Deal or No Deal? Creed or No Creed?

February 7, 2013

“Friends have no creeds.”  We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.

Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.

Ironically, a kind of creed-based schism is what happened in Indiana over the past few years. One part of the Yearly Meeting came to think that to be a Quaker one had to subscribe to certain specific beliefs. Those who could not affirm their fidelity would be cast out, and so they have been.

Creed or no creed? The same tensions are hardly specific to Indiana, however. They run through much of the Quaker world, especially the parts that are gathered in Friends United Meeting.

You can see the difficult contradictions of the FUM world today in the Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) advertisement for a Youth/Young Adult Ministries Director.

Twelve qualifications are listed for the position. Number 12 says “Understands and affirms the beliefs of Friends as stated in the YM Discipline and Iowa Yearly Meeting personnel policy handbook.”  What are “the beliefs of Friends” one has to affirm?

If you call up the “About Us” statement of Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) on its website you see the following appealing statement:

“A Simple Faith

“Friends have no creeds – no official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. These unofficial statements give a general sense of Friends’ faith:

  • God is love and wants to communicate inwardly with everyone who is willing.
  • Worship is spiritual and must be Spirit-led.
  • All people are equal before God and may minister as they are led by God.
  • Jesus Christ is our present Teacher and Lord, and we seek to conduct church affairs in unity under his guidance.
  • The Spirit of God gives guidance that is consistent with the Bible.
  • As people respond to the Light of Christ within, their lives begin to reflect Jesus’ peace, integrity, simplicity and moral purity.”

“A simple faith,” one that involves following where we are led by God. “Friends have no creeds.”

But just below that statement of “A Simple Faith” come these words: “See also “Part I – The Faith and Doctrine of Friends” in the Discipline.”  That section of “The Discipline of Iowa Year Meeting” contains three important documents: (1) a statement of “Essential Truths,” a document drafted as a common statement of Gurneyite Friends around 1900, (2) an extract from George Fox’s letter to the Governor of Barbadoes (1671), and the Richmond Declaration of Faith (1871). These are all statements of belief, and are commonly found in the Faith and Practice documents of FUM Yearly Meetings. I’ll leave it to others to settle whether they are all perfectly consistent one with another. For more than a century, FUM Friends have been arguing about whether these are statements for instruction or whether they are creeds.

Creed or no creed?

One more clue: Item 2 in the list of qualifications reads “Prefer a Bachelor Degree in Ministry or related field.”  What colleges or universities offer a Bachelor Degree in Ministry? Most Quaker colleges don’t.  Earlham doesn’t; Guilford doesn’t; William Penn (in Iowa) doesn’t; even Malone and Friends University don’t. Most colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences degrees. It is Bible colleges with explicit requirements for an affirmation of faith (creeds) that offer Bachelors degrees in Ministry.  (Member colleges of the Association for Biblical Higher Education – only Barclay among Friends colleges — require students to take a 135 question multiple choice standardized exam covering Bible, theology and Church history.)

“The whole spiritual life grows out of the soul’s relation to God and its cooperation with Him, not from any outward or traditional observances.” So says the “Essential Truths.” Among those outward or traditional observances are we to include creeds?

So what affirmation of faith would an applicant to be IAYM’s Youth/Young Adult Ministries Director have to make?

Time we talked about this. Creed or no creed? Deal or no deal?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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One Response to Deal or No Deal? Creed or No Creed?

  1. Pingback: Why It Matters How We Read the Bible | River View Friend

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