- The debate between the church and hyper-preterists isn't really about the timing of eschatological events; people within orthodoxy debate those things all the time. Rather, the debate is over things the church has settled a long time ago, especially the resurrection of the dead. The debate hinges on the question of authority.
- If the hyper-preterists are right, then the church has been wrong for a very, very long time on some very, very important issues. This means that the HPists must have for their goal the restoration of some purer form of the church than has existed for two millennia. If this sounds familiar, it's because this is the same thinking ("arch-restorationism") behind Mormonism, who take the idea of restoring the true church to an extreme.
- Wilson argues well that many semi-restorationists have been and are orthodox; the Church of Christ (Campbellites) would fall into this category. But they are orthodox through inertia, because they have inherited from the saints before them creedal Trinitarianism and creedal Christology, even though they would never admit it.
- The response from HPsts is "Sola Scriptura! We must submit to Scripture, even if it means calling 2000 years and millions of saints dead wrong in what they believe." Wilson: "But the definition of Scripture itself is a creedal issue, and if one is consistent in a disparagement of the creeds, he finds that 'just me and my Bible' is soon replaced by 'just me.'"
- The enemies of creeds love to proclaim their dependence on Scripture. But how do they know what Scripture is? How do you know what books to include and Scripture and which are apocryphal? They know because the church has defined the canon through her creeds! "...restorationists of all stripes have no foundation for their appeals, and hence their appeals are consistently parasitic. They get their Bible from the historic church, and then use it to attack the historic church. Another name for this is sawing off the limb you are sitting on." Later: "If everything in the creeds is up for grabs, then sola Scriptura is up for grabs."
- Some view creeds as helpful tools without any real authority, preferring to stick with Sola Scriptura. (Ed Stevens, a prominent HPist, wrote that creeds have "no real authority anyway.") The problem: even sola Scriptura is a creed. The second problem - they don't understand what sola Scriptura really means. "Sola Scriptura, rightly understood, means that Scripture is our only spiritual authority that is ultimate and infallible. Other spiritual authorities exist and have genuine authority over us." All the great theologians you love viewed church tradition, as encapsulated in creeds, as a "subordinate norm" or a lesser, but very real, authority. To fight Rome, the Reformers went back to the creeds, to the church fathers, as well as to Scripture. Go page through the Institutes and see how often Calvin is quoting someone with an odd Greek name.
- Though the church has never totally agreed on eschatology, she has always agreed on this one point of eschatology, that Christ is returning in the future to judge the quick and the dead and to raise the dead to life. "In short, the only eschatological position that the universal church has been able to agree on thus far is that hyper-preterism is wrong."
- It follows, "authority need not be infallible." Example 1 - parents' authority over children. Example 2 - the church over the flock. The creeds (namely, Apostles', Nicene, and Chalcedonian) are the height of the church's real-but-fallible authority. If the fallibility of the church presents a problem for you submitting to her creedal authority, realize that she is also the pillar and ground of the truth - capable of error, but also enabled by God to be the guardian of His truth. Or else your kids don't have to submit to your fallible authority anymore...
- Flippantly dismissing the creeds' authority shows a lack of historical humility, something vital whenever considering important doctrines.
- Sola Scriptura was never meant as a license for each individual to come up with their own interpretation of Scripture for themselves - though, judging from the American church, that is precisely what has happened. Needed: a balance between overly-individualistic interpretation of Scripture and overly-heirarchical interpretation of Scripture. "Balance" itself is usually something rejected by those pushing an aberrant exegetical agenda.
- Scripture was given to the church as a whole, not only individuals - "orthodox creeds, councils, theologians, and individual layment line up against their heretical counterparts...the Word of God is given to us so that we might come to confess it together."
- In some corners of the church, anti-intellectualism still reigns - look for those who proudly claim to be a "layman with no formal seminary education." This is a good thing?? Of course we don't believe that seminary education renders one infallible or necessarily more capable. But there is a reason the church has valued the training of her pastors for centuries - because when unsubmissive men with little exegetical skills study God's Word apart from the historic teachings of the church, very bad things happen (see: Jehovah's Witnesses).
- Also, be wary of those who want a "New Testament church" - rather, view the New Testament church as the New Testament does, as "an historical phenomenon, one that was intended to develop over time...into greater and greater maturity..." Remember the gifts Christ gave to the church (Eph. 4:11-16), gifts intended to make the church able to grow. And though the church isn't perfected by any means, there have been great points of catholic like-mindedness, teachings of Scripture which everyone in the church got behind - for one, the coming return of Jesus Christ. For two, the idea of sola Scriptura (which is, to repeat, a creed itself).
- To those who would call for us to show more charity to HPists, to spend more time in debate, etc., we only need to remember that loving the sheep means fighting wolves. If we're not sure if someone is a wolf or not, we extend charity until we're sure one way or the other; but if they growl and devour the sheep like wolves (my, what big anti-resurrection teeth you have!), we don't wait around for our asssumptions of their wolfiness to be confirmed.
- Charge: Adherence to creeds is inherently Romanist (oh snap! he said "romanist") because it gives authority to infallible men. Response #1: The HPsts are closer to Rome because they believe "that there can be no church authority without church infallibility. Rome agrees with this fully." Response #2 - HPists maintain the church cannot speak authoritatively unless she speaks infallibly; apply this to marriage and see how your wives start acting. Response #3 - The HPist himself must submit his own "readings" of Scripture under this charge; is he infallible? If not, then he ought to toss his writings into the fire along with the creeds!
- Charge: The creeds were "Hellenistic" and therefore their relevancy is bound to that culture. Response - rather, the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds stood strongly against any who would make accommodations to Hellenism, strongly supporting the real, corporeal body of Jesus Christ (a totally anti-Hellenistic idea). The creeds were used by God to keep Hellenism at bay.
- Charge: Adherence to creeds keeps folks from really examining any theology which contradicts them. Response #1 - great! This is what they're for, to "help many laymen recognize faulty theology when they do not have time to study everything for themselves." Response #2 - The truths of the creeds are "theological prerequisites. A student is not going to get on very well in fifth grade if he has to restudy and reexamine everything he learned in first grade." Assumption of truth gets us going somewhere! Rejection of it, contra HPist rhetoric, is boring and stagnant. [I.e., there is no semper reformanda apart from the creeds. The church is progressed and beautified when she stands upon the foundation of the forefathers, not when she forgets how to speak and babbles like an infant again.]
- What to do with HPists? If they are teachers of HPism, they are wolves and must be treated as such. And the church's shepherds must name them for what they are. If the HPists in question are followers but not teachers, "we must...grab them by their baptism." We must exhort them to repent of their beliefs and be faithful.
- "If we are headstrong and unwilling to study the faith of our fathers carefully, then we are headed for trouble. If we insist on individual 'veto power' over all the creeds of men, we have not successfully gotten away from all man-made creeds. We have simply submitted to the creed of one, a creed that is often composed on the fly...which conveniently leaves me by myself, in charge of myself."
My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"
24 December 2006
Creeds vs. Hyper-preterism
A comment in a post below contains a somewhat-common sentiment - Why use creeds to determine orthodoxy? Why not just use Scripture? In response to that question, and to encourage all of us toward more submission to the creeds, I'd like to line out for some of the arguments given by Doug Wilson in his chapter "Sola Scriptura, Creeds, and Ecclesiastical Authority" in When Shall These Things Be? (side note: despite some recent controversy, Wilson does support and submit to the church's creeds and offers clear thinking on the issue ...and this chapter has nothing to do with the federal vision controversy.) The length of this post reflects on the importance I place on this subject.