Monday, December 29, 2008

The Spirit of Eutyches

Eutyches had no idea how he ought to think about the
Incarnation of the Word of God; and he had no desire
to acquire the light of understanding by working through
the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures. So at least
he should have listened carefully and accepted the
common and undivided creed by which the whole body
of the faithful confess that they believe in God the
Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our
Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.

- Pope Leo the Great

Eutyches was a monk with good intentions. He just wasn't a theologian. Unfortunately that didn't prevent him from dabbling in theology, specifically Christology. He was able to correctly determine that the Christology promoted by Nestorius was severely off track. So far, so good. As Leo the Great pointed out, though, the common teaching of the Church, the creed confessed throughout the body of the faithful was sufficient for this. Eutyches couldn't leave well enough alone and went too far, fleshing out a flawed Christology from his own reason in reaction to Nestorius.

My point is not to discuss Eutychian or Nestorian heresy but to emphasize the importance of the creeds and confessions of the Church that have stood the test of time and scriptural review. In this modern era of "Deeds, not creeds" (as if they were mutually exclusive) the very idea of attempting to provide the average Christian with a basic exposure to sound doctrine is under assault. The goal of common confession of the Church is lost in the individualism and isolationism of American Evangelical practice in which every Pastor is a "little Pope", the final authority on scriptural truth. This is carried to its logical extreme in the Emergent movement, attempting to place a Pope in every parlor, if not every lounge chair.

The problem with all this is that most of us are not theologians. Even Pastors are not all theologians, despite their theological training. Inexplicably, some even boast of it. In the end though, not being a theologian is OK. Our faith is not an intellectual exercise. Not all of us are inclined to "working through the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures". That being the case it is of utmost importance for us to have "listened carefully and accepted the common and undivided creed by which the whole body of the faithful confess". Being a Christian is a group enterprise and the group extends into eternity, supporting the faith we receive in Word and Sacrament with the united confession of all Christians, past, present and future. It's not just "Jesus and me".

Even in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, notorious for paying attention to creeds and confessions, this exposure to sound doctrine, to the common confession is being lost. A disturbing number of Lutherans have not been taught from the Small Catechism and are barely aware of its existence. The creeds are often modified, replaced with "paraphrased versions" or not used at all. I have experienced an LCMS Pastor who refused to use the Athanasian Creed (my personal favorite) because he didn't like its tone. I have heard an LCMS Pastor declare that doctrine scares people away from the Church. When we abandon these things we place ourselves at risk for what happened to Eutyches.

I don't think Eutyches was bent on destroying the Church, nor do I believe his modern counterparts intend to do so. The intentions are good. What is not understood is that Christ and His Church do not need to be defended by innovative thought and practice. They in fact cannot be defended in this way. Most of us are not called to be theologians. We are called to be faithful to the confession of the whole body of believers. We must not lose our grip on it. We cling to it, as we cling to Christ, lest we lose Him.

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