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A Original Creed

Posted on: February 24, 2019

Category: Theology

A Original Creed

Quest Thoughts: An Original Creed?

In Protestant Christianity, since the time of the Reformation, a dominant idea has been that getting back to the Bible and to original Christianity is the proper act of faith. Martin Luther critiqued the church of his time with dynamic and theatrical contrasts between the theology of glory (the church) and the theology of the cross (the Bible). Back to the Bible can be posed as the Protestant slogan.

What we find in the Bible, however, may not always be to our liking. Sometimes what is found in the Bible is ancient forms of prejudice and violence, and sometimes what is found is actually too radical for our likely. Stephen J. Patterson's book The Forgotten Creed is an example of finding radical things in the Bible that most Christians today have trouble practicing, nevermind remembering.

At Galatians 3:26 Paul relays a baptismal creed from ancient Christianity. This is a creed from before Christianity was called Christianity and from before there was any structured church. So, the creed is really one of the first identity markers of a new movement: some scholars call these earliest communities "Christ communities" (using the plural). When the creed in Paul is examined, the use of form criticism renders the earliest expression we can know. Paul adds Christ language to the creed, but originally, before baptism, the creed was recited as follows: "You are all children of God in the Spirit. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female. You are all one in the Spirit." The creed would have been transmitted orally and used in various settings; it would have had slight alternations (additions and subtractions) from place to place. However, this bare-bones version holds several interesting features.

The first obvious shock is that Jesus is not mentioned at all. Baptism was in the Spirit, not in Christ. Baptism meant moving into a community with a shared spirit, which was understood to be the Spirit of God. The second interesting, possibly shocking, thing is that there is no suffering. Baptism is not related to death and resurrection. The third element is the most direct and obvious. Baptism is about canceling the social divisions of race, class, and gender. The point of baptism is to enter into the Spirit of God where such distinctions no longer count. The creed emphasizes that as children of God everyone is in solidarity.

Patterson's book does an excellent job of explaining what race, gender, and class meant in the Roman imperial system. Overcoming these forms of hatred, or giving them up, was not a matter of words. The task was to live according to another set of rules that contradicted or even overthrew the imperial world of values. A re-evaluation of values was asked of the person being baptized. You cannot live anymore according to comfortable assumptions about race, class, and gender. Everyone is now equal, and the correct response to that value is solidarity.

Christianity, as it grew from a movement within Rome to a Roman movement could not maintain its radical vision. It became rather quickly a religion where race, class, and gender mattered a lot. The Roman Catholic Church is not alone in Christianity as an institution filled with anguishing stories of sexual abuse, racial prejudice, and coverups. The church, in many different forms and denominations, seems hopeless when it comes to practicing what it preaches. Indeed, the church seems incapable of hearing its own gospel: no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.

The radical voice of solidarity that crushes to pieces social prejudices, violence, and bigotry is forgotten in institutional Christianity and not heard in the world. Christianity does have a significant voice of critique to offer to the world, but the tradition has been held hostage in fundamentalism and in the various intolerant expressions of orthodoxy. Christianity needs to enter a new age, and part of that task is reviving its radicalism. We have seen in culture today the return of racism, sexism, and classism. I wonder if we might yet see the return of Christianity where these ancient divisions hold no power.

By David Galston

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