March 25, 2017

April 4, 2014


Is the Creed “the” Sufficient Standard of Orthodoxy?

If a leader in the church agrees with the Creeds regarding the Trinity and the dual natures of Christ, then should we not accept him as a legitimate Christian teacher even though we might disagree about the nature of marriage and sexuality?

The question is an important one. It not only goes to the heart of discipleship (what does it mean to follow Jesus?) but it touches directly on some of the most heated controversies in the Anglican realm. Is it permissable to promote the ministry of men like Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia? Should we participate in Christian outreach/mission with leaders who promote same sex “marriage”? Should an orthodox seminary invite the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to preach in its chapel?

In answer to these questions, some have argued that the Nicene and Apostolic creedal formulas should stand as the primary measure of orthodoxy. Going beyond these, they argue, will create unnecessary division. If a leader professes faith in the Christ of the Creeds, who are we to deny him/her a place at the table?

There are at least two problems with that answer.

First, it is contrary to the apostolic witness. There is no evidence that the teachers against whom Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians were committing Christolological or Trinitarian errors. They were adding to the gospel of grace. Moreover, in that same letter, Paul lays down the general measure by which all teachers are to be measured and it is far more comprehensive than any Creedal formula: if anyone at all “should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed…”(Gal 1:8). The word for “accursed” is anathema. Let the one who contradicts what I have delivered to you be damned. Obviously, Paul does not consider the Galatian teachers to be “in Christ”. Paul’s measure for Christian teaching is whether or not it accords with the apostolic deposit, which, for us, has been inscripturated in the New Testament.

The apostle John affirms this principle in his second letter. There John warns against false teachers who do indeed teach an early type of Christological heresy but in the process of dealing with that particular error, he issues this broad declaration: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.”  The genetive “of Christ” there probably includes both the teaching “about” Christ and the teaching “from” Christ. The apostles (as we’ll see below) were commissioned by the Lord to teach his word, not only the word that he gave them during his earthly ministry but also the ongoing instruction he promised to reveal through them. And so John, like Paul, indicates that to “go beyond” what the apostles deliver to the Church is to stray outside the bounds of the Faith.

Apostolic teaching is the measure of orthodoxy. This measure, of course, necessarily also includes the Old Testament since the Apostles and Jesus Christ himself in many and various places affirm its absolute authority as the word of God. By this standard those leaders who teach that sexual relationships between two men or two women can in any way be blessed or solemnized are not to be considered Christian teachers or leaders but “anathema” even if they affirm the Trinity and Jesus’ dual natures.

Second, rejecting the teaching of the apostles is necessarily to repudiate the Creeds. Even if we only apply the minimal standard of the Creedal formulas, which, as I’ve shown above would be contrary to the apostolic standard, those who teach that same sex relationship may be blessed must still be counted as standing outside the Christian faith.

The first Christological declaration of the Nicene Creed is: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The first Christological declaration of the Apostle’s Creed affirms the same: “[I believe] in Jesus Christ, his [God the Father’s] only begotten Son, our Lord.”

The Lord Jesus in Mark 7:21 and Matthew 15:19 identifies “porneia” (translated “sexual immorality”) as one part of our sinful nature. As NT Wright and many others have pointed out, “porneia” in the context of first century Judaism would necessarily include homosexual sexual practice along with all the sexual sins identified in Leviticus 18.

Moreover, in both John 14:25-26 and John 16:12-15, Jesus promises to speak to his Church directly through his appointed apostles. Their teaching therefore, as I have already suggested above, is Christ’s teaching. When Peter, James, John and, yes, Paul, teach, Jesus teaches.

Finally, Nicene Creed identifies Jesus as not merely a human Lord but as God the Son. “God from God, Light from Light. Very God from Very God”. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, declares that all scripture - that is an all-encompassing statement - is “God breathed”. If one professes Jesus as God then one must also recognize that the entirety of scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, is His Word.

The Creeds themselves, then, require obedience to Jesus Christ as the One Lord over all things. To profess the Creed but reject the word of God as revealed in the scriptures regarding marriage and sexuality is incoherent. It is, in fact, to reject the Lordship of Christ and to place oneself outside the bounds of Creedal Christianity.


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12 comments

My liberal opponents take an very selectively literal interpretation of the Nicene Creed sometimes and say, “There is nothing in the Creeds about homosexuality.” Your argument is convincing to me, but will it fly in liberal Peworia?

[1] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 4-4-2014 at 10:50 AM · [top]

What a perfect statement of the argument against the actions of the heretical clergy.  I dare say that if you put together a panel of the top ten masterminds of the revisionist theologians, not one rational rebuttal to Fr. Matt’s assertions could be made.  Truly a Sunday School lesson on Friday morning.

[2] Posted by Great Western Heresy on 4-4-2014 at 10:54 AM · [top]

Good points, Matt.  Too easily we forget how the Creeds tell us what must be included in our proclamation but they don’t provide everything we must proclaim.

[3] Posted by Ross Gill on 4-4-2014 at 11:24 AM · [top]

If you proclaim the Jesus is Lord, does it not follow that you are to obey what He said to do?  To live your life in holiness to the Lord?  How can you proclaim the Jesus is Lord and then ignore Him in living your life?  Now we understand that as sinners we can’t do this (Confession anyone?), but what we see is not even any attempt but total rebellion.  In short Matt’s last paragraph.

Every Sunday we read Scripture and conclude it with “The Word of the Lord.”  Do we really believe that?  Based on theri behavior it appears that very few revisionists do.

[4] Posted by Br. Michael on 4-4-2014 at 12:19 PM · [top]

The problem with some of those leaders who say they agree with the Creed is that they mean they agree with the Creed as much as any 21st century person who has studied the latest (liberal) scholarship can agree with it. 

For instance, I know of an (Episcopal) rector who, on the one hand says emphatically that he agrees with the Creed, but whose adult education forum after Easter will be using Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God.  (The parish has also had Marcus Borg as a Lenten speaker in years past.)  When I challenged him on this, he said, “but my people need to be kept up on the latest biblical scholarship.”  (That sound you hear is my palm and my forehead colliding.)

Not surprisingly, the parish is one of three in that diocese who are leading the charge to do same sex “marriages.”  So far the bishop hasn’t allowed it, but I think he will crumble in time.  But the rector says he is “orthodox,” oh, yessirree, and even cites the fact that he is an associate of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) (the order once headed by Bp. Tom Shaw of Massachusetts!!!) to prove he is a good Anglo-Catholic.

The lostness of such people is perplexing to me, and I wonder if we are dealing with a people who are in the situation, as Jesus quoted Isaiah saying of the Jews:

“He has blinded their eyes
  and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
  and understand with their heart, and turn,
  and I would heal them.” (John 12:40)

Perhaps it is a demonstration of the Augustinian/Reformed doctrine of Reprobation.

[5] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 4-4-2014 at 01:09 PM · [top]

I don’t recall any of the bishops at Nicene or Chalcedon saying anything along the lines of “the creed we wrote is entirely sufficient as a statement to define Christianity.”  The Athanasian Creed is more comprehensive, but I doubt that Athanasius would have viewed his own words as encompassing all necessary doctrine, either.

If one actually believes the Nicene Creed (as opposed to just saying it), one can be confident of the orthodoxy of one’s doctrine of the Trinity and basic Christology. 

I note that the Nicene Creed says absolutely nothing about General Convention, Presiding Bishops, or anyone else having authority to alter doctrine or re-define sacraments.

[6] Posted by tjmcmahon on 4-5-2014 at 08:56 AM · [top]

One more thing. The third paragraph of the Nicene Creed describes the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life” and contains the clause, “He has spoken through the prophets.” This is a clear acknowledgement that Scripture is spoken by God, and thus carries the weight of divine authority. We can assume that the word “prophets” refers to both Old testament and New testament authors.

Scripture and the Creed exist in a dialectic. The “Rule of Faith”- a proto-creed- helped the Church discern which books should make it into the Canon of the New Testament. Once this happened, the written word became preeminent. It is the New Testament Scriptures- the immediate apostolic witness- that the Church acknowledges in her worship as the Word of the Lord, not the Creeds. The three Creeds of the Church Catholic do have splendor, and do shed light, but creedal splendor is that of reflected light. And the Nicene Creed, great as it is, modestly points beyond itself to Scripture as that thing which carries the weight of divine authority.

So anybody who says they subscribe to the creeds and then teaches doctrine contrary to the biblical witness is not being honest, is tearing up the flock of Christ and should be put out.

[7] Posted by Filmore Strunk+ on 4-5-2014 at 02:07 PM · [top]

Creeds, Manifestos, Declarations, and, yes, Articles of Religion, are all written to address the challenges of their times. The Nicene Creed, in particular, addressed the Arianism rampant at that time. However, it has grown to have a universal place that transcends a fragmented Christianity. I do, however, agree with Matt Kennedy that it is a minimum standard (if I understand him correctly. Arguably, we need a declaration to address the changes of today, maybe something like the Manhattan Declaration.

http://manhattandeclaration.org/#0

[8] Posted by Words Matter on 4-6-2014 at 12:43 PM · [top]

‘As NT Wright and many others have pointed out, “porneia” in the context of first century Judaism would necessarily include homosexual sexual practice along with all the sexual sins identified in Leviticus 18.’ Starting with yours truly as long ago as 1997.

I have sometimes said to the “Of course I believe the Creed” people that “for us men and for our salvation” certainly covers our redemption from the worship of Aphrodite and Christ’s ownership of my body, with all that this implies. And that “giver of life” is very comprehensive when properly unpacked. Those who framed the creeds were perfectly clear that many ethical questions were completely closed!

There is further ‘unpacking’ in a couple of sermons of mine on the last clause of the Nicene Creed for which you may ask me at priscilla dot turner at telus dot net .

[9] Posted by Dr. Priscilla Turner on 4-7-2014 at 03:05 AM · [top]

Yes indeed, Dr Turner.  If “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” and if I say “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” then that rather precludes any kind of improper sexual activity in the present while we anticipate the re-embodied life of the age to come.  As Tom Wright comments on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (‘Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians’ page 67), “. . . the creator God has unveiled his genuine model for humanity in Jesus the Messiah, and there are certain ways of behaving which just don’t fit.  If you want to be a truly, fully human being, those ways of behaving have to be left behind.”

[10] Posted by Ross Gill on 4-7-2014 at 09:07 AM · [top]

The Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral, as a stab at ecumenism, is intriguing on this question. 

It asserts that the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed constitute “sufficient statement of Christian faith.”

BUT, that’s point 2 of the 4.

Point 1 is “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.”

So even in this late 1800s, with all kinds of optimistic and liberal theology dawning, Anglicanism’s contribution to Christian unity places Scripture first, and makes it the “court of last resort” for all faith questions.

The Creeds affirm faith in the Triune God, but have little to say about discipleship (“one baptism for the remission of sins” is about the only line that suggests an action on our part).  Progressives who assert that the “Creeds are sufficient” are vulnerable to the retort, “Well, then, I oppose all of your social justice initiatives and will ignore them because they aren’t there in the Creed.”  The argument for “Creedal sufficiency” makes room for the kind of individualistic, inner piety that liberals claim is, well, “the great Western heresy.”

Bottom line, we need the Scriptures in order to guide our incarnation of the truths held in the Creeds.  One way to understand the long “green” stretches of common time is that they give us Biblical insight into Christian living, while the other seasons guide us in the core beliefs and mysteries of our faith.  That’s obviously an over simplification, but in a sense Advent through Trinity Sunday school us in what the Creeds summarize, while the rest of the year is aimed at making us disciples who don’t just hear but “do” the word.

[11] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 4-26-2014 at 11:47 AM · [top]

Without the creeds we will make classic errors in understanding God. That is, thought pattterns embrace previouslty identified heresies. I think the reasons we do that tend to be selfish rather than a matter of intellectual disagreement. In other words, personal permissiveness has more to do with it than disbelief. The creeds and tradition amplifying scripture are guard rails that keep us from driving into the ditch.

[12] Posted by Adam 12 on 9-16-2014 at 12:02 PM · [top]

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