I’ve been having a bit of back and forth with a reader in one of the Seventh Day Adventist posts, when he made these comments. I found them intriguing enough to feature a response, and perhaps keep the discussion going in this thread.
Quick question though. Do you think that when all the orthodox creeds and confessions were drawn up, i.e. Westminster COF, do you believe those men back then had discovered the WHOLE truth?
There is a difference between a creed and a confession, and so that distinction pushes back right away. Given that distinction, for example, the Old Roman Form, Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedon creeds would be in a different category than the 1689 London Baptist Confession, the Augsburg confession, or the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
I think it would be beneficial to note the definition of the word “creed” in order to clear up some of the concern as expressed by anti-creedalists. [I am not suggesting you are one, just speaking to the wider audience] The English word “creed” is derived from the Latin credo, which simply means, “I believe.” A creed, then, is a statement of faith. And as such it no more diminishes the authority of God’s Word than do statements such as, “I believe in God,” or “I believe in the resurrection of Christ.”
When we understand this, we see there are ancient embryonic creeds and confessions preserved in the biblical record of apostolic Christianity itself. The very seeds of full-blown creedalism are sown in the fertile soil of the apostolic era via terse statements of faith which were widely employed. The most familiar of these rudimentary creeds is the recurring one embedded in such texts as Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; and Philippians 2:11 which is: “Jesus is Lord.” This massively profound and important statement embodied—”encreeded,” if you will—a particular way of viewing Jesus Christ. It was fundamentally necessary to hold as one’s own credo: “I believe Jesus is Lord.”
A passage that certainly contains all the aspects commonly found in lengthier creeds and confessions, such as dogma, liturgy, confession, polemic and doxology, is the Christological scheme presented in Philippians 2:6-11. It speaks of Christ’s pre-existence, humiliation and exaltation. The verses in this passage which represent the descent and ascent of Jesus Christ are arranged in couplets and they feature the poetic device known as a chiasm. The climax of the chiasm is in verse 9.
6Who, being in the form of God, did not regard it robbery to be equal with God
7But he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being in the likeness of human beings
8And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself,
Being obedient unto death, even death on a cross
9Therefore also God highly exalted him in the highest place
And granted to him a Name that is above every Name
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
11And every tongue confess that the Lord Jesus is the Christ
To the glory and praise of God the Father.
I would consider the Philippians creed to be the unadulterated truth and all other biblical mini- creeds to be confessions of the truth. There are different nuances within creedalism itself, so that is one facet of it. I think the Old Roman Symbol has its roots in the near- apostolic era with second generation saints who served under the apostles, lending it much credence and credibility. I consider it true in all that it says. I would also argue that the Apostles creed and Nicene Creed of 325 are true.
More precisely said, because of the very nature of what a creed it, its function is not to encompass the “WHOLE TRUTH” of anything, but rather a summary of true statements. I believe only the Bible contains the whole truth but that these early documents are correct in their summary of clear, robust, exact, unambiguous, overarching themes and doctrines of the bible. That’s why when we read fragments of the Old Roman Symbol, which simply reads, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the resurrection of the flesh.“, there does not seem to be any arguing about these facts. There is a perspicuity there. The Church unitedely confessed them for thousands of years, despite radical differences in all other areas, and I believe in that creed as much and as strongly as I believe “Jesus is Lord.” We don’t have to pit these two things against each other and ask which is more true. Believing in a creed in no way diminishes the word of God so long that it reflects the word of God.
That is different in my mind than the Westminster confession or the Belgic confession. Confessions are not creeds, and they do not serve the same purpose or function. These are more about laying out doctrinal interpretations than encreeding clear doctrine. They do not contain in all their parts what I would consider “clear, robust, exact, unambiguous, overarching themes and doctrines of the bible”, and for that reason confessions stand in contradistinction to creeds. The Westminster confession has a different form and purpose than the Apostles Creed, and for that reason there is room in the latter to disagree. For that reason, I would not say that the men who wrote the confessions had the correct interpretation in everything they wrote, even though I myself hold to some of them.
I say that because, for example, most Christians before the likes of George McCready Price, followed by Henry Morris of the ICR, were Old Earth Creationists. Now Young Earth Creationism is the mainstream thought.
I would dispute that thought, actually. It seems instead that the old-earth tradition had its origin among late-18th and early-19th century geologists, many of whom were Christians, believed the bible, and were trying to reconcile what they studied with what the bible taught. Much of this was before Darwin and certainly prior to the Scopes trial. When we read the early church fathers and later on the reformers [my apologies, I am not familiar with much of the prevailing attitudes between 700-1350 Ad] it seems the issue of the age of the earth was not in dispute because it wasn’t particularily calculated . YEC theology was unknown and was separate from the theology of the seven day creation of Genesis which it seems the church fathers and reformers held to. Specifically regarding two of the big ones, both Luther and Calvin believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis, even as Calvin in particular suggested some of the language was phenomenological.
My belief is that God, since the dark ages and via the Reformation, has slowly revealed new understanding that renders some old creeds obsolete.
I don’t know why you would believe this. Even though not all creeds are the same, none of the later creeds contradict the earlier creeds, especially not when they are founded upon the Biblical revelation. As well, none of the reformational confessions contradict the creeds. In their expansion of theology they differentiate themselves in purpose and effectiveness. The vast majority of Christians won’t agree in the veracity of the Westminster, but they will in the Apostles creed. Again, we have a category problem because creeds are different than confessions.
In light of all this, what reasons do you have for believing the creeds should be rendered obsolete? Furthermore, who was this new understanding revealed to? Which church group or persons got the memo? What creeds do you believe have been rendered obsolete, to what purpose, and what beliefs have replaced them?
It seems the reformers never understood themselves as receiving a new understanding which contradicted the creeds, but rather were recapturing old truths that were lost and perverted by the Roman Catholic Church. We were told to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” “Once for all” would suggest that the scriptures are sufficient and that certain matters have been settled. I believe the creeds accurately reflect those settled, major points of doctrine. I don’t know what indications you would have that would suggest otherwise, unless you are trying to pit someone like Ellen White and her prophetic beliefs against the creeds.
Enlighten me as to why these creeds, are still much more relevant today, than what the Bible actually teaches. Wasn’t the reformation all about Sola Scriptura? Then why rely on archaic creeds? I just want to know why one would hold on to such beliefs as you’re were brought to Christ in a different path as mine.
The reformation wasn’t all about Sola Scripture, though that was one of the five Solas that they were confessing what and undergirded much of their beliefs. If anything, it had to do with dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church on all levels, as they protested the doctrines, rituals, public practices and ecclesiastical structure of said Church.
Why rely on and hold to these creeds? Because the early creeds are complimentary to the bible. They display the essentials of the faith which are the common ground for all believers spanning across the centuries. These are not Scripture but a synthesis of the most important truths of the Bible. As the church historian Philip Shcaff said, “creeds are NOT the Word of God–nobody ever said that they were–but are responses to that Word.” The creeds do not replace the Bible but underscore and highlight its important doctrines- where we all agree.
Because here’s the thing- not all Bible verses are of equal weight. For example, there are more verses on tongues than the virgin birth but that does not mean speaking in tongues is more important than the virgin birth. The creeds are sparse and thus provide the minimum beliefs for a Christian. They leave out many doctrines that are specialties of the various denominations. [Unlike confessions] That is their genius. Creeds also define heresy. They provide both the inner core of doctrine and the outer limits of beliefs, defining what is doctrinally in or out of bounds. This builds up our unity, as we find ourselves agreeing on the vital doctrines in the creeds. Studying the creeds helps us emphasize our common beliefs to the world, and to ourselves.
We need to recognize that creedal standards are not independent assertions of truth. They are derivative from and subordinate to the only source and standard of Christian truth: the Bible, the God-breathed, infallible, and inerrant Word of the Living God.
As such, anyone who thinks of God in a particular way has “encreeded” a view of God whether or not this “creed” is put in writing. Surely it cannot be suggested that this diminishes the primacy or the centrality of the Bible. Furthermore, if someone argues that a creed reduces the authority of Scripture by implying its inadequacy, then you can just as easily argue that for a pastor to give a sermon where he exposits the words of Christ, he likewise carries with it the implication that Christ’s words are inadequate as they stand.
Creeds are simply expository distillations of Scripture. They summarily state the most basic themes of Scripture in order to facilitate education in them. If we can agree that a brief expository summation of the teachings of the Bible can be given, then creeds are legitimized in that they fulfill that precise function. In this respect, creeds differ from doctrinal sermons only in being more exact and being carefully compiled by several minds. Once a church encourages public teaching of the Word or publishes literature explaining it, it has in fact made a creedal statement.
Although the special, direct revelation of God ceased and the corpus of Scripture was finalized in the first century, it was still necessary for the continuing Church to interpret and apply the completed revelation. The interpretation and application of Scripture is a process, not a mere act. It has required the involvement of hundreds and thousands of devout men working through many centuries to systematize, compile, and disseminate the fundamental truths of Scripture. The fact that the truth of Scripture is of no “private interpretation” is a foundational principle of creedal theology.
I don’t think that someone interpreting scripture should necessarily do so alone, but that people ought to build on the past labors of godly predecessors. It’s not the interpreters or groups of exegetes who agree with the historic, orthodox interpretations of the past and who find themselves in the mainstream of Christian thought who are suspect, but rather it’s those who present novel deviations from historic Christendom who deserve careful scrutiny. For this reason, creeds help to preserve the essential core of true Christian faith from generation to generation which I believe is eminently important.
Hope that helps, friend! I look forward to your response.
5 comments | tags: apostles creed, creeds, old roman form, Seventh Day Adventist, westminster confession | posted in church, theology