Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Getting a Handle on Things

In a recent e-mail exchange concerning the advisability of adhering to an historical creed (Apostle's, Nicene, Athanasian, etc.), one Christian brother stated that he would take the Bible over man's words any day.  I once was taught and thought the same until someone nicely pointed out that any believer or local church indeed does hold to a creed, though it may not be formalized.  The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo meaning “I believe.”  As soon as someone utters “I/We believe...” a creed has been communicated.  Where this typically manifests itself is in a mission statement or statement of faith at the denomination or individual church body level or both.  In so many words, a cogent statement of existence is articulated for all whether inside or outside their fellowship.  This is what we believe and do.

At this point the discussion moves from “Do I have a creed?” to “What is my creed?”  There are several that have been written beginning with those mentioned above written in the early centuries of the church.  Later in history, councils and synods convened in prominent cities to establish what their churches teach: Westminster, Augsburg, London, and Trent to name a few.  The free church traditions are not without their own ranging from Schleitheim Confession to “No creed but Christ.”1

How does one choose what creed or creeds to study for benefit?  The earliest creeds2 are ecumenical in nature and can be trusted for content as an attempt by the early church to work out fine points of doctrine already believed.  These can and should be studied as profitable.

Centuries later there would be great splits in the universal church, first between East and West, then later between Reformers and Church of Rome, making a choice problematic.  As these forks are met, the path taken is generally in accord with the history of the church or denomination one has joined as a disciple of Christ or in the case of a church body, with whom they wished to be aligned.  All three major branches of Christendom—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant—have elements of their confessions that are strengths, but each has weaknesses as well.  It is this problem that ignites those eschewing written creeds altogether.  We cannot ignore the divisions, but we can step carefully through the bodies of doctrine to see where they are in clear agreement with apostolic teaching using the early creedal statements as guides through the minefield.

Lastly, look at your own denominational or independent church statements.  Do they agree with what has been historically understood?  Compare the findings with wise, trustworthy men whom you know personally or others writing today.  Does the doctrine espoused now match up to that which was once delivered to the saints?  If not, make the necessary adjustments.  The creeds addressed internal and external conditions of the church at the time of their writing.  As such they will emphasize certain aspects of holy writ.  Learn from them and bring the knowledge forward.

1 This statement demonstrates ignorance of the facts.  While there may be no written confession, one exists as oral tradition based on a systematic theology handed down from a prior generation.
2 Those coming out of, but not limited to, the Seven Ecumenical Councils: First Council of Nicaea (325); First Council of Constantinople (381); Council of Ephesus (431); Council of Chalcedon (451); Second Council of Constantinople (553); Third Council of Constantinople (680); Second Council of Nicaea (787).

No comments: