Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Bishop Speaks Talk of the Kingdom

The Bishop Speaks Talk of the Kingdom

It was at the point of the Nicene Creed that began “We believe in One God . . .” when the stranger whispered to me saying, “I don’t like this new form of the Creed.” He preferred the one that began with “I believe in One God.” I just smiled at him and nodded my head signifying nothing other than that I had heard him and I think that was all he wanted anyway. I was just a visitor in his church.

It did send me thinking back to when I was serving a congregation that used the I believe form of the Creed. It was a precious thing to a number of the people apparently and so when I began to raise questions about that usage, I encountered resistance.

The response about the Creed was usually offered in anger and went something like: “I don’t know what you believe. I can only speak for myself.” Given this perspective, that form of the Creed made perfect sense. That was the statement of the church for these persons.

So, I began to do a little different kind of teaching. I began to talk about the Creed. The teaching was really quite compelling for a completely unexpected reason. It did not have much to do with the whole notion of Creed. It did not have anything to do with what I believe or what anyone else believed. The thing that was actually compelling was the information that the “We believe” form of the Nicene Creed is the more ancient form. The “I believe” form is a later Latin or Western version.

Once these people understood that I was calling them back to the ancient way, it was all fine. They said, “Well, of course, we would want to do that.” So, they began to use this old form of the Creed with great joy and it was the first step on the journey to an experience of corporate worship.

The thing we need to remember is that doctrine is not delivered by God. We think that God gave us doctrine sometimes and often we behave as if that were the case. Doctrine is not delivered by God (at least not directly). Doctrine is an expression of our experience of God. That is us. That is people. Doctrine is us talking. It is the action of the great councils of the church trying to hammer out the corporate experience of God.

Some of these councils lasted hundreds of years. Some people want to get everything settled, but it is just not going happen that way. This takes a long time because, among other things, people do have different experiences of God. We need not be confused about that. This is why doctrine can change. God does not change, but our experience of God changes all of the time. It is always based on what we bring to the table, what is going on in our lives, and what is going on in the world. This is why doctrine changes.

I believe that leaders in the church need to confront the kind of fear that leads people to worry about the church somehow being preserved. People are worried about the church falling apart. They are afraid that something precious is going to be lost in the shuffle.

This is what I want you to know. Our task is not to save the church. Our task is to be the church. We are the church by being of use to God. That is our purpose and our calling.

The real issue is not be the form of the Creed we use, but rather what we actually believe. It is not as if we hold all of our beliefs in common. It has always been a concern as to how we manage the events of the life of the church. We do this as if it were the ultimate reality. We sometimes forget the nature of our calling.

Jesus did not come to found the Church. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is the message we must not lose. The Kingdom of God is at hand, but there are a few problems with it.

One of the nasty things about the Kingdom of God is that it is filled with all kinds of people that you and I might not choose to have there. That is why it is the Kingdom of God and not your kingdom. Your kingdom (and mine I might add) would be much smaller.

So, there you have it. The word of hope. Be of good cheer and know that when you experience the joy of the Christian life that befalls us on the occasions when we actually behave as if we believe, then the Kingdom of God has come near you.


  1. Bob, thanks, credibility is about faith put into action. Creeds at best reflect rationally something of our credibility derived from living out divine love in daily, human life. Long ago,the first Queen Elizabeth knew that creeds are only of value if they can stand for and within the common practice of unity, not to be mistaken as the cause of it.

  2. Bob,
    Thanks for this article. Very insightful.

  3. Thank you, Jan. Nice to hear from you.

  4. Appreciation to Bishop Bob and his wise counsel about how to approach “doctrine” in the Church; people of faith continually wrestle with truth; God’s truth, the Church’s truth, and personal truth. Doctrine, as the Bishop says, is the Church’s truth and therefore can be changed by the Church. Dogma is generally defined as God’s truth and not changeable by the Church. General Convention defined issues, such as Ordination of women and communion without Confirmation, as doctrinal which permitted redefinition. Pope Paul VI when asked during a Cathedral Deans Conference if celibacy for priests was dogmatic or doctrinal quickly replied “doctrinal.” The issue for many is that when the Church changes doctrine they feel violated. The Roman Catholic neighbor with six children said, “The day the Church permits birth control is the day I quit the Catholic Church. I’ve lived by the rules and they better not change!” When we change doctrine many feel a void that is all too often is filled by resentment and rage.

  5. Gary, your last point is excellent and goes to the heart of all denominations being caring in what and how they make and communicate substantial institutional faith changes. The Episcopal Church has a mixed record pastorally on our big changes.

  6. Nice work Bob. As I recall, Jesus was all about announcing and fulfilling the promise of the Kingdom of God. It was in his baptism, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated and fulfilled. Living by creeds, dogma and liturgy alone excludes the kind of dynamic faith that is realizing when we are members of the loving, accepting Kingdom of God. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God."