Once upon a time there was a little boy named Johnny. Johnny's mother and his grandfather before her were respected Elders in the community; they were Community Story-Tellers.
Johnny's mother and grandfather told stories that didn't make a lot of sense to Johnny when he was little. There were stories about how human beings were children of Mother Earth; Johnny had seen his brothers and sisters born and he knew that's not where babies came from. There were stories about how all human beings are brothers and sisters, but Johnny knew that his brothers and sisters had the same parents he did. And there were stories about how, if you hurt another person you would hurt too. But Johnny knew that if he pushed his friend over, the friend would get the skinned knee, not him.
But Johnny grew up and he slowly began to understand that the stories were about the deeper things in life. They were not stories about where babies came from or about how to hurt - or avoid hurting - other people physically. Rather they were stories about the interdependence of human beings and the human relationship to the natural world.
Then one day, when he was 13, Johnny's mother told him that it was time for Johnny to become a Community Story-Teller too. Johnny asked his mother if he could make up his own stories. His mother told him that the role of Community Story-Teller was an important role in the community. While Johnny could make up as many stories as he wanted to for his own family and friends, when a Story-Teller was standing and telling the Community Stories among the Gathered People of The Community, the stories had to be told faithfully. These stories needed to be accurately memorized and repeated. "Why?" Johnny asked. "So they can be passed down faithfully from generation to generation" his mother replied.
Johnny understood what his mother was saying and so his training as a Community Story Teller began. Johnny put all his effort into faithfully learning and repeating the stories as they were passed down from generation to generation.
As he told the stories over the course of his life, Johnny was amazed at the power of the stories. He started out thinking "this story means this" and "that story means that" and then someone would come along and offer a very different interpretation of the story. Sometimes the other person's interpretation was the opposite of his understanding, but often he was able to see the other person's point of view. Johnny never failed to be surprised at the power of these stories and his wisdom grew and grew over his life as he learned from the stories and from other people who also wanted to learn from them.
I just made up this story and it probably has several levels of meaning. I wouldn't even be surprised if someone came up with a meaning that I hadn't thought when I wrote it.
One of my intentions in writing this story is to give an analogy of how I see doctrine in the Christian Church. In my opinion, doctrine should be passed down faithfully from generation to generation. So, for example, to me this means we don't mess with the words of the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed. Individuals don't start changing them to try to fit their own individual understandings or interpretations of the creeds. Rather, we pass them down faithfully from generation to generation.
On the other hand, passing down the stories faithfully doesn't mean that we are not allowed to have our own interpretations of the creeds. I have known individuals who seem to regard their own interpretation of the creeds as litmus tests by which they believe themselves able to judge the orthodoxy of other individuals. So, they will tell us, no one is allowed to question the facticity of the idea that Jesus was born of a virgin and still be judged as an orthodox Christian. And these people seem to think that the Creeds were given in order to judge the faith or salvation of other individuals. I don't agree.
On the other hand, it is equally wrong to say "I find the idea of the virgin conception difficult, so I'm going to remove it from the creed" or "I find it difficult to believe that Jesus' body was resuscitated, so I'm going to remove the statement about resurrection from the creed."
To fiddle around with the creeds because we feel the need to wrestle with some of the text is to confuse our interpretation with what the creeds say. To use the creeds as a tool to judge the eternal salvation of others is to confuse our interpretation with what the creeds say.
I think the Church and her officers are called to pass on the creeds faithfully from generation to generation. And we are also given the grace to wrestle with our own doubts and interpretations and we are asked to be gracious unto others as they wrestle.