Canon and Creed by Robert Jensen

The canon and creed do not become formalized until after several generations of disciples following Jesus and the apostolic witness.  The Church was constituted by the “rule of faith” governing over the life and faith of the early Christians.  Only after some distance between the original apostles and the inheritors of the faith did it become a necessary process to engage.  It became a matter of preserving that which was fundamentally and foundationally appropriate to Christian faith.  Both the canon and creeds arise from this need to develop such resources for the faith community.

The early Christian Church already had a body of literature for Scripture.  What we now call the “Old Testament” was not simply taken over by the community.  Rather, its functional use as Scripture within the community from the beginning is noted within New Testament texts, such as Jesus saying that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  The use of the Old Testament is derived from the conviction that Jesus indeed fulfills the covenantal promises and the Law found within the Old Testament.  In addition, the early Church perceived itself to be the faithful recipient of God’s continued call, given first to Israel, through Christ Jesus.  And, in fact, it is that very narrative that undergirds the Church’s theology and self-understanding found within the New Testament writings.

However, the task of interpretation remaining faithful to the regula fidei is still an issue.  The creeds serve as a tool for underlining and reminding the Church of the essentials of the faith.  In some ways, they provide boundaries of interpretation.  Yet, the creeds do not stand over and above the Scriptures.  Scripture too plays a role for the creed by filling out the fuller story of faith that is outlined in the creed.  Canon needs creed and creed needs canon.  They provide a mutually authoritative role for the community of faith.

Jensen also notes the importance of Church episcopacy.  Namely, that is to say that the faith is apostolic, handed down from generation to generation of believer in a faithful manner.  Although we cannot claim original apostolic authority for ourselves, we can find comfort that we have been taught in the faithful tradition handed down from the teachings of the apostles themselves.  Jensen shows concern about the lack of episcopacy within the Protestant tradition, which certainly is a valid concern.  However, based upon his premise that it is not the words of the text that provide the authority of canon and creed, but it is the Word, which is Christ risen, enlivened by the Spirit in those whom believe.  If that is the case, then it would make sense that the Spirit is not limited by Church structure, one way or the other, to make the Word known.

Essentially, the creed and canon are authoritative resources for the community because they arise out of the community of faith.  They are the dialogue of tradition that has formed out of the rule of faith.  It is a communal reflection on the essentials of the faith used to navigate the uncharted waters of theology and life, wherever that might take us.  They arose from a need to preserve and extend the faith for others.  Moreover, creed and canon formed in a similar manner and in approximately the same amount of time.  Thus, they played a dialogical role in discussing and discerning, via the rule of faith, what life should look like together as the community of believers.