Thursday, June 13, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, A Defense, Part 5

5. The Church's experience in all ages has found creeds and confessions to be indispensable.

Even in the days of the Apostles, there were those who were peddling a 'false gospel.' How did the Church respond to such a situation? Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote that Christians should not be content with a mere profession of belief in Christ, but that teachers should be examined to ascertain whether their doctrine accorded with the “form of sound words,” which he had taught them. Paul adds to this the fearful warning of a curse on the head of anyone who brings a message other than the one they had received from him. 

What we have here is, in effect, an instance – with Divine warrant, I might add – of employing a creed as a test of orthodoxy. A naked profession of belief in God or the Bible was insufficient. It had to be determined in what sense they understood the Gospel. The peculiar situation of the Church in that early age probably required a short and concise confession, but a confession nonetheless. Whether the confession Paul sought agreement with had one article or 100 is irrelevant; the principle is the same.

When we come to the 2nd Century, in the writings of Irenaeus, or the 3rd Century, in the writings of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, and Gregory Thaumaturgus, we find creeds and confessions occupying a prominent place in the Church as a safe-guard against error. This is especially important when we remember that by this very standard, large swathes of both Tertullian's and Origen's works were ruled unorthodox by their contemporaries and later generations. 

By the time we get to the 4th Century, the exigencies of the Arian heresy forced the Church to respond at the Council of Nicaea with the Nicene creed, a standard of orthodox Trinitarianism which has stood both the test of time and the ravaging winds of theological innovation.

With Arius, a creed turned out to be an indispensable tool. Arius was exceptionally crafty. It was extremely difficult to pin him down theologically. He almost always resorted to the actually words used in Scripture when pressed for an explanation of his teaching, but it was always evident that something was still awry. Whenever the members of the Council attempted to pin him down on the question of what he believed to Bible to teach, or, in what sense did he understand the language of Scripture, he was found to equivocate and evade the questions put to him. As long as he was permitted to hide behind a veneer of general profession, his errors were not readily apparent. The solution was to draw up a statement of what the Fathers believed to be the Scripture's teaching on the deity of Christ. When Arius was confronted with this and asked to subscribe to it, he was flushed out as the heretic that he was. The Council was proven correct in their judgment of him, for by his refusal to subscribe to the creed, he showed that he understood the Scriptures in an entirely different sense than the rest of Christendom. This has repeatedly been case throughout history. 

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