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

The Final Excommunication

What came next at the All-Star Theologians Reunion was almost beyond belief! There had been a few strained moments to be sure but by and large the church “fathers” had behaved themselves reasonably well in spite of old disagreements. That all changed dramatically when Athanasius asked for a few moments to address the group “from the heart”. He said he didn’t have any carefully prepared remarks but simply wanted to share his feelings. This was an exceptional request from a man who had spent his entire life speaking “from the head.” Now he wanted to share what was in his heart!

Athanasius Liked to Argue!

A few people thought Athanasius might have mellowed since the great Ecumenical Council in Nicea. His request to make a few remarks at this particular session was taken by some as a clue that he wanted to sow peace and reconciliation in the Body of Christ. It turned out they were wrong. He still felt like arguing! Interestingly enough, the session he chose for sharing his heart was listed on the Reunion Program as “The Mark of the Lamb“. The theme was “By this shall all men know you are my disciples if you have love for each other.” The irony of what followed was exquisite.

Athanasius Against the World!

Athanasius’ adversaries had some pretty uncharitable nicknames for him! (you’ll have to research them yourself if you’re interested). Suffice it to say his enemies were not shy about using well-placed insults when it suited them. History tells us that Athanasius was known for his adversarial and confrontational approach. It seems he was a pretty argumentative fellow! Maybe it was his basic temperament or maybe he just liked arguing since he was so good at it. This had even earned him his own brand name! He became known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum” which meant “Athanasius Against the World”.

Athanasius Argued With  Everyone!

Athanasius argued with just about everyone! His most notable conflicts were with Arius, Eusebius, Emperor Constantine, along with Emperors Constantius II, and Emperors Valens and Julian too. Whenever he was in favor with a particular Roman Emperor he used his political connections to excommunicate and banish his religious rivals. Sometimes though, the political tides would turn against him and then his rivals would exile and excommunicate him! His career was an ongoing drama of forced exiles followed by a return to ecclesiastical power… until the next time. Then the cycle would start all over again. He was excommunicated and banished 5 times by four different emperors! That’s just how it goes when you hitch your wagon to an earthly star and Athanasius had hitched his wagon firmly to the power of the Roman empire.

Heretics, Scoundrels and Traitors

Athanasius: Beloved friends and brothers!  You all know it is my custom to bring you well-reasoned and eloquent arguments for our doctrines and traditions. Today though, my heart is stirred and the time has come for something more. I have a few things to get off my chest and want to clear the air about how some people have treated me. Most of you already know that Eusebius is a scoundrel through and through! If he wasn’t I wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of having him banished and excommunicated in the first place. It was a great disappointment to me when afterwards he got Constantine’s ear and had me excommunicated and banished. What a rat!

Arius, Constantine and Eusebius Were All Against Him!

I was faced with Arius the heretic, Emperor Constantine the backstabber and Eusebius the weasel and they were all against me! I’m not going to bore you with all the sordid details of how they shamelessly disagreed with some of my finest theological arguments for the trinity. It is enough to say they did and they were not the only ones! Emperors Constantius II, Valens and Julian also banished me a few times after I’d been excommunicated by some second-rate bishops and councils who were jealous of my prominence.

Athanasius Excommunicates Everyone!

What really gets under my skin is that the reunion organizers allowed some of these characters to come to this reunion and even let them speak!  I can’t even tell you how ticked off I am about that! Anyway, they are such colossal disappointments I have decided to excommunicate all of them personally and permanently. Yes, that includes the reunion organizers too! I have made up my mind so there is no need to convene a council or take a vote or anything like that. Don’t go running to old Constantine either! His days are over and his power is broken. I’m warning you ahead of time. Don’t even try to argue with me because it won’t do you any good. Just remember that the creeds you know and believe in were my writings and ideas!

A Janitor Rebuked the Great Theologian

Pragmatticus was up in the rafters again and had heard all he could take. He didn’t start cussing but he did have something to say. “That’s the whole problem Smarticus! The things you argued for and established were your ideas and that’s why they caused so much trouble. You were smart enough to overwhelm your human opponents but you will never overwhelm God! If the things you taught were simply God’s words they would have brought peace and blessing to those who heard them. Your prideful words only brought division and bloodshed. The legacy of your dogma started with your arrogant claim that to be saved men had to think of God in the incomprehensible way you declared. You will be remembered for your brazen desire to banish and excommunicate anyone who disagrees with you. Thank God the Kingdom is not yours!

Athanasius: I recognize that voice! That’s the janitor Pragmatticus! Who does he think he is to disagree with me? People like him who don’t even have an advanced degree in theology really aggravate me! How did he get invited to our reunion anyway? I hereby excommunicate him too. No one gets in the Kingdom unless I say so…  and I say it takes understanding and complying with the creed that bears my name!

A Still Small Voice Was Heard…

A Still Small Voice was heard saying, “Truly, truly I tell you I am the door of the sheep. I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me. I am the door. If anyone enters by me he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.”

Some listeners decided there was a big difference between what was in the heart of Athanasius and what was in the heart of God.

PS: We don’t think the Athanasian Creed expresses what is in the heart of God at all! That’s our honest opinion anyway. What’s yours? By the way… we’d sure appreciate it if you would share this website with a friend. Believing Christians should at least be aware of the perspective we try to share at    theologyallstars.com    Thanks and God Bless.

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

 

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

We believe in God the Father, His only begotten Son Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Well said, well said, well said. Did the first Christians believe this? They certainly did! Do Christians today believe this? Indeed we do! So there is no problem, right? Wrong! During the early Christian centuries Romans asked believers, “Do you believe in one god or are you polytheists? And, by the way, if you are polytheists, would you mind throwing in our emperor as a god? He’s kind of touchy about this, and we’d all be good if you would just add him to your polytheism.”

Those early Christians stuck with “I believe in God the Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” They refused to add the part about the emperor, and that got them in hot water, actual hot water. Rather than accepting the Biblical story of God and His Son Jesus Christ, the theological class attempted to plumb the depths of God’s being and figure out how He could be three in one.

As the early Christian centuries moved along, so did the answer to the three gods in one question. Early theologians could have agreed some things are secrets that belong only to God, as in Deuteronomy 29:29. Unfortunately they decided it would be better to force Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” This led to some really interesting words being invented like homoousios and homoiousios. Never had the world heard such grand words. Never before did Christians have to choose between the “godhead” being an essence or a substance. The search for explanations of the Triune vision eventually led to teachings about triangles and eggs and water, as if God could somehow be compared to such things!

Theological greats like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen focused on whether or not Jesus and the Holy Spirit were co-equal to the Father or subordinate to Him. They generally agreed on subordination. As this line of theological debate continued during the second and third centuries, Tertullian pointed out this was not a particular concern of the common man – at least not yet.

The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation of the Three in One, on the ground that their rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; … They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre- eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God.

The first Christians simply believed in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Tertullian was clear about this. Once again though, the theological class could not leave this simplicity alone. Some Jews considered Jesus to be a man that was the Messiah. Another faction moved to full-fledged subordinationism: the Son is less than the Father and, the Spirit is less than the Son. Others answered that Jesus and the Holy Spirit must be inserted into the Shema as one but in different modes of being.

Even though the Romans stopped persecuting Christians, Christians pitted themselves one against the other over this word or that as theologians fanned that fire. It is so important to recognize the Christian split was due to bishops wanting: 1) to protect their realm, and 2) to make their realm preeminent in the Christian world. Emperor Constantine finally had enough of this. (Much more on this in another essay.) It was disturbing the Pax Romana, and it was time to do something. Constantine called together a council of bishops to meet at Nicaea and settle the nature of the godhead once and for all in order to reestablish the peace.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 was called to anathematize subordinationism and codify some administrative details. Athanasius held that Jesus must not be less than the Father but equal with the Father. Arius argued for the Son being less than the Father claiming Tertullian and Origen. The attendees were living in the emperor’s lap of luxury and were probably not too anxious to go back home, but the party had to end. In a courtroom like setting a vote was taken, and Voila! Jesus became the same substance as God and coequal with God. The simple faith that was entrusted to us was now officially on the road to Trinitarianism. Fierce theological debates followed to answer the question of what happened to Jesus the man when He became co-equal to the Father?

Quite a few more councils and centuries went by before a full-fledged Trinity was voted into existence. It was not until 381 that Theodosius made subordinationism officially illegal. Subsequent councils hammered out concepts like homoousios, homoiousios, prosopon, hypostatic union, and other officious terms. There was much gnashing of theological teeth, and bashing of theologians’ heads, but as another millennia and a half went by, Man finally defined God the Father, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit. This was a great step forward! (Or not.) No longer did we have to merely marvel and wonder at the nature of Jesus. Homoousios told us all we needed to know. Eventually a finalized creed was written that told us what to believe. We can now rest easy on the hypostatic union.

No longer can we simply say we believe in God the Father, His Son the Christ, and the Spirit as those “primitive” Christians did. We must believe in a theological abstraction called the Trinity in order to be saved, and that is why Christians to this very day need theologians.

Copyright 2021 by Greg Hallback

Faith Without Creeds

Saved by Faith… Plus the Nicene Creed!

The Reunion Committee knew the right person to give the keynote address just had to be the great theologian Athanasius! His powerful intellect, keen grasp of subtle philosophical issues and his forceful oratory made him the perfect choice. His epic speech “Faith Without Creeds is Dead” may be the most magnificent defense of the Nicene Creed you’ll ever read. His insights and passion truly captured the spirit of Nicea!

The Master of Ceremony’s Introduction of Athanasius was pretty dull and is omitted from this account. The transcript of Athanasius’ glorious speech is presented here in its entirety.

Arius Was a Heretic!

Athanasius:  Greetings and blessings to all! Except of course to Arius and his band of heretics who slithered in here somehow and are sitting with us today. How did he get in here anyway? The Reunion committee must have lost its collective mind to let him in! I see his name is even on the program somewhere! I thought we had banned him from everything we could think of! Well no matter, we’ll deal with him again later. Some of you may recall how, after our first council, we made it a crime punishable by death to even have a copy of his writings. It makes me a little nostalgic just to think of it. Those were the days!

What About  Emperor Constantine?

You may be wondering, where is Emperor Constantine? The Reunion organizers have asked me to inform you that he is doing well. The unfortunate misunderstanding that got him arrested when he tried to check in has been cleared up! He may have lost his bearings for awhile but he’s doing much better now that he’s on medications. We all know it was his will that brought us together in Nicea and it was his power that established our teachings!  Thank God for the Emperor! Let us pray for his speedy recovery!

Thank God for the Nicene Council!

It is so remarkable that we are all together again in Caesar’s Palace! Today we want to remember and give thanks for all the wonderful things we said and did in Nicea! Yes, I know there may be critics who whine that all we did was revel in our own intellectualism and sophistication. Well they are simply wrong! They were wrong then and they are still wrong today! You can be sure they will be wrong forever as long as I have anything to say about it! Besides, what’s so wrong with being intellectual and sophisticated anyway?

AUDIENCE:   Thunderous applause!

The Nicene Council Preserved the Kingdom of God!

Never forget that it was our work in Nicea that preserved the very kingdom of God from destruction! The wicked heretic and so-called Christian, Arius got what he deserved when we threw him out on his ear! We are forever grateful to Emperor Constantine who paid all our expenses and fed us sumptuously at his table. We should never lose sight of his kindness to the church when he told Roman citizens to quit killing us! It was Constantine, our beloved patron and Emperor, who took our side in the Nicean debate!  He pledged the power and might of Rome to our cause, and brethren, that’s as good as it gets!

AUDIENCE:   Deafening applause.

The Church Fathers Wrote a Beautiful Creed!

You may be wondering exactly what it was that we did in Nicea to preserve God’s kingdom. What did we accomplish that changed the very course of history? What was our crowning achievement you ask! We wrote a creed and crafted words that could show who is a true believer and who is not! Our words are wonderfully filled with gravity and mystery! (I wrote a lot of it myself by the way) Simply reciting them in public can establish whether you are in or out of God’s Kingdom!

Salvation Depends on the Nicene Creed!

The words we wrote are so important that we decided to establish their authority by majority vote! Our creed must never be disputed even if dimwits like Arius refuse to acknowledge it! We created the undisputed gold standard of faith for untold millions of believers! The Nicene Creed has been the only acceptable way for Christians to think for well over 1500 years now! Thankfully, we have even convinced people that unless they accept our theological formulation they cannot be saved!

AUDIENCE:  Enthusiastic shouting and foot stomping.

Many Christians Refused to Believe in the Trinity!

Thank you. Thank you! Most of you remember the situation we faced. There was trouble in the church! There were churches all over the empire and beyond that didn’t agree with each other! To their great shame there were even some people who stubbornly disagreed with me.  Far too many of them refused to accept my views about the threefold nature of God.

 AUDIENCE:   Booing and hissing.

Those Damnable Heretics Rejected Our Creed!

Athanasius: Damnable heretics like Arius and his followers refused to recognize the brilliance of our creation.  They would not believe in Jesus the right way, our way! Some did not like the idea of God being three “persons” but one substance! They rattled on about how it is wrong to claim God is a substance or essence in the first place. Well, that was our idea and we like it a lot and so does the Emperor! That pretty much settles it once and for all wouldn’t you say? But Arius and the thickheaded imbeciles who were his companions just wouldn’t go along with us. It didn’t matter though because our ideas became the official dogma of the Roman Empire!

AUDIENCE:   Right on Athanasius! God is One! God is Three! Let’s hear it for the Trinity!

The Church Needed Some Platonic Philosophy!

Arius and his accomplices accused us of building our doctrine on a foundation of Platonic philosophy. Well La Ti Da!  We told them, “If you don’t like it we’ll excommunicate you! Then to protect the Gospel from people who disagree with us we condemned and banished them! Just for good measure we made it a crime punishable by death to even have a copy of Arius’ writings! How’s that for taking a firm stand for the truth brethren!

AUDIENCE:   Bravo! Bravo! Well done!

PS: If you are enjoying the content here at theologyallstars.com please consider sending a link to a friend. Thanks and God Bless.

Continued… Click for Part II

Copyright 2021 by Bob Shutes

About the Author – Bob Shutes

The Best Conversations I Ever Had About God

I grew up in the days when parents were not afraid to let their children roam a little. The kids in my neighborhood had the freedom to camp out in the fields and woodlots around us. We told scary stories late at night and cooked over campfires and sometimes we talked about God. We wondered about about eternity and infinity, and the mystery of the the night sky and about God Himself. I think they were the best conversations I ever had about God.

Children Ask Good Questions

We were just boys camping out in a field of clover under a starry Michigan sky but we asked good questions! Questions like how did God Himself get started? What comes after infinity and what was before eternity?  We stretched our minds as only children can and the night sky above us was our classroom. We realized that the mystery of it all was just too big for us to grasp. I’m much older now but I can still smell the sweetness of that clover field and remember the sense of wonder we breathed in along with it.

Negotiating With God

I recall another starry night too. I was standing alone on the bowsprit of a wooden sailboat sailing north on Lake Huron at 2 o’clock in the morning. The mystery and glory of the night sky was so beyond words that I started negotiating with God! “Lord! You walked on water and showed yourself to your disciples once.  How about if you do that again right now? I would really like to see you!” ( I thought there was at least a chance He might show Himself to me!) Well I gave it everything I had and tried to cajole Him into appearing, but it didn’t work.

Finally… A Vision of God That Satisfies the Heart

I’m thankful that many years later He finally opened my eyes enough so that I could begin to see him without the distortions of a theology that hides more than it reveals. If you have arrived at our blog I have a hunch you are someone who is also drawn to knowing God. My prayer for you is that God will grant you an understanding of the Mystery of God that satisfies your heart too. Thanks for bearing with my ramblings. I’m glad you came to visit our blog and hope you’ll come again.

Bob