The Forgotten Creed

cover picture
This book study begins September 29, 2019.
With a style as serenely clear as its content is powerfully persuasive, this book is an elegy for Christianity's earliest baptismal creed which promised that Roman distinctions would not become Christian discriminations and that the basic differences of race, class, and gender would not become hierarchies of oppression. When that inaugural creed is forgotten, Christians are born again, not into a transformed world, but simply into the same one as before. Read this book not just a s past Christian history but as present American challenge. - John Dominic Crossan

"The Forgotten Creed" carries a vital message for our time: at the heart of Christianity is a call for solidarity that has been lost. In his careful examination of one of the earliest Christian creeds and rituals, Stephen Patterson reveals our long history of fearing others and exposes the categories used by the powerful to divide, conquer, and oppress. 'What does Christianity have to say about race, class, and gender?' Patterson asks. 'Everything." At the core of "The Forgotten Creed" is a vision for communities in which differences is honored, diversity is celebrated, and equality is divine. An urgent, necessary book that should be required reading in every church." - Sarah Sentilles

Comments

1 – Where do you like to get your ancient history, or conversely what sources do you avoid? 72
2 – What issues are involved when different groups share meals? 75
3 – How important do you think history is in your life, and how well do you think you know enough about it? 84
4 – How would you compare the Jew – Greek relationship with modern day Christian – Muslim issues? 87
5 – What kind of reception would you expect for someone like Paul presenting his message in Northern California in 2019? 90
6 – Comment on Marcion’s ideas of God, as explained by our author. 92
7 – How do you understand Acts (of the Apostles)? 95

1 – About how long did it take for “the church” to move from “you are all children of God” to “Jesus is the ONLY son of God”? 51
2 – Does “love your enemies” appear anywhere in the Bible before Jesus? 53
3 – How do you understand the idea that we are not simply flesh but spirit, too? 55
4 – Why do we have to “suffer with him (Christ) in order that we might be glorified with him”? (And what does glorified mean here?) 56
5 – Most of the early settlers to our country were fleeing religious persecution (albeit in one Christian form or another) and so were almost certainly baptized. What has historically been the baptism rate in U. S. history? 59
6 – Faith, or Love, or Wisdom may make you a child of God. Which one would you choose, and why? 61
7 – Do you have any idea why there is no Bible story of Jesus baptizing anyone? 64
8 – Does your understanding of baptism fit into any of the views presented here? pg. 64 – 70

Chapter 3
1. About how long did it take for “the church” to move from “you are all children of God” to “Jesus is the ONLY son of God”? [p.51]
It happened sooner than some people might think. Many biblical scholars think that it didn’t happen until the decisions that were made at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. There was discovered, however, a non-canonical writing dated as early as the 2nd century that had a very high Christology: the Epistle to Diognetus. There the author expressly states that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of angel or divine messenger; he was – extraordinarily enough – the very creator of the universe. Now, for Jews, that was an attribute only God possessed. According to this epistle, Jesus came in human form in order that he might bring salvation to other humans. But he wasn’t just the “son” of God; he was literally sent to be among us “as God.” The author of this epistle also seems to be familiar with the Gospel According to John as he repeatedly refers to Jesus as the logos – “the Word” who appeared to the apostles revealing himself in just this transcendent way.

So, the answer to this question is that it didn’t take very long for this theological shift to occur; it happened very early on among the many versions of Christianity which were swirling around the Ancient Near East in those first two centuries of the Common Era. This concept shift is, literally, the stuff of myth and legend.

2. Does “love your enemies” appear anywhere in the Bible before Jesus? [p.53]
While the Gospel According to Matthew claims that this originated with Jesus (5: 43-48), it’s not far from what was preached in Leviticus:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of
your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am
the Lord” [Leviticus 19: 18].

Then there are these thoughts in Proverbs:

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to
be at peace with him” [Proverbs 16: 7]

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give
him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the
Lord will reward you” [Proverbs 25: 21-22].

While none of these sayings in the Hebrew Bible seem, exactly, to be about selfless love for one’s enemies – but sound a bit more like “gaining points” for being orthodox – they do seem to be an impetus for good works. So, while they might be close, they’re not as clear as, simply, “love your enemies.”

3. How do you understand the idea that we are not simply flesh but spirit, too? 55
I might start with that 17th century Latin philosopher, René Descartes, whose phrase Cogito, ergo sum has been translated as “I think, therefore I am.” It recognizes – from the very beginning – that we are more than just physical bodies; we are entities who ponder our very existence. For me, then, it’s not a great leap from such a statement of our “being” to the related concepts of our “spirit” or “soul.” It’s all part of recognizing that we’ve been endowed with intellect, insight, emotions, and passions, but also have been given the reasoning powers of understanding, judgment and creativity. All of that, and more, I would say, emanates from the core of our being that I believe is our “spirit.”

4. Why do we have to “suffer with him (Christ) in order that we might be glorified with him”? (And what does glorified mean here?) [p.56]
We don’t. The choice is up to us. Note, however, how this part of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome (8: 17) is translated – very differently – in the SV (Scholars’ Version):

“And if we are God’s children then we are also heirs, heirs of God and
co-heirs with the Anointed, since we experience the same abuse as he
did in the hope that we may share his exaltation” [ref. The Authentic
Letters of Paul, p.229].

So, it’s not about a demand for some version of self-flagellation or ritualized exorcism, as some Christian cults surmise. More profoundly, it simply means that if we were to live and act as Jesus did, we’re going to suffer for it – and probably make enemies. So, staying the course, as he did, we could very well be forced to endure suffering, ostracism or even death – not as a choice, you understand, but as a consequence. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was just such a contemporary example – and yet so was Mohandas K. Gandhi, and he wasn’t even Christian!

As far as glorification is concerned, unfortunately, conservative evangelical Christians assume that means being elevated to celestial glory in some mythical place called heaven. I choose to see it, more temperately, as being found to be kind, forgiving (cf. p.57) and extraordinarily honorable – i.e., becoming a person who is worthy of praise and admiration – and so nothing at all to do with some version of deification.

5. Most of the early settlers to our country were fleeing religious persecution (albeit in one Christian form or another) and so were almost certainly baptized. What has historically been the baptism rate in U. S. history? [p.59]
Without extensive research, I have no way of knowing for certain. I suspect, however, that the numbers coincide with the dwindling membership in the institutional Church – i.e., fewer young families joining the church means that there are fewer people being baptized.

6. Faith, or Love, or Wisdom may make you a child of God. Which one would you choose, and why? [p.61]
Without love, faith would be bankrupt of compassion and wisdom would be made captive to ignorance. Even though Paul may have been quoting someone else in 1 Corinthians 13, it’s still got a great ending: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

7. Do you have any idea why there is no Bible story of Jesus baptizing anyone? [p.64]
I could only guess that he was more concerned about orthopraxis than he was orthodoxy. Living a moral life was more important than any religious ritual – leave such things to the priests.

8. Does your understanding of baptism fit into any of the views presented here? [pp.64–70]
Not really. Baptism is a symbol of a deeper reality: that all people are worthy of love and should be welcomed into the communities in which they live and discover their essential identities. While something deeply emotional might happen during this ritual, nothing is supposed to change within the person being baptized. It’s meant to be a recognition of the fact that we ought to be bound closer together simply as human beings than history has shown. You do not, therefore, “become” a child of God through baptism; you already were. The ritual is only meant to celebrate that fact.

So, for me, it’s never been about reclaiming some “heavenly origin” or intending to “return there again” someday (p.68). What’s more, nothing is “washed away” in this ritual – except maybe the actual dirt that people may have had on their skin before they stepped or were carried up to the font.

Chapter 2
1. The reason for modern travel seems to be (at least in part) to visit “the other.” What difference in people explains the positive or negative interest in “the other”? [p.32]
I should think that if you come from a culture in which you hold a position of privilege and power (for whatever reason), you may expect to be treated in much the same way when you leave your home country. Over the years this has given rise to the phrase “the ugly American” when travelers from the USA assume that their privileged position at home will be recognized wherever they may be. It’s often led, sadly, to negative views of Americans traveling abroad (the majority of whom, for example, expect everyone else to speak English). What’s more, these Americans often expect the same levels of variety and convenience in their housing and meals – which might not be available. Simply because a culture is different doesn’t make it uncivilized, “backward,” or wrong.

On the other hand, being open to “the other” can lead you to a greater appreciation of their view of the world – one that you might not share. If you’re paying attention, though, it could challenge your own views and even enrich them. It also may foster cross-cultural friendships that can last a lifetime.

2. How do you think power is related to our positive or negative interest in the other? [p.36]
I addressed this, to some extent, in the question above, but to further point out, with power all too often comes the assumption that others will recognize your power and will always defer to your demands or whims (Donald Trump is a despicable example.). Such behavior isn’t restricted to our own culture, of course, and can be described as those people who just are used to giving orders to others “under” them. What’s worse, however, these people become used to being obeyed and, when they’re outside their sheltered framework, are shocked and offended when they’re not. So, a presumption of power over others (real or imagined) tends to denigrate the less powerful – certainly those who are seen as having little or no power at all.

3. How can a person newly defeated or sold into slavery be reconciled with Aristotle’s idea of “servile by nature”? [p.38]
Unless one is tortured into submission, brainwashed, or severely enculturated into accepting such a “reconciliation,” it is not logically possible to conclude that any human being is “servile by nature.” It is a culturally biased social construct. There are deeply sensitive, compassionate, and caring human beings by nature, of course, who will choose professions that serve others, but such behavior does not rise out of any innate nature of servility. People who demonstrate such humility or kindness, sadly, are all too often taken advantage of by the churlish and demanding among us, but no one – not even the most handicapped – are “servile by nature.” Such a description is always imposed by those inconsiderate and insensitive people who assume others are lesser human beings and therefore deserve no respect. It wasn’t just the Romans, sadly, who viewed others as “livestock” or “tools with a voice,” far too many people are mistreated in much the same way today – even in our own culture.

4. Can you think of any class distinction today that is analogous to the Roman free vs. slave? [p.41]
I think most of the workers from 3rd world countries who are hired (some, outright enslaved) by 1st world countries to do menial jobs that their own citizens might think are beneath them, creates just such a distinction – e.g., field laborers, domestic workers, and sex-slaves are a few examples.

5. What is our author’s purpose in his detailed description of slavery? [p.43]
You’d have to ask him, of course, but this entire chapter is about defining and delineating these race, class and gender issues. Slavery is one of the more egregious examples of injustice based upon “class” and I think that Patterson apparently wants us to understand just how bad it truly can be.

6. How “powerful” is the female “power behind the throne”? [p.45]
Given that her “power” is more often given than it is assumed – any emperor could remove her at his slightest whim – such “power behind the throne” is a transitory thing. As Patterson points out here, even a son can have his mother assassinated for reasons as spurious as jealousy and ambition.

7. What percentage of the way to female equality have “we” come? Think of we in several different cases. [p.49]
Without objective evidence, it’s impossible to answer this question with any degree of accuracy. In almost every profession, I think however, women remain behind men in every significant measurement – from inequitable salaries to diminished positions of power – by at least 2 to 1 (or 33%). You might think that women’s pay is at least on parity with men in the field of education, but ever since women were encouraged to enter the classroom, it was because the powers-that-be felt that they could pay women less than they had to pay men. Again, I’ve no evidence at all upon which to base my opinion, but my gut tells me that we’re no way near gender “equality” in any field of endeavor. In this, I think that Patterson’s exposé here remains pervasive even today:

“Ancient men were afraid of the foreign other, the slave, the women in
the bed next to them, so they did what all men do, have done, will do:
they sought to dominate that which they feared. They faced down fear
with power.”

8. How do levels of moral or spiritual development interact with fear and othering described on pg.49?
If your grounding begins in love and compassion and expands to see all of humanity as “children of God” (as this “forgotten creed” contends), then there’s simply no place for either fear or “othering.” A less enlightened moral or spiritual understanding, sadly, has and will continue to perpetuate these old clichés. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened – even within the institutional Church.

9. What replaces power if you live by this three line creed? [p.51]
To begin with, I think that it would mean a real celebration of diversity – not just a recognition of difference, but gratitude over the loss of fear that for far, far too long has been associated with “being different.” Diversity should come to be seen simply as a fact of reality. It might then lead us to try to discover ways that we could actually benefit from this disparateness. It could lead to a more egalitarian outlook between all human beings – not just across races, classes and genders, but across cultures, countries and even religious and political points of view. Living according to the precepts of this creed could, ultimately, lead to a different understanding of power itself – that it’s more effective if it’s shared and not imposed from hierarchical positions of dominance.

Whenever I’m led to recite our “Pledge of Allegiance,” however, I always murmur or speak aloud two words as an alternative ending: “…with liberty and justice for all,” some day. I say that meaning that it shouldn’t be just some unspecified time in the distant future, but must happen on an, as yet, unspecified but specific day. We’re not there yet. So, we should redouble our efforts to get there.

1 – The reason for modern travel seems to be (at least in part) to visit “the other.” What difference in people explains the positive or negative interest in “the other”? 32
2 – How do you think power is related to our positive or negative interest in the other? 36
3 – How can a person newly defeated or sold into slavery be reconciled with Aristotle’s idea of “servile by nature”? 38
4 – Can you think of any class distinction today that is analogous to the Roman free vs. slave? 41
5 – What is our author’s purpose in his detailed description of slavery? 43
6 – How “powerful” is the female “power behind the throne”? 45
7 – What percentage of the way to female equality have “we” come? Think of we in several different cases. 49
8 – How do levels of moral or spiritual development interact with fear and othering described on pg. 49?
9 – What replaces power if you live by this three line creed? 51

Introduction
1 – How do you see the racial divide in our churches today? 2
2 – Continue to the church divisions on class and gender. 3
3 – When has it made a difference in your life if you were in or out of one of these three categories? 7
Chapter 1
4 – Our author is constructing his own “Life of Paul” out of the very thin stories / letters in the Bible. How much credit do you give to his construction? AND how much credit do you give to other constructions from Bible stories into history that you have read? 14
X – You may want to reread Galatians in “The Authentic Letters of Paul”.
5 – How persuasive do you find our author’s argument that the creed was not original with Paul? 22
6 – Comment on the idea that the three distinctions in the creed “do not rest on anything real.” 24
7 – When (if ever) do you find yourself “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence”? 25
8 - “Where did these ideas come from?” 29

Introduction
1. How do you see the racial divide in our churches today? [p.2]
It may not be as rampant as it used to be; but, clearly, it’s still there – and not just in the USA, but in churches all over the world. While it might not be as true as it used to be, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said something very significant: “11:00 on a Sunday morning remains to be the most segregated hour in Christian America.”

2. Continue to the church divisions on class and gender. [p.3]
Where these divisions remain, I think that they’re, for the most part, due to ignorance as well as long-standing cultural and ethnic biases. Only to a lesser degree today are they due to blatant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, or homophobia.

3. When has it made a difference in your life if you were in or out of one of these three categories? [p.7]
I must say at the outset, I’ve been a privileged minority for so long (white/male/citizen of the 1st world), that it’s difficult for me to identify with any one of these three categories simply because of that privilege. If anything, as a child and then young adult, I was blind to my culturally induced prejudices.

So, in the spirit of Patterson’s introduction, I would begin to respond more fully to all three of these opening questions by saying the following: I think that this book presents a profoundly simple and yet simply profound premise. Difference is not a valid reason for exclusion. Ever. Patterson – a true historian of religion – points out for us that the heart of this creed, in fact, should not be forgotten. I fervently agree with him. This “forgotten creed” is actually affirming that, in the midst of our difference, it must be still possible for us to come together as one people. In the language of religion, there ought to be no ranking of who’s in and who’s out of the Kingdom of God – but particularly no such distinction based upon race, class or gender as this early baptismal creed first proclaimed.

Why, then, have we in the Church forgotten this? I think it can be attributed to the immutability of the Church itself. As an institution, it has fiercely resisted change. The result has been a slow tragedy in the making over at least the last several millennia. The curse of the institutional Church, then, has been the countless ways in which it has defamed, tortured, excommunicated and excluded people for centuries based solely upon its own narrow definition of orthodoxy. Entire races and ethnicities have been condemned to outer darkness – or, worse, death – because they did not conform to the dominant ecclesiastical community’s definition of what it meant to be an acceptable “child of God.”

This ongoing rejection of difference – whether it’s been cultural, racial, religious, or through more blatant displays of misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and the like – I believe, has been the sole reason for the Church’s inexorable and now unsettling decline. What’s more troubling, that decline will continue unless and until religious communities across the globe come to some new understanding of just what it means to be a fully human being. For Christians, specifically, that most likely will include our need to not only redefine the teachings of Jesus, but the fundamental nature and very meaning of Christianity itself. Such an enterprise may seem daunting, but difference – in and of itself – must never again be a reason for any person being expelled from the community. The right to belong must be a fundamental human right. This does not mean that we have to get rid of the Bible as we’ve received it from our ancestors. It must mean, however, a sweeping reinterpretation of its history, formation, and doctrinal conclusions.

Here’s a personal example: While I’ve already survived an ecclesiastical trial for being an openly supportive straight ally of all LGBTQ people in – as well as out of – our church, I wonder when (if ever) I might again be “brought up on charges,” but this time for having a radically progressive and decidedly unorthodox theology? I ask that question because, I confess, I remain convinced that Jesus never was divine, that he did not perform “miracles” (in any sense of violating the laws of physics), and that God isn’t some kind of “Big Daddy” entity overseeing every aspect of our lives. What’s more “Heaven” and “Hell” are what we make of them and therefore do not represent some spatial reality to which we’ll be consigned by “Big Daddy” who will finally bring us to face “His” judgment after our deaths. Does that still make me “a child of God?” You tell me.

Chapter 1
4. Our author is constructing his own “Life of Paul” out of the very thin stories/letters in the Bible. How much credit do you give to his construction? AND how much credit do you give to other constructions from Bible stories into history that you have read? [p.14] – cf. Galatians in “The Authentic Letters of Paul”.
Of course, there are regrettably few facts in our Bible about the historical Paul – there actually may be more about the life of Jesus than the life of Paul! So, all that scholars can reconstruct about the man come from his letters. As we’ve all learned, however, “every translation is an interpretation.” Take Galatians 3: 23-28 that Patterson quotes here (p.15). The single word that he, quite literally, translates as “faith” (πίστις – pistis in Greek) the SV (Scholar’s Version), however is represented by a much more nuanced phrase: “this kind of confidence in God” (refer to The Authentic Letters of Paul, p.57). Where the NRSV has the next lengthy phrase as “imprisoned and guarded under the Law until faith would be revealed,” the SV is rendered as “under the surveillance of the law, held in bondage until the awaited disclosure of such confidence” (Ibid.). Do they mean the same thing? How do you understand the subtle differences? What do you think?

So, everyone – even the highly trained biblical scholar – constructs his/her own “Life of Paul.” The stories and letters may, indeed, be “very thin,” but they’re all we’ve got. I give as much credit to Patterson in this, then, as I do Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy and Schmidt (the team who, together, quite skillfully wrote The Authentic Letters of Paul). In the final analysis, we should not read the Bible (or any of the extracanonical literature) as history. In a so many ways, scripture is much like a very opinionated sermon – and I’ve given a lot of those!

5. How persuasive do you find our author’s argument that the creed was not original with Paul? [p.22]
I’ve no reason – let alone the expertise – to doubt the thoroughness of Patterson’s scholarship and research. He may not have the linguistic skills of Arthur Dewey, Roy Hoover, Lane McGaughy or Daryl Schmidt (authors of The Authentic Letters of Paul), but he is a recognized specialist in the origins of Christianity – especially of the hidden histories found in books that were not included in the Bible. I am persuaded that he knows what he’s talking about.

6. Comment on the idea that the three distinctions in the creed “do not rest on anything real.” [p.24]
Beyond, simply, our shared humanity, individuals and cultures have created these distinctions. In that sense they are counterfeit constructs, inappropriate, untrustworthy, irrelevant, therefore “unreal.”

7. When (if ever) do you find yourself “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence”? [p.25]
This reminds me of a bracelet that was favored by evangelical Christians years ago; it simply had the letters “WWJD” emblazoned across it. The letters stood for a question that the wearers supposedly would ask themselves (as well as others) to consider, daily: “What Would Jesus Do?” Never mind the conservative theology behind its creation, I do think that it’s a very good question to ask oneself at any moment – especially in moments of crisis or when facing a significant decision. I think this kind of mindset is behind E. P. Sanders’ image of “participation theology.”

When I’m most aware of being confronted to make a critical decision in my own life – or even an impulsive response that might give rise to anger or violence – recalling the life of Jesus can, and indeed has, caused me to pause and moved me to consider doing “the right thing” in that moment – whatever I think it might be. In that moment, then, it could be said that I am “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence.” Not surprisingly, these kinds of dialogues between my head and my heart ultimately led me into the ordained ministry and, if I’m paying attention, his teachings and witness remain to be my daily guide. That doesn’t mean that I always “measure up” of course. In fact, in too many ways, I’ve “fallen short” in participating in the ways that Jesus has modeled for us all.

Ironically enough, Jesus wasn’t trying to raise a cult following in the ways that the institutional Church has created this Christ figure. He was simply trying to reform his own culture and religion. An example (at least for me) has been that verse from the prophet: “What does the Lord require of you [but] to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6: 8]. That might just be the essence of Judaism. A corollary, however, might well be this one:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set
before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that
you and your descendants may live.” [Deuteronomy 30: 19]

I think that Jesus must have tried to live his life in the ways in which these pronouncements directed him – more than that, he came to embody them. In that, he was a participant in just such a way himself – only it was Judaism.

8. “Where did these ideas come from?” [p.29]
I think Patterson gives us a clue two sentences earlier when he says of this “forgotten creed” that “It is not a statement about God, or about the mysteries of Christ. It is about people and who they are, really.” At least, it was meant to be.

On the other hand, this question is also our author’s way of introducing the subject of Chapter 2; it arose from a cliché that comes from very ancient bigotries (p.31). Sadly, tribalism and xenophobia that came to demonize the “other” is part of the long history of our species. Such attitudes, tragically, have proven to be far stronger and more influential than the egalitarian imagery that’s at the heart of this ancient and truly forgotten creed.