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!"

01 March 2007

More on Creeds & Catechisms

Here is Carl Trueman on creedal middle ground (read the whole article here):
Creeds and confessions will, I suspect, continue to suffer at the hands of
friend and foe alike. The latter will always dismiss them as encroaching on
scripture’s authority; the former will continue to make them narrower and
functionally more important than they were ever intended. But on this issue I
believe there is a middle way, which gives peculiar but subordinate status to
such documents, and which also sees a place for occasional, transdenominational
statements as well. The church must never compromise the unique authority of the
Bible, must always focus on the basic essentials which cross time and space, but
must also speak thoughtfully, to the here and now. Historic creeds and
contemporary declarations thus both have their part to play in making the
church’s voice a relevant voice. Until we realize that, I fear that a good creed
will seldom go unpunished.
And this from Gregory Reynold's in OPC's Ordained Servant: (thanks, Nick)
When Washington's troops built their fortifications in Brooklyn, he
insisted that they explore the terrain before battle in order to be surefooted
during the rapid movements often required in the fight. Likewise catechizing
should be a chief concern of the church militant...Just as no one confuses a map
with the reality of the terrain it depicts, so we understand that the Satechism
helps us understand the terrain of the Bible itself. It is not a stand-alone
source of truth. So, reading the Bible confirms the terrain, just as traveling
confirms the accuracy of a map. A map teaches us what to look for and keeps us
from getting lost.

Our mid-week small group is continuing to benefit from a slow, careful study of the doctrines of Scripture using the outline provided by the Nicene Creed. And our evening teaching services at Immanuel are structured on the outline provided by the Shorter Catechism. This is on purpose and it is not because we don't believe in Sola Scriptura. On the contrary, it is because we believe so strongly in Sola Scriptura that we value the roadmaps God has providentially provided to His church throughout the centuries.

10 comments:

Nate said...

Good quotes. Whenever I find good information on the catechism I always pass it on to my catechumins parents and grand parents.

Thanks!

Kurt said...

The problem with dogmatically holding to "official" creeds and a much better way....

The "official" creeds:

- are not inspired; only the Scriptures are.

- sometimes contradict the Scriptures and, when they have in times past, the institutional church has often used them to attack godly Christians.

- will change (or ought to) as the body of Christ comes to new understanding of God's truth through the study of Scripture (reformed and ever reforming!).

- have often dampened the spirit in the church to develop doctrine by the practice of Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone).

Our practice in the church should be to come to an understanding of God's truth by diligently studying the Scriptures together as a body in Christ and applying it in life situations. We can draw much from many different traditions and should accept truth from every tradition, but hold to no tradition as the only storehouse of truth.

For instance:

1. We have been greatly blessed by the Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition as it pertains to the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. However, we do not follow the Reformers in some areas, such as the area of church life and in their dealings with "heretics."

2. We can be greatly blessed by the Anabaptist tradition (Look at the unity and closeness of the Amish and their community!) as they explore the life of the church body and willingness to suffer for Christ. However, we should still weigh all that they teach with the inspired word of God.

3. Many of us have been greatly blessed in our understanding of eschatology and the New Covenant by examining the different views of the "end times." However, not all in our body have come to the same conclusions and we continue to search the Scriptures while walking together in love.

4. We should follow any tradition where they have faithfully followed Christ. We can glean from every tradition what can be supported from the Scriptures. Every doctrine from every tradition stands or falls only insofar as it can be supported by God's inspired word. This should be our confession.

Jared said...

Kurt, a few responses. Overall, we clearly disagree on the importance of creeds. I hope you change your mind and your thinking; remember that you are a member of a *confessional* church. This is no light thing to dismiss so quickly.

Points of response:
1. No, the creeds aren't inspired. No one has said they are. But they (the major creeds agreed upon by the church) are correct.

2. Please show me where the major creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedonian) contradict Scripture.

3. You are holding to a view of semper reformanda nowhere close to what the reformers believed or practiced. Semper reformanda doesn't mean abandoning all the work from the church's past and starting over every morning. It means building on that work toward greater understanding and holiness.

4. Please tell me when/where the major creeds have "dampened the spirit in the church to develop doctrine". Again, history will bear out the reformers love for the creeds and their great use of those creeds to spur them in Scriptural reformation.

5. Practice of the church - You admit that we can draw from tradition and accept what is true, but how do we determine what is true? Surely you would say, "According to Scripture." Except that now you're placing your own, individual exegesis of Scripture over and above the historic church. Where the church ought to be advancing into "graduate studies" based on our forefathers great work, you would have us go back to kindergarten and learn how to read again. Of course we are to hold to Scripture as our highest authority. But it is not our only authority and we abandon the creeds only to find ourselves in spiritual and theological infancy once again (take, for example, churches who proclaim "no creed but the Bible" and note well their theological depth, or lack thereof).

6. The specifics of the reformers' dealing with heretics was never credalized, never made into something the entire church believed. You are confusing simple tradition with creeds.

7. Anabaptist tradition - sure, we could learn from their practice, but very little of their doctrine. But again, you're conflating mere "tradition" with the authority of creeds, which is specifically where the debate is.

8. End times - I don't know if you're referring to full-preterism or not, but that is an area where the creeds can help us. I have no need to delve deeply into full-preterism because it so clearly contradicts the creeds of the church. You might say I'm the worse for not finding what's good in their thought, but being able to reject heresy out of hand without a full rebuttal gives the church (especially the less theologically-inclined) time to grow in the truth rather than trying to pick out a few strands of truth from a mountain of error.

9. It really seems to me that you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want there to be reformation and Scriptural adherence in the church, yet no creedal authority. To do this, you must implicitly claim that you (or your local church) is able to infallibly discern what "faithfully following Christ" looks like and exactly what Scripture teachers. Yet if we were to follow your pattern, it would only take one winsome, powerful, false teacher to steer any church astray. For the protection of Christ's bride, we need creeds!

10. Finally, I've yet to see you deal with the argument that what constitutes our Scripture is itself a canon, something determined officially by the church according the providence of God and the wisdom of the saints. As you proclaim "sola Scriptura" yet dismiss the creeds as only "helpful", you are sawing off the branch you're standing on.

Kurt said...

Jared,

I perceive in your responses the crux of our disagreement, which is a difference in our presuppositional thinking. In order to discontinue our talking past one another, this has to be addressed. I’ll use one of your responses as a springboard.

Jared said, "….the major creeds agreed upon by the church are correct."

First, you seem to refer to "the church" as this monolithic entity in which all "true" believers agree. In reality, what you mean are the councils of ecclesiastical magistrates. Their "laws" or "beliefs" on how things should be can no more be absolutely binding on the conscience of Christians when it comes to Scripture than the "laws" or "beliefs" set forth by civil magistrates in their realm. As I mentioned in a previous BLOG response, many have died ridding our Christian world of the false doctrine/presupposition of the divine right of popes, kings, and councils. All the Apostles from the first century are dead. There is no ecclesiastical succession.

Secondly, you state emphatically the creeds are “correct.” This is also a false presupposition that is clearly addressed in the The Westminster Confession of Faith itself!

All synods or councils since the Apostles’ time, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both”(emphasis mine). WCF Chapter 31, paragraph 4

Thirdly, AA Hodge asks the question concerning creeds and confessions:

“What is the ground and extent of their authority, or power to bind the conscience?

He answers,
“The matter of all these Creeds and Confessions binds the consciences of men only so far as it is purely scriptural, and because it is so. The form in which that matter is stated, on the other hand, binds only those who have voluntarily subscribed the Confession and because of that subscription.

In all churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling. A church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation. The church is Christ's fold. The Sacraments are the seals of his covenant. All have a gilt to claim admittance who make a credible profession of the true religion, that is, who are presumptively the people of Christ. This credible profession of course involves a competent knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, a declaration of personal faith in Christ and of devotion to his service, and a temper of mind and a habit of life consistent therewith. On the other hand, no man can be inducted into any office in any church who does not profess to believe in the truth and wisdom of the constitution and laws it will be his duty to conserve and administer. Otherwise all harmony of sentiment and all efficient co-operation in action would be impossible.

The Standards of the creeds and confession are binding for officers of presbyterian congregations. The vows taken by elder and deacons are solemnly administered and agreed to before both God and man.
(emphasis mine).

So, believers in the Church (in particular RPCNA or any other denomination) are free to be members in good standing (“true Christians”) without agreeing with every aspect of the confessions and creeds , but those in “office” are bound to professing to believe in the “Standards of the creeds and confession.”

The important question we have to answer then is this :
How can we call preterists or others (who do not believe some parts of the creeds or confessions) “heretics” and “non-Christians” just because they don’t adhere to every part of a creed, especially a part of which Christ has not made a condition of salvation and is not required for membership in a local church?

And if this not scary enough, this begets an even more profound, all encompassing concern for the Church universal. This false presuppositional idea that the confessions and creeds are “correct” (can not be in error) seems to jive with this binding of the church leadership so that continual reforming can not take place. Indeed, James Jordan documents the present day “closing of the Calvinistic mind” in an article that indirectly identifies the present ecclesiastical governments mindsets as the culprits in the lack of ability for the Church to be able to reform.

The 17th century reformers by no means thought that we had fully reformed or fully "turned again" to the form of the church and belief originated by Jesus Christ, lived out by the first disciples and early church, and born witness to in the writings of the Old and New Testaments shorn of later additions.

So how, praytell, is the Church today going to live up to being "Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda," (‘the Reformed church, always to be reformed’) if the ecclesiastical magistrates (elders) are bound (enslaved?) to every aspect of the creeds and confessions? Is this a consequence of a centuries old tyrannical ecclesiastical system that refuses to go away? Is the Church failing to advance for this very reason? Will it be left up to the lowly priesthood of all believers to continue the Reformation? Only time will tell.

Jared said...

Kurt, I wrote a lengthy second reply last week, but it has been lost to cyberspace. I'll take that as providence leading me to a shorter reply...so let me simply say that I don't think we're reading past each other so much as you are reading me unfairly and without really considering the heart of any of my arguments. If you really stand behind what you are communicating, you have a responsibility to tell the session of your confessional church!

Kurt said...

Jared,

I already gave my official vow/confession - the Covenant of Communicant Membership and it does not require full compliance with the Westiminster Confession on all points as you well know.

But, don’t you think that we all really need an answer from you concerning my previous question:

“How can we call preterists or others (who do not believe some parts of the creeds or confessions) 'heretics' and 'non-Christians' just because they don’t adhere to every part of a creed, especially a part of which Christ has not made a condition of salvation and is not required for membership in a local church?”

Jared said...

Re: preterists. We can call them heretics because they deny an inherent part of faith in Christ, which is belief in His imminent return (Heb. 10:37 & Hab. 2:3,4). We can call them heretics because Paul did (2 Timothy 2:17). We can call them heretics because they are outside the staked grounds of Christian orthodoxy, as defined by the creeds, backed by the authority of the church, all standing upon the ground of Scripture.

Kurt said...

First, we have already established that the creeds, which were established by councils “since the Apostles’ time…may err and…..have erred [and] [t]herefore are not to be made the rule of faith….” Westminster Confession Chapter 31, Paragraph 4.

Secondly, we have already established that “a church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” Indeed, the profession of faith that a Christian makes and the RPCNA official vow of communicant membership made to the local congregation in no way shape or form includes a profession of belief in a future physical return of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, my understanding of proper exegesis of Scripture considers when Paul’s letters were written and to whom. It is commonly accepted that Hebrews and the second letter to Timothy were written to Jewish converts and to Timothy, respectively, prior to AD 70. Therefore, the preterists of today who believe that Jesus Christ returned and the resurrection took place in AD 70, do not fall in with that group Paul was condemning to Timothy because Christ had not returned nor the resurrection taken place as AD 70 was yet future at the time of the writing of these letters!

Now, interestingly enough, it is the preterists who have a case against present day futurists, when preterists can say that futurists are denying “an inherent part of faith in Christ” because futurists do not believe Jesus’s words, made in the first century, of his “imminent return” and Paul confirmed, in the same first century, when 2000 years later futurists are still looking for Christ’s “imminent return!”

Therefore, you have not made a case for preterists (or any others who do not hold to every aspect of the historical creeds or confessions) to be condemned as heretics (or “non-Christians” as you called them before). The irony is that futurists just may be pots calling the kettles black!

Jared said...

Wow, Kurt. Clearly this discussion isn't going anywhere. This will be my final response:

1. The possibility of error does not lessen authority, whether in governments or fathers or elders or councils.

2. *We* didn't establish that bare faith is alone necessary for church membership. You and Hodge did. I tend to disagree; but even so, I would still argue you have to have faith in the return of Christ to have faith in Christ at all.

3. Of course Paul's letters must be taken in context; but this doesn't mean they can't be instructive to our present context. The heresy is the same: saying the end has already come.

4. Your definition of "imminent" is skewed to full-preterists and unsupportable.

I really, truly hope you aren't buying into full preterism.

Kurt said...

What must I believe in order to be saved?