Monday, April 18, 2016

Ryan Fouts on the Difference Between the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds

Last month I preached on the Apostles' Creed in response to the old heresy of Arianism. I thought we needed some tightening up on two persistent heresies: Arianism and Gnosticism. I said that the Apostles' Creed was developed against Arius. But Ryan Fouts, PhD candidate in theology pointed out that Arius could have agreed with the Apostles' Creed. It was the Nicene Creed that was developed against Arius and his heresy that Jesus was not God.

So I asked Ryan to tell us the difference, and here is what he wrote. I pass it along...

The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed – what’s the Difference?

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Historical Origins of the two Creeds:
Apostles’ Creed:  The earliest creeds were often “baptismal creeds,” serving as a confession of faith at the time of one’s baptism.  St. Polycarp (a student of John, the Apostle) says his student Irenaeus, “taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”   According to St. Polycarp and Irenaeus, the “rule of truth” received and confessed by every Christian at his baptism was transmitted by the apostles  -- Hence the name, “Apostles’ Creed” refers to the fact that the Creed confessed at one’s baptism is the same faith the Apostle’s handed down to us through the church.  While there were a variety of baptismal creeds in the early church, eventually the need to standardize these creeds was expressed.  In the early 3rd Century the Latin/Western Church developed the “Old Roman Creed.”  This was used as a baptismal creed throughout the Western world. That is, it was used as a statement one would speak before being baptized. An outgrowth of the “Old Roman Creed,” the text of the “Apostles’ Creed” as we know it took its present shape in the eighth century.  The Apostles’ Creed, because of its continuity with the early baptismal creeds, can be said to be both the oldest and the youngest of Christendom’s creeds.

Nicene Creed:  The Early Christians encountered a number of difficulties attempting to maintain the distinction between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit while remaining monotheists.  Think about it!  No one had talked about the “Trinity” in the terms we now know and love!  If the Father is God, but Jesus is also God, how can we be monotheists? Arianism, also known as Subordinationism, aptly named after the first leading proponent of the view, Arius of Alexandria, asserted that Jesus Christ was created, he was a “creature,” but not the creator.    Because Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father, according to Arius, he was “lower” than the Father.  Because of the growing division in Christendom, the Emperor Constantine called a council, shortly after taking control of the entire empire, to resolve the disputes.  The council became known as the Council of Nicea (325).  At Nicea, the first edition of our present Nicene Creed was formulated, with some anti-Arian additions, from a baptismal creed proposed by Eusebius of Caesarea. It included one paragraph no longer included in the Creed, “But those who say, There was when the Son of God was not, and before he was begotten he was not, and that he came into being from things that are not, or that he is of a different hypostasis or substance, or that he is mutable or alterable – the Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes.” Two Arian bishops who refused to sign the Creed were exiled.  The Council of Constantinople (381) was called to order by the Emperor Theodosius to deal with the lingering problem of Arianism, along with new errors (particularly concerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit). Through omissions, alterations, and additions, this council gave to the Nicene Creed its present form.  Because of this, it is sometimes called the Niceno-Contantinopolitan Creed. The Council of Toledo (589) Added the phrase “filioque” (and the Son) to the Creed in reference to the Spirit’s procession.  This would eventually contribute to the great schism between the West and the East.

Key Differences:

Language: While the Apostles’ Creed likely has origins in the Greek language, the earliest extant manuscripts available are in Latin.  The Nicene Creed was originally produced in Greek, reflecting the struggle the early Church had with Greek philosophical ideas (couched in Greek language) that led to heresies like Gnosticism and Arianism.

I Believe/We Believe: The Apostles’ Creed begins with the first-person singular, “I believe,” as it was used as a confession of one’s faith at his or her baptism. It also had an additional function—because most common people did not have access to New Testament books (and most were illiterate) the Apostle’s Creed was basically the people’s Bible.  It was an easily memorable summary of what the New Testament contained about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   If someone were to ever ask a Christian, “what do you believe?” the Apostles’ Creed gave them a simple formula to follow in their response.  Thus, the “I believe” of the Apostles’ Creed emphasized the personal dimension of faith.  No one can “believe” for you.  It’s appropriately associated, then, with the Christian sacrament/ordinance of Baptism.

The Nicene Creed—while many churches use a mis-translation that says “I believe”—begins with “we believe.”  The Nicene Creed emerged at a time when Christendom was divided over significant issues. By employing the first-person plural, “we believe,” the Nicene Creed emphasizes the unity of the church.  In spite of whatever differences Christians might have about peripheral issues, the Nicene Creed is a powerful confession of our unity in the essentials of the Christian faith.  For this reason, the Church has historically used the Nicene Creed in conjunction with the celebration of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper.  As an expression of unity, the Nicene Creed reinforces what we also celebrate and confess at the Lord’s Table.  We belong together, and together we belong to Christ.

“…descended into hell…”  The controversial phrase found in the Apostles’ Creed is absent from the Nicene Creed.  The Latin, “descendit ad inferos,” was likely an adaptation from an earlier Greek from taken from Ephesians 9:9 where it says that Jesus had “descended into the lower parts of the earth.”  While the Apostles’ Creed has earlier origins than the Nicene Creed, the final form of the Apostles’ Creed is not developed into much later. The earliest occurrence of the “descent into hell” clause in the Apostles’ Creed actually appeared in 359 in an Eastern creed that was ultimately rejected as being tinged with Arianism!  The clause was either unknown to the formulators of the Nicene Creed or it was left out because—while it does not affirm Arian ideas per se—it was associated with the heresy the Nicene Creed was designed to reject.  In the West, the phrase “descendet ad inferos” doesn’t appear officially until about 700 A.D. 
Thanks Ryan for your wonderful intellect and clarity!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Post-Its of Gratitude: What Did We Learn?

Lakeland people were charged with writing a word of gratitude on a Post-It each day and posting it on the kitchen wall. I think it was a success in our house. With four of us we finally had to stand on a chair to post the final few days of gratitude Post-Its.

Did it work?

We were supposed to be more reflective during Lent, pause and consider life and be grateful. Here's what I found telling about our lives. We were grateful for mundane things, and we were often repetitive. The weather and food were most common gratitude subjects. "Nice weather" "Taco Bell" topped the list. Lacrosse, friends, clouds, birds, mac cheese, french fries, shoes, and warm stuff were common. Either we are not very creative or thoughtful or these common things are actually the stuff for which we are really grateful. Life is small.

Was this not Jesus' intent when he said,
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
Gratitude is for the most common of life's observations. Meaningfulness is found in the littlest of things. This is the idea of mindfulness (secular and religious). And it works. We learn not to take ourselves too serious. We learn to pay attention to little things and everything.

Too bad modernization, suburbia, globalization, media, and public debate and discourse distracts us from a grateful heart. As Henri Nouwen noticed 30 years ago compulsions, chaos, and competition are the fuel of hell on earth (my paraphrase). We are too driven and therefore, drive by the small things too fast to be grateful and thus at peace.

I often think about accounts of people who lived beyond 100 years when they are asked 'So what is the secret to a long life?' and they all answer, "Well, I just lived a simple life." Some smoked. Some ate pounds of red meat and butter each week. Most were rural. Usually they walked everywhere. Compulsions, chaos, and competition - they are the real killers of life - both life in the body and spiritual life.

I don't think we will continue to be grateful without some habit of gratitude and reflection. Today it was sad to take down all the Post-its. It is as though I knew we will be sucked back into busyness. I just left one Post-It, high up on the wall, out of reach: "He is risen."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My Final Lenten Poem

I have no exit but smoke
A Holocaust, An Oblation
And become nothing,
One with the aether
Seduced! Seduced! Seduced!
I am seduced

Monday, February 29, 2016

Miroslav Volf's Latest Book: Flourishing: Why We Need Relgion In A Globalized World and Spirituality

Scot McKnight tweeted that Miroslav Volf produced a new book about what it means to live the good life (Yale Univ. Press, Jan 11, 2016). I grabbed it up on and began listening because I need to beef up my "social context" for my doctoral Thesis proposal (then I had to buy the print version too). In self-interest, I need to present 'why does our culture need classic spiritual practices today?' I ask the question if our culture is languishing - are we busy at no good thing? Are we spiritual with a small "s" rather than deeply connect to the transcendent GOD, intimate with the unknown One? I propose we need greater intimacy with God and the 4th century desert practices (paideia) and its culture, largely ignored by Evangelicals, is the effective means of deepening one's intimacy with God.

Volf teaches at Yale University's Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and offers a popular undergraduate seminar called "Life Worth Living." See David Brooks' YaleNews' Feb 23, 2016 interview with Miroslav Volf.

Here is a tasty quote of Volf from the YaleNews David Brooks' interview:
The danger is that students become experts in means but remain amateurs in ends, immensely adept in accomplishing discrete tasks, but lost when it comes to the art of living.

In other words, anyone with an iPhone can look up a bio of Karl Marx and his Manifesto and also YouTube videos of kittens doing dangerous funny stunts - and have trouble understanding which is more important for living the good life.

I believe Volf accurately assesses what some of us "older" Christians sense but cannot put our finger on, regarding 'why does social media, the media, technology, science, and consumerism seem to degrade the human soul?' We tend to keep quiet because we all know that it is just old people resisting change. But Volf shows that it may be due to globalization's dehumanizing effects. And I will say it now, Volf also believe globalization is not evil but a powerful pathway to the good life - IF we can tolerate the voice of faith and religion. Spirituality and its transforming force makes us adept as the art of living.

From a spirituality vantage point "the good life" or "a life worth living" one's intimacy with God is paramount to the good life. Of course, any personal spirituality that is not beneficial for others is not Christian spirituality. Personal piety is not the end, but rather the means to transforming the world around us.

Our secular spirituality, which should be an oxymoron but isn't, believes religion should take a backseat to western culture's moral exclusivism, and political exclusivism. Volf argues that far from Christianity or Islam being intolerant, it is globalization that wins the intolerance award (Volf, Flourishing, 100). This intolerance looks as mundane as social media's dogma - everyone MUST be immediately socially connected - and as sophisticated, mildly-ignoring western affluent consumerism's pervasive pull to consume at the expense others, including the environment. (I added a bit of my own stuff here.) Globalization is the most intolerant impersonal force on the planet today. Globalization may as well be today's de facto religion.

As the Volf-Brooks interview quote above reveals, globalization is not necessarily producing the good life on its own. But when coupled with a particular religious exclusivism and political pluralism the good life is possible according to Volf (Volf, Flourishing, 160).

Not only do I find Volf's book helpful for understanding the climate and culture of globalization's force upon spirituality, but I find it extremely helpful for making sense of tolerance of hot topics such as gay marriage and dealing with radicalized jihad, that is, ISIS.

Volf makes that case that religion, far from being the pariah of the planet, fomenting war and violence, it is the historic and promising way to the good life. But is not just any form of religious expression. It is a very nuanced expression of conservative "religious exclusivism."

I am not  done with the book. I am stuck on chapter four... listening, reading, listening, reading. I wish I had someone to discuss and further explicate Volf's thought. In the meantime, Thesis proposing pushes me to expedience, and I will leverage Volf's comments on the historic supremacy of transcendence over the mundane for my own work. Thank you Professor Volf (and Professor McKnight). Volf, I wish I would have had you for my own MDiv at Fuller, and McKnight, perhaps I can take a course with you at Northern (after my DMin).

And I will finish Professor Volf's book because I am excited to see how it ends. If you're up for the challenge you may wish to read Flourishing as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016


By Pastor Dan and Laurie Wilburn

What is Lent…?
The Lent season starts on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 10th).  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God (telling him we are sorry for the times we mess up and not being who he created us to be).  Lent lasts for 40 days (some traditions say the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – not counting Sundays, some say the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday which is the beginning of Holy Week). Either way, the 40 days commemorate Jesus’ time of prayer and fasting in the desert (see Luke 4: 1 - 13).

Lent is intended to be a time of fasting and/or practicing spiritual disciplines:
- To help us repent of our sins and of our lack of pursuit of God and his desires for us; and
- To reflect on Jesus – his life, his suffering, and his death and resurrection.
Use your this Lent Guide as a way to lean in to this season and draw nearer to our God!

The General Plan for this season of Lent…
This season of Lent you can rally a group of friends or extended family every Sunday night to have a Lent discussion (like many of you did for Advent).  However, it might also be a more Lent-like approach to have just your family to be together and reflect. 
When people get together they often have snacks.  Since Lent is often a time of giving up something, consider forgoing the special snack we encourage families to have during Advent and serve a “lent-like” snack.  Maybe serve toasted Naan bread or make your own bread and just have water to drink.

The Details…
We want to challenge Lakelanders to do four things during each week of Lent that we will then discuss in our family/friend groups each Sunday evening of Lent.  It is a simple plan – appropriate for Lent…

1. STOP:  Stop/disrupt your usual media usage
a. Adults:  Stop your usual intake of news media, worldly voices (e.g., stop reading the newspaper, listening to the TV/Radio news, FB, etc)
b. Kids:  Give up a tech game (e.g, Madden Mobile) or a most used social media outlet (Instagram, Twitter…)

2. START: Start listening to the voice of God in scripture. 
a. Adults: Use your usual media time to read the Bible.  Read (or listen to) a chapter of Luke each day.  After 24 days… just keep reading the Bible.
b.Kids: Spend 5-10 minutes a day reading your Bible

3. GIVE: (Everyone) Work on how you can give something away to a stranger at least once a week.  Be creative.  Some ideas include:
a. Give someone a kind word.  Tell someone (in person or in a note) their hair looks nice or they have a kind voice.  Be sincere and specific.
b. Give of your time to serve someone.  It can be as quick as taking someone’s grocery cart back in the store for them or more involved like serving at a soup kitchen.
c. Give of your resources – Pay for the groceries of the person in front of you or the fast food bill of someone in the drive through.  Write a check to a charitable organization that has been on your heart. Hand someone who appears to be in need a $10 bill. What if someone compliments an article of clothing or jewelry?  Have you ever considered giving it to them?  Yikes!

4. RECEIVE: (Everyone) As an act of receiving what God has given us, ask each family member to write with a Sharpie on a sticky note (or have the parent write for their child) one thing for which they are grateful.  Do this each night (Monday-Saturday).  Place the sticky notes on a wall in your kitchen or living room, on your fridge or kitchen cabinets.  Don’t remove your old ones, keep adding new sticky notes (with different things to be grateful for) each day.  By the end of Lent you will have a house full of gratitude.

EACH SUNDAY of Lent (2/14, 2/21, 2/28, 3/6, 3/13, 3/20)

1.    Gather around your sticky notes.  Take a few moments to have each person read his or her notes for the week aloud.  Then have each person pick their favorite and tell why they picked that particular thing for which to be grateful.
2.    Discuss how you “gave” in the past week.  Talk about how the receiving person reacted and how you felt.
3.    Share as desired about your “stop” and “start” activities.  How did it go?  What did God say or do through these things?
4.    If you have a story that would encourage others, post it for other Lakelanders (unless you stopped social media!) Hashtag #lccclent 

Monday, December 28, 2015

False Fear and the Christian Faith

 "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 1:20

'Do not be afraid' is the most repeated phrase in the Bible.

I while back I stated that we live in the most peaceful of times. I am not sure everyone agrees with me. I took my information from Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World 2.0 (2012). Zakaria writes, "It feels like a very dangerous world. But it isn't. Your chances of dying as a consequence of organized violence of any kind are low and getting lower" (8). Zakaria cites the numbers that show major countries are not engaged in war. Big countries with big wars cause big loss of life. But it feels like we live in dangerous times because news is so immediate now. The internet with its cell phone cameras immediately bring all news to our big and small screens. The media companies have a large profit motive to get you to watch their feed. So they make everything outrageous.

Today The Economist presents what near past was like for terrorism. Here are the statistics. Deaths by terrorism in 2014 are up by 80% from 2013, to 32,685, "the biggest rise in 15 years" (The Economist Espresso, Dec. 28, 2015). Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria account for 78% of lives lost. Eleven additional countries experienced deaths of 500 of more, up from five countries in 2013. Islamic State and Boko Haram were responsible for 51% of all terrorist-related deaths according the The Economist's sources. Pakistan and Nigeria are beginning to curb terrorism, and ISIS is losing ground.

If memory serves me, Al Qaeda was brought down by banking clerks locking up their funds, and by Muslim mothers who turned against the terrorists saying 'you're killing off all our children - I don't believe in your cause.' Terrorism self defeats. Also, terrorism only works if you are terrorized.

The Economist notes that rich countries in the West are afraid, but they should remember that between 2000 and 2014 only 2.6% of deaths from terrorism occurred in their countries. That includes 9/11. All of North America and most of Europe is relatively safe.

Even with the updated death-by-terrorism statistics we still live in the most peaceful time in human history, quoting Harvard professor Steven Pinker (Post... 9).

Crashing into all the hype-fear come the words of Paul: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (1 Philippians 1:21). Paul's big chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, transcends all fear of death, because death is defeated in Christ. "Oh death where is your sting?" (v55).

Fear is the opposite of Faith. To buy into the "prophets of fear" (read "profits of fear"), is a denial of  Jesus' victory over the grave. Christians shall not be afraid: He has risen! To countermand the hype-fear you must immerse yourself in the scriptures. There you will find people afraid (otherwise that phrase would not be necessary), but they either cave in to the fear and do not trust God, or they trust God and change the course of history for their people. Esther, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel... the list of Bible people who trusted God rather than hype-fear and even real fear of death.

Let us enter the new year with a biblical "meta-narrative" (big story of meaning), instead of the media's hype. As Dallas Willard once wrote, summarizing Jesus' words in Matthew chapter six, "...our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be" (The Divine Conspiracy, 66). Consider the sparrows, they do not worry and yet the Father feeds them. How much more valuable are you to the Father than little birds?

If you are a Christian living in Nigeria you are not safe. If you are a Christian living in Syria you are not safe - no one is safe there. But American Christians: you are so very safe. Act like it. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are truly not safe. And here's my real call to action: if you still feel unsafe then you need to go spend time alone with God. Quiet time, retreat time, solitude and silence produce compassionate action-oriented Christians. But Christians who listen to political pundits do not have the mind of Christ.

Monday, December 14, 2015

"I failed at baking bread" and the via negativa

I suggested the church bake bread for the third week of Advent, the JOY week because food brings such joy.

But many failed to bake bread. If you wanted bread for Sunday dinner or even for 7:00pm for an Advent candlelighting, then you really need to get the bread going by halftime, noon Chiefs game. Personally, I fell asleep when I got home from church and when I woke up it was past halftime. I scrambled in between plays to make bread (luckily the Chiefs played poor and had lots of penalties - so more time). I got the first loaf of focaccia out of the oven at 5:53pm. Others were not so lucky. One person failed to get their bread to rise - ever. Another bailed out and just did PopnFresh crescent rolls. Another baked bread but it came out well after 7pm. Many others just said 'no way.' They must have baked bread before and knew better. Still others produced great loaves of bread and everyone ate them with delight.

Baking bread takes a lot of time. That's why it is a spiritual discipline. For centuries humans have baked bread. It is a constant human life-rhythm. Jesus said he is the bread of life (Jn 6:35). The Lord's Table (communion) uses bread and drink as symbol and presence of Jesus' presence in our lives. Jesus is as real and present as daily food, which we enjoy several times throughout the day.

To fail to bake bread may very well be your best symbol of your spiritual life: You just don't have time to bake bread.

You just don't have time to be Jesus; no time to pray, no time to listen for the Spirit's voice. So in some respect failure to bake bread is a spiritual practice: is tells you something about your soul's condition - not good. Those of us who are "soul doctors" call this the "via negativa," the negative way. It is a discipline of absence, that is, the absence of us! We just fail to show up for God. We attempt to bake the bread of our soul quickly, or go to church or listen to a podcast and get some "store-bought bread."

But the spiritual life does not work that way. It takes time. Prayer must rise. The Spirit's yeast must be allowed to activate. This is why I switched out my model and method of discipleship to a retreat format. On retreat you are "forced" to spend time with God, whether you want to or not. The long hours, the long "divine waste of time" walking, sitting, doodling, journaling, reading, staring at tombstones and stained glass, trudging through snow or blazing fields gives time for your soul to rise up to the Father.

It is okay if you failed to bake bread for Advent. But pay attention to the via negativa: the big obvious lesson is staring you in the face: you don't have time. You're too busy to make humanity's most basic meal: bread. And you don't have time for your soul to rise up, bake under the fire of the Spirit, and be consumed and provide sustenance for others. Just what are you offering others if you are not close to Jesus? Are you offering to others Ho-Hos and Twinkles? Junk food? Is it food only fit for idols, the idols of "hurry" and "go-go-go?" Or is it food fit for God?

Here's your via negativa spiritual lesson: what kind of food are you producing these days? And would anyone enjoy it?