                     The Athanasian Creed

“ Whoever wants to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic (universal) faith; which faith unless everyone keeps it whole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish everlastingly. We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such, is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Spirit infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one uncreated, and one infinite. So likewise, the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say “There are three Gods, or three Lords.” The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity, none is before, or after, another. None is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as was said before, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

Pragmatticus thought it sounded like puffed up nonsense and tried not to laugh.

Meticulous said:  That doesn’t sound at all like scripture! Ideas like Divine Substance and Homoousious don’t have anything to do with the Bible!

Arius said: That’s what I’ve been trying to say! Jesus Himself didn’t believe in this co-equality stuff so why should we?

What Does Jesus Think of the Athanasian Creed?

Jesus had not been consulted about the Athanasian Creed and some attendees thought they heard Him say, “My Father is greater than I.”

The Apostle Paul protested:  “Beware lest men spoil you with philosophy and vain deceit! To us there is one God, the Father! There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus!”

The Apostle Peter said:  Amen!

The Nicene Creed Caused a Lot of Trouble

Athanasius: Got red in the face then jumped out of his seat and started choking Arius. This started the legendary Panel Discussion Brawl at the All Stars Reunion.

Emperor Constantine: Showed up just as Athanasius started choking Arius. He had finally been released from custody!  He was a little confused and behind schedule because his medications were slowing him down a bit. When he saw the ruckus starting it reminded him of Nicea and he shouted, “This is just like the good old days!”

Many thought the ugly conflicts resulting from the Athanasian Creed  were unfortunate and deeply embarrassing. These “doubtful disputations” were an ugly blemish on the faith!

A few claimed they heard Jesus say:  “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”

Sally the Servant Girl took it on the chin again and fell to the floor in a heap.

Pragmatticus finally had enough and just started cussing.

Hotel Security Guards did their best to restore order.

And then the Moderator said: This concludes our panel discussion. Will someone please call 911? I think Sally is hurt! We want to thank you all for coming and would like to invite everyone to the fellowship hall for refreshments as soon as the fighting stops!

PS: We wonder if the Athanasian Creed seemed so weak to its authors that the only way to protect it was by burning and banning the writings of those who disagreed. Was it really necessary or even remotely Christian to sentence people to death for reading opposing ideas? That’s what it took though to establish the primacy of trinitarian doctine in the church. We don’t think Biblical truths are confirmed by majority votes in councils or by violence either.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

Parables Jesus Forgot – Part III

An Imaginary Meeting With Jesus

Close your eyes and try to imagine this scene: The disciples of Jesus Christ were sitting at His feet in the quiet and stillness of the evening. The labors of the day were finished. Multitudes had been fed, miracles had been wrought and a great many people had been healed. Perhaps Jesus had walked on the water that very day! They had seen Him still a tempest with the power of His words. They believed in Him and they loved Him, but they still had questions. One of the disciples raised a hand and said, “Lord, could you kind of explain to us about You and God? I don’t mean to sound stupid but how does it all fit together? You’re the Son of God, and the Father is God and then you talk about the Spirit too?”

Is God Like a Triangle?

With great patience Jesus looked upon His disciples and when He knew they were ready to hear Him He said, “You must open your eyes and see that God is like a triangle!”  His disciples were dumbfounded! They had never seen anything remotely like that in the Hebrew scriptures! Jesus’ explanation left them totally baffled. They were more bewildered than ever. The obvious question no one dared to ask was “What in the world does a triangle have to do with God?” It sure didn’t sound Biblical to their ears. Sensing their confusion, Jesus decided to try again. “Look men, there are three points connected by three sides and a nice big pyramid shape in the middle! Don’t you get it? It is just one triangle and that is God!” His disciples looked dazed but things were about to get worse.

Is God Like an Egg?

Jesus sensed their failure to understand Him so He raised His voice and said, “God is like an egg I tell you! That’s how it is with me and God! Every egg has a shell and a yolk and some egg white  but it’s just one egg. All you have to do is think of eggs and the Mystery of God will make perfect sense to you.”  Well that really jumbled things up in the minds of His disciples! They started mumbling, “What does that have to do with God? Triangles and now eggs? These  examples sure don’t glorify God and Moses in the Law never said anything remotely like this to Israel! These parables don’t make anything clear! None of this makes sense to us Lord!”

Is God Like Water, Ice and Steam?

Then all the disciples with one voice began to say unto Him, “Lord, we don’t understand what you are trying to say!” It had already been a long day but Jesus decided to try one more time. He wanted to elevate their thinking to heavenly things so He patiently said, “Let’s see if you can get this one! God is like a cup of water and an ice cube and steam that rises from a boiling pot!” That didn’t seem to help much either so Jesus gave up and decided to never teach them parables about the Trinity again or ever.

The Apostles Were Really Primitive

Jesus finished His teachings by saying, “How is it that you are so blind? In 300 years some really smart philosophers will create doctrines you’ve never dreamed of! These are the parables they will eventually teach! You are just too primitive to get it.” The disciples’ heads were spinning! They had never heard anything like this before which was little wonder. All they knew was sacred scripture, and they knew Jesus. This is why they later became known as primitive Christians. (Believers didn’t even begin to get sophisticated or modern until the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon.)

Unbiblical Ideas Call for Unbiblical Parables!

Tertullian continued, One thing we have learned is that the teachings of scripture do not result in the parables we need! Logic demands that Christians create extra-biblical parables to explain our extra-biblical creeds! The dogmas we believe and illustrations we use to explain them may not be Biblical but they are very convincing! Most Christians believe in our creeds and recite them faithfully whenever they meet for worship! Ask them about the mystery of God and they will solemnly recite the parables we have invented. They will proclaim our parables of triangles and eggs and cups of water with a straight face! I think God must be very proud of us and of what we have accomplished!

Parables About the Trinity… Endless Possibilities!

In closing, I hope my short time with you has been helpful. Perhaps someday someone somewhere will expand the limits of our understanding even further and create new parables that are even more stunning than what we have now. There may come a time when Christians everywhere will embrace the parable of an egg frozen in a block of ice shaped like a triangle! The possibilities are endless! We can only imagine. In the meantime I thank you for your attention and the brotherly love you have extended to me! May God bless you richly.

Audience: Rising to their feet to cheer! With one voice they began singing the Song of Parables!

A Song of Parables

All God’s points are numbered three, We love triangularity! How blessed is our theology!

Bless God of shell and yolk and white, Bless every holy egg in sight!

So blessed is our theology!

Bless our frozen liquid one, who turns to steam when we are done!

Oh bless our lovely Trinity, and all our fine theology!

PS: Oh my goodness! Did we actually say these things out loud and in print? You bet we did and think it’s long overdue! Now you can say them too.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

Parables Jesus Forgot – Part II

Man-Made Parables About the Trinity

This is not to say that, God forbid, we are passing judgment on Jesus! We all know He did a great job with so many other things. Never the less, His failure to teach about the Trinity is a glaring omission and one we should not overlook! Thanks be to God for theologians! Theologians who have bravely stepped into the gaping holes Jesus left in His teachings! We have filled them to the brim with our own intellectual ability and scholarly language. We were compelled to write our own creeds and parables out of necessity! Fortunately for everyone we are really good at it. Let’s all thank God for that!

Audience: Gasp! We never thought about that before! Yes indeed! Thank God!

Do “The Secret Things” Really Belong to God?

Tertullian: The Good Book says, “The secret things belong to God but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Perhaps we do “see through a glass darkly” after all. Are we, as some like to say, just pretending to understand the deepest mysteries of God’s very Being? We have to admit we can’t even understand our own wives. How can we claim to have penetrated the deepest mysteries of God’s own Being in eternity past? It almost makes me wonder if we have waded out into water that is over our heads.

A Story About Martin Luther

I do like the story that is told about old Martin Luther. When a student came to him and asked, “What was God doing before He created the world?”  Martin Luther replied, “He sat under a birch tree cutting rods for those who ask nosy questions.” Just kidding folks! Everyone knows we have figured out the answers to all those nosy questions. It’s our job!

He’s not really a Church Father, but oh my goodness everyone!  Is that Martin Luther I see over there in the corner? Stand up and wave to everyone Brother Marty! I’m glad you got invited even if you weren’t born until many centuries after the Nicene Council. Brother Marty was something of a misfit and a rabble rouser in his day! He had a low opinion of Church Councils but I’m glad he joined us here anyway!

Audience: Nervous laughter.

Theologians Wrote Parables About the Trinity

Tertullian: Let’s get back to business folks. The truth of the matter is that we were forced to craft our own parables to make up for Jesus’ neglect! There is no good reason to downplay the importance of our own parables simply because they have no basis in Jesus’ teachings! Just because something is not in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t Biblical! Just because we have done this there is really nothing to worry about! Those ancient scriptural warnings against adding to or taking away from the holy writ clearly do not apply in this case! The need was too pressing and our doctrine was too important for us to do anything less.

Why Didn’t Jesus Explain the Trinity?

You may be wondering why Jesus never gave us a clear explanation of the Trinity. Everyone knows it is the single most important thing we believe! Those who deny it have been banished, ridiculed and killed by those who are smart enough to go along with our dogma. Some have even wondered why Jesus didn’t write a good trinitarian creed Himself and get it done with. Perhaps you are thinking, “But Tertullian, you weren’t even there! You were already dead by the time we met at the Nicene Council!” That may be true my friends but most of what you debated there was based on my writings. That should count for something!

Why Didn’t Jesus Teach Our Parables?

We have written some beautiful parables of our own but why didn’t Jesus teach these Himself? Was He so busy with His earthly ministry that it just slipped His mind? Was He so tired at the end of every day that He didn’t have the energy to bring it up to His disciples? Or… did He intentionally leave us in the dark? Did He know we would come up with some pretty good parables of our own if we had enough time? The best explanation is that He was counting on us to write some parables for Him from the richness of our own imagination! We should be flattered that Jesus never taught on the most important doctrine of the church. He was depending on us to take care of it for Him!

Only Man-made Parables Can Explain the Trinity!

And what magnificent parables we have written! Our parables are easy to understand and they do seem to convey something important. Some of our illustrations are so good I bet Jesus almost wishes He had spoken them Himself! Just because our parables have no basis at all in the scriptures is no reason to mock them. No indeed! Sincere and spiritual people are well advised to take them (and us) very seriously. Let’s take a minute to imagine how it might have looked. What if Jesus had taught the parables that are so widely taught and believed in His church?

PS: Don’t you just love the way Tertullian explains things? We sure do and hope his speech at the All-Stars Reunion helped bring things into focus for you. The rest of his remarks are in our next post.
PPS: Why not share a link to theologyallstars.com with your friends? They’ll be glad you did.

Continued…Click for the conclusion

Theology or Nonsense?

Lewis Carroll Knew How to Speak Theology!

As I have said in the past, “Be what you would seem to be – or, if you’d like to put it more simply – never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”

Audience: Warm applause. “Well said Brother Carroll! Bravo”

Severus of Antioch Was So Eloquent!

Few men have demonstrated the art of expression more clearly or written more eloquently than Severus of Antioch who said, “For even if the Only-Begotten Son of God, incarnate and inhominate, is said by us to be one…. nor has the nature of the Word passed over into the nature of the flesh, nor indeed has the nature of the flesh passed into that which is his, but while each one of them continues together in the particularity that belongs to the nature, and is thought of in accordance with the account which has just been given by us, the inexpressible and ineffable union shows us one nature of the son, but as I have said, incarnate.” Isn’t that just priceless? I stand in awe at his gifts, such ability is rare indeed!

Jabberwocky and the Trinity

In closing I would like to read just a few stanzas from one of my most acclaimed works. It is a poem  called The Jabberwocky and you will see for yourself how carefully I have followed the lead of Severus and how much literary tradition we share.

The Jabberwocky

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand; long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!

The Trinity is Terribly Confusing But Very Important!

You see how convincingly my prose seems to say something of real importance but how difficult it is to figure out exactly what that might be! Is not this the case with the very best that theological excellence has to offer? Sweet Alice of Alice in Wonderland stated it best: “It seems very pretty but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!”

Audience: Thunderous applause and shouts of “That’s it! He’s got it!” and “He is most assuredly one of us!” An honorary Doctor of Theology degree was then unanimously conferred upon Mr. Carroll and with that the opening ceremony concluded and everyone retired to the social hall for drinks and appetizers.

PS: Well there you have it! We have, at long last, seen the deep connection between the nonsense prose of Lewis Carroll and the nonsensical theology of our ancient and esteemed theologians. In our next post we’ll take a look at Jesus’ parables, real and imagined. Make plans to take a look and please take time to share a link to theologyallstars.com with anyone who comes to mind. Thanks!

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes