Do we Friends have dogmas? Do we even have creeds? And, whether we have such things or not, should we have them?
In my previous essay, I began with the familiar assertion that “Quakers don’t have creeds”, and proceeded to show that even the most liberal of us do at least have doctrines. (A doctrine is a teaching or a unified body of teachings.)
Now, in this present essay, I want to turn to dogmas and creeds.
Do we have dogmas and creeds? Should we have them? That is the set of questions I am aiming to address.
But the first step (as usual) must be to define our terms. What is a dogma, anyway? And what is a creed?
I wish I could settle these questions simply, by invoking standard definitions. I’ve tried to do so in discussions elsewhere.
But I find that none of the standard definitions of “dogma” really do justice to the term; for the concept is one that has evolved markedly through time, and one cannot really understand it without understanding the forces that have shaped it.
And as for the term “creed”, we cannot truly understand what it is except in relation to dogma.
So in this present essay, I mean to address the questions of what dogmas truly are, and what creeds truly are, by looking at their place in history. And that (I hope) will enable us, in a later essay, to understand their rôle in Quakerism.
The word “dogma” is Greek, and its original meaning in that language is “that which seems good”. Its evolution as a theological term begins in Acts 16:4 — the chapter that tells the story of the Christian movement immediately after the council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Those familiar with Acts will recall that the council had been asked to settle questions concerning right Christian practice, and concerning, too, the admission of non-Jews, Gentiles, to the newborn Church.
Luke writes in Acts 16:4: “As they went through the towns, [the apostles Paul, Silas and Timothy] delivered to [their listeners] the things-which-seemed-good [dogmata] that had been arrived at by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, (for them) to keep.” There we have the first appearance of dogma in recorded church history.
Now, this passage, Acts 16:4, refers us back to the previous chapter of Acts, in which Luke tells us how the council arrived at those things-which-seemed-good. There (Acts 15:28) we are informed that the apostles and elders wrote in a letter: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, that nothing more should be imposed on you than these (minimally) necessary things….”
But there we find that the idea of something seeming good is described using totally different words from the word used in verse 16:4 — edozen gar instead of dogmata.
When an author uses two different sets of words to convey the same idea, the second set of words works to confirm that we have understood the first set correctly. So in the book of Acts, comparing edozen gar with dogmata, we can be quite sure that dogma genuinely meant something that seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the weightiest members of the Church.
Historically, the early Church took from this primordial dogma-story these three lessons:
First, that because dogmas are revelations of the Holy Spirit to the very weightiest members of the Church, they are far more serious and binding than mere doctrines — indeed, they must be utterly binding on true believers.
Second, that a dogma must be grounded in God’s revelation, either immediately (i.e., direct from the Holy Spirit) or (more commonly) via Scripture.
And third, that a dogma cannot be established except by the highest authority of the Church, the equivalent of a council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem — which in the Orthodox and Catholic world swiftly came to mean the high Church Councils.
Alas, with the schism between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox churches of the East, and later with the outbreak of the Reformation, there have been disagreements about exactly which Church Councils have had sufficient authority to establish (or clarify) dogmas.
The Roman Catholic world recognizes all its numerous Councils down through Vatican II, and also the ex cathedra pronouncements of the Pope on faith and morals. But the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches regard only seven Councils as sufficiently authoritative (“genuinely ecumenical”), and do not accept the claims of the Pope.
The Reformed tradition accepts only four early Councils, so that, when it uses the term “dogma” at all, it restricts the application of the term to the formula of the Trinity and the christological formulations of those four. And a handful of Protestant bodies, such as the Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Unitarians, don’t accept any Councils at all.
Still, so far as I know, all these groups would unite behind Karl Rahner’s description of what the term “dogma” means today: “A proposition which the Church explicitly propounds as revealed by God in such a way that its denial is condemned by the Church as heresy and anathematized.”
What a change this is from what the dogmata were in Acts 16:4! For in the situation that the book of Acts describes, there was no threat of being branded a heretic or of being anathematized.
The apostles’ hearers, we are told, were called on “to keep” what was being proclaimed to them — and the Greek word for “to keep” in this passage is psylassein, which means “to guard, watch over, protect, preserve”. So they were not being told to “obey” these things as one obeys a commandment. Rather, they were being entrusted with a hard-won new wisdom, as a guard is entrusted with the care of a treasure (“that which seems good”). And they were being entrusted, too, with the task of converting that wisdom from theory into practice.
To entrust people with a new wisdom and a great task in this way is quite a compliment to the person so entrusted. It says that you see them as intelligent, capable and responsible, and that you see their judgment as worthy of trust and respect.
Thus the meaning of “dogma” in the mainstream Christian world has changed very significantly in the past nineteen centuries and a half — from meaning something empowering, something that “seems good” and that ordinary believers are wise and reliable enough to uphold in the best possible way, to meaning something inhibiting, something that is to be enforced on the untrustworthy by expulsion from the Church if need be.
The intriguing questions are, why did the meaning of “dogma” change in this way? — and, what good purpose was the change supposed to serve? For we may be sure that the Church did not permit such a change to happen, without some reason that seemed good to it at the time.
The first Friends regarded the established Church as something that had fallen away from God into apostasy. (“Apostasy” is the condition of someone who no longer lives according to God’s will.) Seen in that light, it is easy to conclude that the evolution of “dogma” in Church thinking must have been a result of the Church’s apostasy. In other words, dogma evolved as the people involved sought to use dogma for their own ends instead of for God’s.
There’s a measure of truth in this. When the established church convened its great councils to deal with the ideas of thinkers such as Marcion, Arius, Nestorius, Jan Hus and Luther, and to establish the dogmas (in Rahner’s sense of the term) that would either vindicate these thinkers or anathematize them, somehow, the decisions that the councils came to were always decisions that protected and upheld the entrenched power structure. This can hardly be a coincidence when it happens so many times running — especially since most modern opinion, even among the most orthodox, is inclined to regard Luther in particular as having been basically correct.
Absolutely, then: one part of what was going on was that the establishment was reflexively serving its own ends.
But that is by no means the whole of the story — and the rest of what was going on is revealing.
It had to do with meeting the needs of the ordinary members of the Church.
Let’s recall that a unity of common understanding, concerning the basic message of Christianity (the core doctrine and kerygma), did not exist in the early days.
In the years following Jesus’s death, the people who had known him found that they were not all agreed about who he was or what he was doing. Gradually groups of Christians emerged that held to very different understandings of Christ and his message.
In particular, the differences between the religion of the apostles and the authors of the New Testament, and the religion of the movement begun by Simon Magus of Samaria, were serious enough that the two evolved into rivals — the former, into the established Christian church; the latter, into Christian gnosticism.
It would seem that there were four major areas where the gnostic Christians and the orthodox Christians came to disagree:
First, there was disagreement concerning the relationship between the God whom Christ called “Father” and the created world.
— Orthodoxy affirmed that God created everything and that everything He created was good.
— Gnosticism, on the other hand, saw the created world as the place of evil, the creation of a lesser, secondary god (a “demiurge”, from the Greek word meaning “craftsman”), from which Christ and His Father sought to save us into the place of pure goodness.
Second, there was disagreement concerning who or what Christ was as a person.
— The orthodox community found itself most comfortable with the idea that Christ was wholly a man of flesh and blood while at the same time being wholly God.
— Gnosticism was not at all comfortable with that understanding, since it regarded the flesh as part of the evil creation wrought by the demiurge, so it separated fleshy Jesus from divine Christ in various ways — in different ways in different schools of gnosticism.
A third disagreement concerned the relationship between the Christian religion and Judaism.
— The orthodox community saw its story as a continuation of the Jewish story, and itself as, in essence, inheriting the mantle of God’s chosen people, living out the next chapter of a story that began all the way back with Abraham. It saw the account contained in the New Testament as the second part of a story that began with the account contained in the Old.
— The gnostics, however, regarded the god of Judaism as identical with the demiurge, a separate god from the One whom Christ proclaimed. And consequently they interpreted the message of Christ as constituting a clean break from Judaism. The gnostics thus did not accept the Jewish scriptures as holy. Whatever scriptures they accepted — and which ones they accepted depended on which school of gnosticism we are talking about — those scriptures were a free-standing book entirely separate from the Jewish Bible.
A fourth, final disagreement concerned the nature of salvation.
— The orthodox saw salvation as a consequence of affiliation: we affiliate with Christ and his God through our faith and good works, thus becoming adoptive children of God (“affiliate” comes from the Latin ad filius, meaning “a child to”), and so inheriting a share in His kingdom as adoptive children can do. This was of course consistent with the idea that Christians had acquired the position formerly held by the Jews.
— The gnostics, though, saw salvation as coming through a special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge came from the pure place of Christ’s God, totally beyond the ordinary knowledge that pertains to the demiurge’s world. The knowledge was imparted by Christ to his followers, who in turn passed it on to the elite of the Christian gnostic movement. Gnostic salvation was thus not a matter of faith and good works, but something much more like guruistic enlightenment.
What reasons did the gnostics have for parting ways with the orthodox on these matters?
Some of it surely had to do with the appeal of elitism — the special pleasure of being able to think, “I am more spiritual than all you others because I have gnosis.” And some of it likely had to do with a feeling among many Christian gnostics that they really didn’t like Jews.
But a great deal of it must have had to do with the Judæo-Christian issue of theodicy (“God-justice”).
The essential concern of theodicy can be posed thus: If God is wholly good and just, as Christianity proclaims, and if He created the world, as the Jewish Bible testifies, then why is there evil in the world? Why must we suffer?
Orthodox Christianity, like Judaism, answered these questions in terms of humanity’s own sinfulness: our ancestors’ sins engendered the situations that now cause us suffering.
Many people in every generation, though, have found this answer unsatisfying. What sins could possibly justify the sufferings of newborn babies who die in agony? Were there no innocent Jewish victims of the Holocaust? And as the friar in Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey wonders, why are the people who die horribly in accidents sometimes better — more kind, less sinful, more godly — than the ones who go on living?
These are good questions. And the gnostic answer was simply to deny that the God of Christianity was the one who had created the world. It was an answer that spoke to the condition of a great many people.
Yet if the gnostic answer was so satisfying, why didn’t all second- and third-century Christians become gnostics? Why was the orthodox Christian movement so strong, so appealing, that it could out-compete the gnostic movement even before it gained political power?
The answer is that the orthodox approach had important strengths that the gnostic movement didn’t share.
First, the orthodox approach offered embeddedness in community.
Gnosticism’s essential stance — the stance of a movement built around a special knowledge that only a few lucky people could attain — was one that makes for very isolated believers. According to Irenæus, the Basilideans, who were one of the largest and most successful gnostic schools, believed that only one in a thousand, or maybe two in ten thousand, are capable of knowing the holy secrets.
Such an attitude toward one’s fellow human beings leaves the believer very much alone in the world, even if he has pride in his uniqueness. With that isolation comes vulnerability and crises of confidence. It also tends to lead to a sense that the enlightened person is not accountable to ordinary folk for what he does. Ancient accounts tell us that many gnostic schools were plagued with scandals of immorality.
Early orthodoxy, on the other hand, said that people are saved not by knowledge but by faithfulness, and in particular by becoming good and faithful members of a saving community. A new convert entered into a community — a local church — to which she had voluntarily committed herself, believing that it could give her the spiritual and tangible benefits that she needed.
From the moment of the convert’s decision to join this community, she was wrapped in its loving care, challenged to rise to its moral expectations, and worked upon by the nurturing discipline of its bishops and presbyters and her own peers. She became less vulnerable, less lonely, and better behaved.
Entry into the early church was described as entry into “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), and members of the early church were addressed without pretense or affectation as “sister” and “brother”. (The apostle Paul referred to members of the Church as “believers” on ten occasions in his letters, and as “saints” on twenty-five, but as “brothers” and/or “sisters” one hundred and sixteen times.) This language speaks eloquently of how intimate and precious the experience of membership in the community became. So too does the fact that believers chose to hold their property in common — not only in the early Church in Jerusalem, as we read in the book of Acts, but for much of the following two centuries, throughout much of the orthodox Christian world, as we learn from later writers.
The writings of the New Testament, and other Christian writings of the following two centuries, emphasize the care that the Church gave to the least of the its members — its poor, its sick, its prisoners, its widows and orphans and other vulnerable folk — and attest, too, to a tremendous amount of intervisitation and sharing of material wealth linking each orthodox community with all the others. It’s difficult to come up with any comparable example to this vast mutual aid network, anywhere else in the ancient world.
And not only was there such a networking of mutual aid, but there was a widespread sense that the communities were answerable to one another, even as each individual Christian was answerable. This sense of mutual accountability — which one can find not only throughout the epistolary material of the New Testament, but also in the letters of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Barnabas and Polycarp, and elsewhere — kept the community honest and strong in its practice, and so made continuing mutual support a practical reality for centuries.
Moreover, the orthodox Church recorded what it had learned about the difficult art of building good communities, and passed these lessons on from generation to generation. Paul’s letters are suffused with such teachings, and so are the epistle of James, John’s account of the Sermon at the Last Supper, Matthew’s eighteenth chapter, the Didache (the first written discipline of the Church), and many other early Christian texts.
To live within such a tightly-knit, caring community is deeply satisfying. We have that on good authority, not only from the early Christians themselves, but also from outside observers. And we have it, too, from outsiders who have lived within similar communities today — for instance, from those who have lived for a time among the Amish and the Hutterites.
But this was only the first of the two great strengths that the orthodox church had to offer.
Second, there was also the fact that orthodox Christianity offered its believers embeddedness in a meaningful cosmos, a cosmos with meaningful rules grounded in a meaningful cosmic history.
The orthodox history of the world began with Genesis, the very creation of the world, and traced a meaningful salvation history from Adam through Moses to Christ to the apostles and thence to the living community of believers. And then the prophecies of the orthodox looked ahead to a final Judgment in which the wicked would be punished, the virtuous rewarded, and all accounts would be balanced — and beyond the Judgment to an eternity of righteousness.
From Creation to Judgment, the goodness of the created world and the workings of a caring God in history were both continuous, things that every believer could count on with total confidence, and the moral principles of the universe were things that the believer could regard as ultimately enforced by that God. Every believer could rest securely in the knowledge that God had provided her with a place both in that world and in His workings.
Compared to this, what did gnosticism offer? Its salvific history began only in the first century A.D., with Christ, and its image of Christ was of one who was at odds with the demiurge and therefore at odds with the basic fabric of the world and the basic flow of worldly events. In other words, its history was one that was alienating rather than integrating.
Moreover, the founding teachers of the various gnostic schools were gurus who illuminated their followers’ worlds while alive, but, once dead, left their followers to struggle along on their own strength. Such a set-up gave the gnostics little reason for confidence when their teachers were not present — and it’s a historical fact that most gnostic schools tended to disintegrate fairly quickly after their founders’ deaths.
It can be difficult for modern liberals to understand the psychological goodness that a sense of embeddedness in a cosmos with meaningful rules grounded in a meaningful history can bring. But in modern psychology and sociology there is a term — anomie — popularized by the nineteenth-century thinker Émile Durkheim, that describes the condition of those who have lost their sense of such embeddedness.
Durkheim argued that anomie is a (or maybe even the) primary cause of suicide. That contention has since been challenged and largely discredited; but there can be little question that, for many people, the experience of anomie is tied to debilitating feelings of depression, and also to occasional quite destructive attacks on the world that one sees as alien.
And the diametric opposite of such anomie was the embeddedness that early orthodox Christianity offered. If anomie is debilitating, the early orthodox experience was empowering; if anomie is depressing, the orthodox experience was a cause of joy; if anomie leads to attacks on the world, the orthodox experience led to creative reconciliation.
Combining as it did a tight-knit, effective, satisfying community with a totally positive cosmology, the orthodox formula was a tremendously potent thing. In fact, it goes a long way toward explaining why, today, orthodox Christianity is the most widespread religion on the planet, claiming the loyalty of a quarter of the whole human race.
And yet gnostic Christianity still posed a serious challenge to the very survival of this orthodoxy in its early years. It posed such a challenge because it attacked the orthodox position on the key point of theodicy. Nowhere was the orthodox position weaker. And few things were more central to the orthodox faith.
Actually, by challenging orthodox Christianity on the matter of theodicy, gnosticism challenged it at other levels besides:
It challenged orthodoxy’s truthfulness about the history of the universe and the nature and story of Jesus.
It challenged its understanding of what Christ was seeking to transmit to the world.
It challenged its legitimacy as an expression of Christ’s ministry.
It challenged its claims both to the loyalty of Christians and to the serious attention of potential converts.
It challenged its argument that a Christian is a true Christian only as a moral and obedient member of a Christian community.
So total, indeed, and so effective, was gnosticism’s overall challenge, that orthodox Christianity was forced to take every major point of disagreement with utter seriousness. It spent countless tens of thousands of hours of labor laboring to answer the points of disagreement to its own members’ satisfaction.
The struggle continued at a fair level of intensity for much of the first five centuries of the Christian era. All through this time, the orthodox Christian world was still unclear about many of the details of its own beliefs regarding Christ and his mission, and this very lack of clarity rendered it very open to being reshaped by outside influences. And so, during this era, gnosticism — for all its relative weakness — actually stood in a position to transform orthodox Christianity, by the simple diffusion of gnostic ideas, into something like a dilute copy of itself.
It was in response to this possibility that the orthodox church began elaborating its dogmas. Its dogmas concerned the nature of God, His relationship with the Creation, the nature of Jesus himself, the way that history had unfolded through the Jews into Christianity, the way that history could be expected to wind up in the future, the rôle of the Church as community and as teacher of the faithful — in short, all the matters where gnosticism seemed in a position to overcome the orthodox account.
The new dogmas were intended as bulwarks against the incoming influence of gnostic thinking. By preserving the orthodox cosmology, they would also preserve the potent synthesis of community and cosmology that made orthodoxy such a wonderful thing to be immersed in; and by preserving that combination, they would also preserve the community.
There’s a lot of modern speculation to the effect that the dogmas of orthodox Christianity originally took the form of queries — questions propounded to those who wished to join the orthodox community, to ensure that new members subscribed to orthodox doctrines.
Thus, a candidate for baptism would be asked, “Do you believe in only one God, and do you believe that He made heaven and earth?” The candidate would be expected to answer, Yes! — thus proving that he had been indoctrinated against gnostic belief in a demiurge. A candidate who answered wrongly would not be admitted to the church.
The bishops of the First Council of Nicæa unfurl their achievement, the Nicene Creed, as something resembling a wall — a bulwark to separate the Church from heresy. Iconic image from Wikipedia.
Eventually, the ideas upheld by these queries were ratified by high Church Councils, and so became dogmas in the formal sense. Like the dogmas referred to in Acts 16:4, these new dogmas were things that seemed good to the leaders of the Church — the bishops and priests — and things that the faithful could be trusted to uphold because they served to preserve what the faithful loved about their beloved community. But they were also, now, teachings about which one had to be dogmatic (narrow-minded!), because departure from them would mean expulsion from the community.
The dogmas of orthodoxy did not evolve only from baptismal queries. They also evolved as the Christian church figured out just what its holy scriptures were.
There was considerable debate about the question of which scriptures deserved to be regarded as holy (“canonical”) all through the second, third, and fourth centuries A.D. Many scriptural texts honored by the gnostics were rejected out of hand as fabrications at odds with history and unlikely to do much good to the reader. At least one quite deserving text, the Gospel of Thomas was also rejected, apparently because it gave too much honor to some gnostic ideas and was too well regarded by the gnostics.
And at least one other text, the Gospel of John, was included, even though it too gave great honor to some gnostic ideas and was much beloved by many gnostics, apparently because it also contained many teachings that the orthodox community found it just could not get along without.
The decisions as to what to include and what not to include in the canonical Bible did a great deal to shape the evolution of orthodox thought. The gnostic ideas in John became an accepted part of orthodox doctrine and colored its dogma, while some fine teachings found in Thomas but not in the orthodox gospels were abandoned. Of course, that is the nature of dogma — it pries the mind open in some ways, while pushing it closed in others, always in the service of the community that has created it!
Eventually, the dogmas of the orthodox were boiled down into creeds.
Creeds take their name from the Latin word credô, meaning “I believe”.
Credô is the first word both of the Roman Catholic Latin version of the Apostles’ Creed and of the Roman Catholic Latin version of the Nicene Creed. Naming these documents “creeds”, then, highlights the fact that they are composed as affirmations of belief in matters of dogma.
The oldest Christian creed is probably the Apostles’. It seems to have evolved directly out of the queries posed to candidates for baptism in the early Christian era — and indeed, there is a Christian text from the middle of the third century that explicitly connects this creed with baptism.
Let me quote the Apostles’ Creed here in the form it takes in the English Book of Common Prayer (1662), since that was the form best known to Friends throughout most of Quaker history. As you, dear readers, will doubtless see, it is a partial recapitulation of the cosmic history taught by the orthodox Church, and most of the clauses in it directly contradict gnostic teaching in one way or another. So it really is a series of bulwarks thrown up against gnostic influence in the Church:
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 Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The holy Catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.
The second great creed of Christendom — the Nicene Creed — is basically just a careful elaboration of the principal ideas of the Apostles’ Creed.
And the third and fourth great creeds — the Athanasian and Chalcedonian — simply aimed to set up barriers against the Arian, Nestorian, Monophysite, and Macedonian positions, comparable to those which the first two creeds had thrown up against gnosticism.
Bulwarks, then. They are all bulwarks.
How do creeds relate to dogmas? Basically, as quick summaries, summaries that express major conclusions without going into the reasonings that lead there.
Creeds are at the same time extracts from the body of church doctrine, just as dogmas themselves are. Creeds are not intended to be the whole of dogma, let alone the whole of doctrine; but as collections of key points they can be readily used as tests to exclude whatever is not seen as desirable in the Church.
A modern reader, looking at the great creeds of Christendom, might well wonder why so much sweat (and sometimes blood) was expended over such very arcane matters.
Why on earth or in heaven should it matter whether Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit or not? Why should those who disagree with the Church on this matter be excluded from the community?
I think there is value in asking such questions, and reëxamining the components of creeds on this basis.
A credal statement that served a very good purpose in one period of history, by preventing an outside influence or internal heresy from tearing the community to pieces, may nevertheless, in a later era, serve no good purpose at all — it may even do more harm than good. It may also be proven just plain mistaken by continued growth in human understanding. And in such circumstances, it deserves to be gently laid down — as, in fact, the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds have been laid down, for all intents and purposes, by most church leaders in our modern age.
But before we reject all dogmas and creeds wholesale, we need to remember the good purposes they have served, and in many ways continue to serve. So let me list those here:
A dogma is, indeed, a shared perception of what is good — i.e., what is of God — coming through the weightiest members of the Church; as such, it is a sharing of something that the wise have found of intrinsic value. The wise may be wrong, may be way off base; but we cannot know that without first coming to grips with what they have shared. A dogma thus has the purpose of making us grapple with the vision of the wise.
A dogma is something entrusted to the whole body of the faithful, and serves no useful purpose unless the faithful rise to the challenge of that trust, grasping the wisdom contained in the dogma and making that wisdom their own. But if the faithful rise to the challenge successfully, a good dogma then becomes a blessing to everyone it touches even slightly. A dogma thus has the dual purpose of provoking the faithful to rise to the challenge and conveying such a blessing.
A dogma is an anchor for the doctrine of the community, serving to check the tendency of doctrine to drift from its original form, and to remind the community of the place it may be drifting from. It thus has a useful conservative purpose.
Similarly, a creed serves as an easy exercise to bring that same original doctrine, and that same early wisdom, back to mindfulness. It keeps a cosmological vision alive, and to the extent that the cosmological vision is a good one, the exercise of keeping it alive is likewise good.
A creed serves as a gatekeeper in a very good way, excluding beliefs that would divide and harm the community while not hurting the bearers of those beliefs.
A creed preserves the church as a community united in faithfulness to a common vision and capable of working closely together to fulfill its mission in the world.
This should be enough of an overview of both the good and the bad sides of creeds and dogmas, to equip us for an intelligent reëxamination of the place of these things among Friends.
So that is what I will aim to discuss in the next essay in this series.