No Creed but the Bible?

Some pastors, preachers, professors, and parishioners will announce they have “no creed but the Bible.” One of America’s Reformed church historians, Carl Trueman, now has a book challenging both the accuracy of this statement (we all have creeds and confessions he observes) and the wisdom of it — not to mention its seemingly inconsistency with the Bible itself, which both has creedal lines and teaches the importance of teaching the essence of the faith. Trueman’s book is called The Creedal Imperative. I urge those who are non-creedal to read it and discuss it.

There is, I would contend, a difference between having a “creed” or a “confession” or a “statement of faith” and having a theology. We all have a theology; some Christians though do not want any authoritative statement to which we have to subscribe or submit. That’s a creed vs. a theology. Still, Carl Trueman has this right: creeds are the way of the church, they are good, and they are needed.

What do you think of creeds? Do you think all churches should confess the creeds? Affirm them in their “doctrinal statement”? (I do.) Confess them publicly? (I do.)

Ours is a day when many are suspicious of creeds and confessions, though I am personally shocked at how so many can say they don’t believe in a creed but have never read The Apostles’ Creed or the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some are against the past because of scientific developments, technology, consumerism, and even the lack of belief in a common “human nature” — which gives antiquity an immediate connection to us today.  And some are worried about words or think mystical experience transcends words or that pragmatics are more important. Trueman observes as well that some don’t like the exclusionary power of creeds.  I’d add one more: some, out of respect for the Bible as God’s true Word, don’t want anything else taking on authoritative status. (A friend wrote me the other day and made the following connection: I don’t trust politicians; politicians made the creeds; therefore I don’t trust the creeds.)

Creeds are rooted in (1) that God communicates in words and in the Living Word and the Written Word; (2) that humans, made in God’s image on a universal scale, are capable of comprehending words; (3) that words are how we communicate and know the truth. Furthermore, the church is inevitably an institution in which words about the Word (Living and Written) matter. Then (4) there is the presence of creed like statements in the New Testament itself (not to mention the Shema as a form of creed).

With the skill of his field, Trueman then sketches the early church and the rise of the major creeds — from the rule of faith to the Nicene Creed and beyond — and then sketches the Reformation Confessions. (He’s a staunch Presbyterian but has a nice sketch, too, of the 39 Articles.)

The best part of this book, other than Trueman’s occasional zingers at church goofinesses and cultural nonsense, is his chapter on the usefulness of creeds. I found this chapter to be theologically helpful but also pastorally aware (he pastors, I think). Here are his uses of creeds:

1. All churches have creeds and confessions (I’d say they all have “theologies” but not all have “creeds” in a specialized sense). Failure to acknowledge this can be disingenuous. (I agree with that.)
2. Confessions delimit the power of the church. (I don’t like the word “delimit” but I agree with his point.) They mean the church has to answer to something above it! That’s a good thing. Too many think they are the first to find something.
3. They offer succinct and thorough summaries of the central elements of the faith. Good creeds do this, but here the Confessions are even more thorough.
4. Creeds and confessions allow for appropriate discrimination between members and office-bearers: that is, not everyone has to be the expert; but leaders ought to be theologically informed. I could tell stories…. yuck.
5. Creeds and confessions reflect the ministerial authority of the church … and, yes, this cuts against the grain of our anti-authoritarian culture, but it’s hard to have leaders who don’t lead, or pastors who aren’t to some degree theologically sound and capable of leading, and elders who don’t know their stuff. (It’s not so hard perhaps as it is profoundly unwise.)
6. Creeds and confessions represent the maximal doctrinal competence the local church aspires to for its members.
7. I like this one: creeds and confessions relativize our modern importance and remind us we are part of a long history and Story!
8. Creeds and confessions help define one church in relation to another — this is about information not schism.
9. Creeds and confessions are necessary for maintaining corporate unity.

I believe in a creedal imperative, and this book can help more and more of us to find a common conversation around our common creeds and confessions.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • DRL

    Isn’t there a difference between being creedal and confessional? Isn’t one prescriptive and the other descriptive? So isn’t it misleading to lump them together? One may be non-creedal and yet have a confession/statement of faith.

  • Larry

    When you and/or Trueman say “all churches have creeds or confessions” (or theologies), what do you mean by “church”? I think of a church as a community of people — and so I tend these days to think that a church has as many creeds/confessions/theologies as it has members. Because we each bring a unique life experience to the table, no two of us would express our faith identically — and even if we all assent to the same phrases (say, the Apostles’ Creed) we all have different understandings of those phrases, and would each offer a unique explanation of their meaning.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    Even the creedal churches should read this book! Great post! Thanks!

  • Mick Porter

    Having experience with various wings of the American Restoration Movement, with all of the associated claims to being non-denominational and non-creedal, I totally agree with you that every church has a theology. It may be unwritten and not recited, but the “no creed but the bible” line carries the implicit “… but our particular take on the bible”. That movement in particular has spawned countless splits and divisions due to disagreement over tightly-held beliefs whilst claiming to have no creeds.

  • Tiago Cavaco

    Great work, Scot.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    I have several problems with creeds and confessions.

    One issue is that there are several to choose from so they are, by nature, divisive. The church is one, not several. Creeds and denominations go hand in hand, not that all denominations have a written creed but they surely all have written or unwritten statements of faith of some kind.

    Another important issue for me is that I am not called to say what I believe, I am called to be and do what I believe. This involves loving the Father, loving my brothers and sisters in Christ, loving my neighbours, and loving my enemies. That love (the love that remains and is greater than faith or hope) must guide my thinking and my living. Love is my creed!

    We are told that at the judgement Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. How will he do this? On the basis of faith? On the basis of hope? No – on the basis of giving a cup of water to the thirsty, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked.

    We do not earn our way into the kingdom of heaven, we act our way in and our actions need to be rooted in love. Or, to put it another way, our actions need to be rooted in Christ, the One who IS Love.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, it is wise to distinguish between the catholic creeds — which more or less represent the early fathers (what was thought to be for the whole church) — and confessions — which are denominational theologies. Many of us are in denominations that affirm both creed and confessions; few of us are in churches that deny both; Carl Trueman’s point is that even those who think they deny them actually appropriate both; so it is wise to admit what we are doing. He presses further: there is a creedal imperative from the Bible and onward in the church.

    Chris #7: I would contend you’ve created a false dichotomy with a less than complete answer. We are not forced to choose between orthod-doxy (believing the true things) and ortho-praxy (doing the right things). The parable you quote does not deny the importance of beliefs but assaults the non-compassionate with the necessity of compassion. There are so many places in the Bible where true things are not only taught but said these are what we are to believe. It’s a both-and, and the both-and person is the healthiest.

  • http://newsongchurchkpt.org craig cottongim

    My heritage is from the non-instrumental branch of the Restoration Movement. We recently planted a new church and the 1st time we recited the Apostles’ creed in unison, it felt so good I cried.

  • Danny Sims

    I love creeds and I love the Bible but neither is the ultimate key to faith. If we insist they are, how do we explain the great history of faithful people who never heard a creed or held a Bible in their hands?

    The early creeds were like the icons… word pictures, if you will, for illiterate people who didn’t have a Bible could not read it even if they did. We are best when we fall in love with the subject of the art, not the art itself.

  • Phil Miller

    One issue is that there are several to choose from so they are, by nature, divisive. The church is one, not several. Creeds and denominations go hand in hand, not that all denominations have a written creed but they surely all have written or unwritten statements of faith of some kind.

    Another important issue for me is that I am not called to say what I believe, I am called to be and do what I believe. This involves loving the Father, loving my brothers and sisters in Christ, loving my neighbours, and loving my enemies. That love (the love that remains and is greater than faith or hope) must guide my thinking and my living. Love is my creed!

    I agree with Scot that this is something of a false dichotomy. Reciting a creed doesn’t prevent anyone from loving Christ or their neighbor. Also, I don’t agree that creeds are designed to be decisive. Actually, they were intended to do quite the opposite. Almost all the elements in the historic creeds are there in response to some threat the Church faced at some time in its history. The Christians who crafted the creeds realized that these things had the potential to create all sorts of schisms within the Church if not dealt with in some way.

    Also, I’d say that we can’t forget that the creeds all start with “we believe”, not “I believe”. By reciting the creed together, we’re actually committing ourselves to something bigger than our own little belief system. We’re identifying with fellow Christians not just all over the globe, but all throughout history.

    I should note that I say all of this as a person who has spent most of his life in churches that don’t use the creeds. When I have been in churches that do recite them, it’s often one the most meaningful part of the services to me. I wish it’s something that more evangelicals would incorporate in their services.

  • Jerry

    Chris (#6)–what do you do with this: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Ro 10:9-10). “Jesus is Lord” is probably the earliest Christian creedal statment. Saying a creed aloud has parallels in other spoken actions. We recite the “Pledge of Allegience,” the corporate act of saying the pledge should inspire our devotion to country. The military has “creeds” that guide our understanding of who we are and focus our mission and identity. Being and doing arise out of the common accepted understanding of the creed.

  • Andy Halpin

    Thanks for posting this, Scot – it’s very good. One thing that I really appreciate about the catholic creeds is their inclusive power, which is badly needed in our divisive church cultures. Denominational confessions (even the great historic confessions) and statements of faith can be divisive and exclusive, but the creeds unite us and, in a sense, force us to recognise each other as brothers and sisters regardless of theological differences. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why some people don’t like the creeds?

  • Jeff Y

    Scott – I think it is useful and important to have some understanding of historic Christianity including the creeds. And, I agree that we all have a theology (or even unwritten creeds – as the American Restoration Movement). I have some problems with creeds still (and with some of the points above).

    1. I think it is a non-sequitur to argue that because the Scriptures have creeds – therefore creeds outside the Scriptures are valid or useful. I think we can differentiate between the Scriptures as inspired texts and Christians in the 3rd or 15th or 21st centuries. A Holy Spirit guided creed is one thing; a human shaped one is another (even though there are creeds with which I am in near complete agreement).

    2. Post-canon creeds are, in my view, human documents and they take us one step away from Scripture. Over time they tend to eventually supplant Scripture – much as happened with the Pharisees in Mark 7 – who elevated their traditions to the level of doctrine (“teaching as doctrine the traditions of men”). Their traditions became authoritative. These were no different than the creeds of the historical church. This is a significant issue, it seems to me. If a creed is not viewed as authoritative, or something to which one must assent in order to be considered faithful, but rather as a statement of faith from a group of people that can be very informative and beneficial, then that would be different.

  • Phil Miller

    Post-canon creeds are, in my view, human documents and they take us one step away from Scripture.

    I’m confused about this statement. What is in the historic creeds that contradicts anything in Scripture? I’ve heard some people argue that items concerning the Trinity are extra-Biblical, but that seems like a pretty weak argument to me.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Great post, Scot. Also, I think most people have handled a number of Chris’s points but here’s couple more.

    Chris,

    1. The position that creeds are divisive is a specific position that all those churches with creeds don’t agree with. You asserting the divisiveness of creeds is just as divisive.

    2. Luke 12:8-12. There are other verses already cited, and they could be multiplied ad nauseum, but the Bible is one of those weird books that seems to teach that belief and the confession of mouth matter, not just external actions.

    JeffY,

    1. Meh.
    2. Depends on the creed and the heart of the one using it. I’ll just say that the creeds and the confessions have been helpful in my own faith in helping me see the truth of the Word of God more clearly. I say this as someone with an MA in Biblical Studies. Also, as someone working in the church, working with unchurched and dechurched kids who know nothing of the Scriptures, the creeds and confessions are helpful teaching aids that allow students to begin to dive into the Bible. In their case, and in many others, creeds don’t pull us a step away from the Bible, but a step closer to it. See, again, what’s the alternative? All creeds and confessions need to be submitted to the word of God, but you’re gonna end up imposing some shape or form on it. These are time-tested patterns that can be filled out, but have already stood the test.

  • BradK

    I am not a big proponent of creeds and am generally unwilling to affirm much beyond the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed. Would the earliest first century Christians be willing to do so? Chris Jefferies is right that by their nature creeds are divisive. But there were obviously things that all of the earliest Christians believed, such as Paul’s creedal formulation at 1 Corinthians 15. On certain basics all Christians should agree. Of course getting all Christians to agree on just what those certain basics are is nigh impossible. ;-)

  • Jon G

    Scot…

    I guess this is my problem with creeds…as I understand them, they are statements that declare “This is what I/We believe”. I have two problems with this, one minor and one major:

    1) (minor problem) I think it’s ok that we differentiate ourselves based on our beliefs, but some take this too far and it cuts off communication with those who believe otherwise. In other words, many creeds seem to separate rather than simply inform others of one’s presuppositions so as to create productive dialogue.

    2) (major problem) Beliefs change, or at least most of mine have. When they do, I don’t want to be tied to some declaration that prevents me from following my journey of discovery. In other words, I believe a creed should declare where I currently find myself, not where I need to stay. I currently see many Christian creeds as thought stoppers rather than as places from which I can explore my thinking further.

    Does this make sense?

  • John I.

    Creeds are more divisive and unhelpful than helpful. I can agree with a local body, or group of churches, using a short statement of beliefs / creed for consistency in teaching on certain issues (e.g., Christ is God, Trinity, Resurrection, Bible is inspired), but past that churches should not go. Creeds, and their divisiveness and their inevitable expansion to more secondary issues, are one of the reasons that many people hate denominations and accuse protestants of denominational explosion. If a creed is needed, I’d stick with one of the short statements that Paul uses; I wouldn’t even use the apostles creed.

    Creeds are also a way of stopping discussion, thinking, and exploration and renewal of faith. As if an answer made at one historical point in one cultural context should have and continue to have universal and eternal relevance. We are better off living and teaching organically – socially, in which we teach other disciples which writers and speakers should be trusted to deliver truths by which we can live out our salvation and further the kingdom of God.

    Moreover, creeds don’t hold people or stop heresy. People can just leave a creedal church for another, or start their own, or take over a denomination and force theological change.

    Finally, creeds are a power and political issue, and a structural form of oppression. Foucault makes points that are relevant to this issue, in so far as any continental philosopher is correct about postmodern approaches to knowledge and power. Calvinists and neo-Calvinists of course love creeds and the power it gives them, and they use that power.

  • John I.

    In the time it took me to write my post, Jon G commented. I’m with ya, Jon.

  • Jon G

    I like the way you said it better, John I!

  • Rick

    Sounds like a great book. I will be getting it.

    I also recommend Alister McGrath’s book, Apostles’ Creed.

    Furthermore, it is hard to overlook the J. Pelikan interview about the creeds:

    http://www.onbeing.org/program/need-creeds/211/audio?embed=1

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com Matt Dabbs

    Creeds can express biblical ideas and core truths pulled from scripture. Creeds, however, are not scripture in and of themselves. On some level, someone has to decide what is included and what is excluded…what is included (core/essential) and what is excluded (non-core/essential). That is a very human process and is “one step away from scripture” as noted above (#13 Jeff Y).

    I like Scot’s point better than what he says the book says. I think we need to work off the primary texts and develop our theology from there. Creeds can certainly help us summarize our core theology but it is still a process of selection and when you start selecting things, someone gets to draw the lines of what is in and what is out.

    As far as the American Restoration Movement goes…we have preferred to call our creeds “slogans”. We have things that have the same force as creeds but don’t call them that, recite them in public worship, etc. We are just as guilty of saying the whole Bible is our guide and that we aren’t bound by “man made creeds” but then prooftexting various non-essential/core pet issues to death. That has been my experience.

  • CGC

    Hi John I and Jon G,
    I have heard these exact same arguments against Scripture. Insert the Bible for creeds. Some of our postmodern suspicion I find does not do justice either to the history of the church much less the practice of the church throughout the ages. And I can’t speak for others but reciting the Apostles Creed has the same power and force for me as reciting the Lord’s prayer with the corporate church. Of course, others theological mileage may vary . . . Chris

  • Patrick

    I pass every creed I see through the bible, so I agree with the “no creed but the bible” view.

    I agree with Chalcedon and Nicea, but, only because I think they collated biblical info into big doctrinal ideas. I disagree with my old church creed in part because some of it is nonsense according to the bible, etc.

  • Norman

    I’ve got to admit that I tend toward John I and Jon G’s presentations. However some of us come from Independent so called non creedal church traditions and some from those that embrace the creeds. This reminds me somewhat of Romans 14 where brethren are encouraged to work with each other in their concepts of the new found freedom in Christ that was blooming. Which one is the strong and weak position is up for argument but keeping our tolerance open minded is always paramount it seems from reading Paul. The main creed is the one stamped on our individual Image of God bearing persona’s reflecting Christ.

    There is indeed tension between the two competing concepts but that may not be a bad thing.

  • MikeW

    This conversation reminds me of a statement I like from Stanley Hauerwaw: we don’t get to make Christianity up. Or as CS Lewis put it: Christianity is what it is, and was what it was, long before I was born and whether I like I or not.

    I think the Creeds – not creeds generally speaking, but the Apostles and Nicene creeds – help temper our subjectivism and hold us to account on our personal journeys. They give us needed boundaries and limits, since we all need help recognizing when we are heading in dangerous directions. The church has for two thousand years said, may we be kept accountable to these summaries of our faith. They aren’t perfect (ala NT Wright) but they are faithful boundary markers for the Church.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    The jig’s up, Scot!! Didn’t you realize that you were falling for the classic Calvinist and Neo-Calvinist trap to take over and wield power? The Creeds and Confessions. Calvin strikes again via the Apostles’ Creed. When are you going to open your eyes to the Neo-Calvinists, Scot? Jon I. has clearly laid it out. Those sly 5-pointers are trying to trick into stopping your questions, thinking for yourself, and doing theology “organically.”

    Good times.

  • scotmcknight

    Two comments:

    1. Some are acting as if we first had Scripture then we had creeds. Not so. The best scholarship argues that creed and canon developed alongside one another and dialectically. The creed — regula fidei — shaped which texts were authoritative and the texts helped form the regula fidei.

    2. What MikeW said in #26, first paragraph. I totally agree and that has been a major conclusion for my life. The creed is what has formed us.

  • shawn

    As a life-long member of a no-creed-but-the-Bible movement (the restorationists), I can say that this has carried the potential to be (and often has been) the worst kind of creed b/c it allows people who have firmly established unwritten creeds to honestly believe and with judgmental certainty claim that their opinion is one and the same with the Bible. This philosophy has not so much, despite its original purpose, helped keep people be more devoted to the Bible over man’s opinion but to be convinced that they have no personal opinion, just reading the Bible for what it says.

  • Norman

    From MikeW #26 … CS Lewis quote … “Christianity is what it is, and was what it was, long before I was born and whether I like I or not.”

    I wonder what an old covenant Jewish Creed would have looked like in 50AD compared with the new Jewish Christians Creed of 50AD? I’m glad the majority status quo creed didn’t dialectically hold suit then.

  • RJS

    Norman,

    But the majority status quo creed didn’t dialectically hold suit then because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Unless we claim another such instance with evidence to back it up, the CS Lewis quote is quite to the point.

  • Norman

    RJS,

    And we certainly agree on that. However does it dialectically hold suit contextually for every instance of creedal development since then? I believe we indeed have a climax in time when we can categorically state Lewis’s case which was the original formation of the church. But we shouldn’t transpose it onto the historical interpretation or misinterpretation through various points of the historical church. There are often timing and contextual issues in Creeds that may seem innocuous but theologically can be problematic if misunderstood. IMHO :)

    I think we Evolutionist have found it out the hard way in our discoveries of how Genesis should be interpreted.
    Thank goodness for modern biblical interpretive methods helping us better understand the old.

  • MikeW

    Norman,

    Your points are well taken about being dogmatic about every *confessional* development and about interpreting Genesis, but submitting to the Creeds (the Apostles and Nicene) is not the same as holding to every subsequent confessional development and the Creeds only say what any valid interpretation of Gen 1-2 must say: God is the creator of heaven and earth.

  • Jesse Reese

    Scot’s point about the Regula Fidei is crucial, and lies behind both Canon AND Creed. The Regula Fidei is not any one creed or canon, but rather the shared understanding of the handed-down, Spirit-guided faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that allowed the Church to weed out heresies from the first to the fifth centuries. It was not a comprehensive account of EVERYTHING that the Faith teaches, but an essential narrative, trinitarian flow, and shape of teaching that was understood and expressed in a variety of ways yet with astounding consensus, as a cursory understanding of the earliest Christian documents attests. The shaping of both biblical Canon AND orthodox Creed (that is, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) arose from the Regula Fidei, and the only way that you can reject either or separate them is by rejecting the Regula Fidei, which, if I may, is self-contradictory.

  • Norman

    MikeW,

    Having discovered over the years the historical churches errors with hermeneutical applications regarding both Genesis and Revelation I’m not inclined to categorically interpret the Apostles Creed without investigation. My Genesis hermeneutic reinforces my Revelation eschatological investigations as they appear symbiotically tied to each other. The historical church has had a pervasive tendency to read themselves into the NT literature eschatologically when the 2nd Temple mindset that birthed the church was looking for a period of an eschatological ending and climax in the first century.

    The Apostles Creed is written from an ongoing eschatological perspective and so I can’t personally in good conscience recite it as my studies posit that the judgment between the sheep and the goats was a vindication of Christ that occurred eschatologically at AD70. Juridically then the “LIVING AND THE DEAD” were the first century remnant faithful (sheep/living) while the unrepentant Jews (goats/dead) were cast out of the covenant after being given the opportunity to embrace Christ. Vindication and judgment of the Old Covenant came at AD70 on the goats. We being faithful to Christ since then simply embrace the consummated Catholic Church of Christ that is eternal as long as the earth endures; entering fully into Christ forgiveness and gift of eternal life.

    Apostles Creed excerpt … “is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

    Now I can recite the Apostles Creed with good conscience if done so from the perspective of a historical application to the NT church of the first Century just as I can sing “I’ll fly away” while realizing like N. T. Wright that the church has gotten it wrong concerning “rapture” language as well (not eternal life). I just contextualize its proper setting theologically when I sing it.

    Now I could be wrong but if I’m correct and the historical church has contextually misapplied the concepts because we haven’t understood the metaphorical language of the Jews well, then just like we are finding out in Genesis then the church will be making adjustments in the future to Revelation and eschatology. So let’s step forward perhaps 200 years and see how Genesis and Revelation adjustments are made before saying that the Apostles Creed will always stand up as a contemporary creed of the church eternal. It will for the first century church but once the Kingdom was consummated then like the late First Century commentary of early Christians called the Barnabas Epistle states. We are living in the 8th Day after Christ established the 7th Day Rest. So the ancient earliest church doesn’t dogmatically claim the Apostles Creed will be represented, which is that one caveat that I have with it.

    The churches historical approaches are being freshly investigated today and Creeds are definitely up for reevaluation as they often apply scripture contextually wrong. Now traditionalist will be mortified just as they are with the work being currently performed in Genesis, however eschatology is more problematic for the church and will die a harder death because human nature cannot easily move off bad theology even when it’s pointed out its needed. Too many scholars lose their jobs over Genesis. Eschatology would cause a blood bath for scholars if people jumped from that traditional ship. This is why I don’t like infallible men locking us into Creeds even though they seem innocent enough. When they do they lock in control and squash investigation and make it nigh to impossible to correct things without major fights later when perhaps better insight is derived.

  • Mike M

    “…and the Creeds only say what any valid interpretation of Gen 1-2 must say: God is the creator of heaven and earth.” Really? Then why do we need creeds?
    The creeds are, by nature, extra- or suprabilical which means they reflect someone else’s interpretation of scripture. Perhaps whipping out a paper and reciting a creed (or even confessing one in church) gives comfort to the reciter so it may have its place.
    The “no creed” concept reminds me of one pastor I heard who said “let the theologians have their theology. We don’t need theology: we have Jesus.”

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    The points made in this post are generally aimed at Christians who are probably not thoughtful enough to even offer some of the pushback that has been offered here. Those pushing back against this post demonstrate that they have put a great deal of thought into what they take to be necessary beliefs for faith and practice, and why they take those things to be so, and why those decisions were made and not others. So this post, and that book, were most likely not written for you – it was written for those churches and church members whose theological and creedal decisions are made subconsciously and/or reflexively under the cover of a supposed biblicism.

    Re: Norman’s post about the Apostle’s Creed and eschatology. It is not possible to use NT Wright’s work in support of the idea that there is no actual future return of Christ and final judgement; if you believe his work in eschatology supports such a contention I would have to suggest that you have either misunderstood him or not read enough of him.

    You suggest that creeds “often apply Scripture contextually wrong.” Considering the Apostles’ Creed, I find it difficult to see how this is the case. Combining this with the insights Scot and others have mentioned concerning the mutually informing development of early Christian creedal statements and canonical Scripture, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that some sort of creedal deposit – a conviction about what happened in Christ in history and its significance for the world – was present from the very beginning and ought to continually serve as a guide for what the Church does and how we use Scripture.

  • Norman

    Rory,

    I used N.T. Wrights refutation of Rapture theology as an example that goes against the grain of the historical church not to say we agree on overall eschatology. I have serious issues with Wrights version of a renewed physical earth that he has come up with. You might also want to Google Wright on this. (N.T. Wright on Heaven & Rapture Theology )

    Also I don’t toe the line regarding the establishment of the scriptural canon. A little investigation indicates that the present version of the church canon whether its western protestant, Catholic, or eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian are all over the map on this issue. Which ones would you say were right and which ones wrong and how can you prove it. Possibly one way is to see what the OT and NT utilized as scripture which strongly indicates the Ethiopians got it right regarding the Book of Enoch which is quoted and alluded to extensively in the NT.

    People simply did not have the tools and resources in the early historical church to challenge positions that become dogmatic. If you did then you often paid severe consequences from the ruling class who quickly moved to take control of issues. Sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not so good. The idea that Creeds cannot be reevaluated with better hermeneutic tools is simply depending upon circular reasoning to maintain a status quo. We know how that played out with the Jews when Christ came to them. They wanted a physically ruling messiah as they determined from scripture and not one who was bringing a spirit led Kingdom. It’s easy to read what you want into scripture which the majority did regarding Christ thus missing the Boat.

  • Jesse Reese

    Norman,

    What on earth are you talking about with N.T. Wright? Rapture theology has only existed since the 1800s. Wright is only returning us to a MORE historical and MORE creedal perspective that can be found clearly reflected in such Fathers as Irenaeus and Chrysostom. And the exact relationship between the renewed physical earth and this one is up for debate, but no orthodox theologian in history has or can deny that there WILL be a renewed physical earth.

    Also, regarding the establishment of the biblical canon, the Reformation selected sixty-six books for a clear HISTORIC reason: “In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was NEVER ANY DOUBT in the Church.” In other words, of all the localized canons and the canons of the fathers and whatnot, THESE books have the longest and most doubtless record. It is still all about the consensus of the church and the Regula Fidei.

  • Glenn Z.

    Just look at the comments here and ask yourself which creed or creedal confession exists which, reasonably understood, represents a clearly united expression of the diversity seen here. This is one of the very real issues the non-creedalist raises with the creedalist. Whether one views such diverse expressions of faith to be supportive of or unsupportive of creedal confessions is likely near the core of being either creedal or non-creedal. To claim that any agreement for or against creeds actually indicates a creed for or against seems disingenuous to some extent.

    The issue seems to me to go well beyond consideration of creeds. This is about what confession is and what God has taught us … AND how we view diversity of expression of the faith proclaimed today in comparison to that proclaimed by Jesus and His chosen apostles. Does it matter when there are perceptible differences between the two ( the ‘then’ versus the ‘now’)? Is any difference we all agree exists merely a cultural difference?

    There are questions well beyond these few which need asking and answering, of course. What is the best way to address these and those? Does our creedal preference demand a particular response?

    It is good to have this discussion. It is good just to establish dialogue in a meaningful way. Communication is lifeblood to any perception of unity.

    I appreciate diverse expressions… particularly so when I consider that we are various believers in community in ONE BODY … in as much as we are perceived by God to be members of that Body.

    Our perceptions are and always will be secondary to God’s. It is a relationship thing … which may mark a place of common ground between both creedal and non-creedal approaches to life together in Christ.

  • Norman

    Jesse, and I’m also just pointing us back to a more historical period for how the earliest church understood eschatology not how it has changed and adapted over the ages. I go to the first century for the veracity of understanding while the historical church seems to follow a pattern similar to you in which they believe that developed tradition settles the matter. I simply disagree with that premise as it assumes infallibility upon fallible men (that premise has no foundation in the scriptures from what I can determine).

    Also the same can be said for the canon as I don’t bow at the feet of fallible reformationist no matter how good their intentions were. I don’t want their knowledge limitations limiting my investigation into the original audience understandings.

  • CGC

    Hi Norman,
    I’m curious on your reference to the song “I’ll fly away?” Were you refering to the songs original context or are you saying that the meaning of this song is wrong and you sing it with the true meaning of what Scripture means? If you mean the latter, how do you take the words of “I’ll fly Away” to mean? (do you take it as a kind of “Rapture theology?”).

    Thanks in advance . . .

  • Jon G

    I think I’m generally in agreement with Norman, here, but I have to admit he’s taken this conversation to a more academic place than I can follow.

    What I’m wondering is, along with what I think Glen is touching on in his first paragraph in #40, how is this not another case of what Christian Smith did with The Bible Made Impossible? Aren’t we subjegating our ability to think and grow to a system that declares and places lines over which we dare not cross?

    In full honesty, I am hesitant about the creeds because of my own conviction that the Trinity is false. As such, any creed declaring it becomes suspect to me. Now I certainly could be wrong, but when I see so much history of contradictory views coming out of the Church and the creeds coming from the same source, the whole lot gets spoiled for me. I don’t mean there isn’t wisdom to glean or material to be studied, just that I’m not going to die on that hill. It seems like Scot, and others here, are willing to do so.

    I appreciate Scot’s comment about Creed and Canon forming together, but I think I’ve also lessened my hold on the Canon because that too is a product of imperfect people. Hey, if Paul can be wrong about a historical Adam, can’t the Church be wrong about the Trinity?

    I’m not saying I don’t buy into the Canon, just that I approach it realizing that I might not have the whole story. Right now, my starting point is God (on my good days) then God in Jesus, then I move towards the witness that the Bible gives about God in Jesus. Some distance after that I pay attention to the creeds.

    I know that’s probably naive, but that’s where I stand. And yes, I know that I, too, am fallible which is why I often wonder if my beliefs are warranted. The best I can do is follow the evidence where I think it leads.

  • Norman

    CGC,

    Actually I love that song. I used to rock my children to sleep while singing it to them. It has that old mournful melodious rhythm that sedates. :) Depending of course on the tempo.

    Also I put a little qualifier in that post that referenced that my context indicated a rapture idea and not the idea of eternal life which I can certainly agree with at any time whether first century or now. You see I disagree with Wright in that I believe eternal Life is with God and in His presence and I believe that is where the faithful reside now that Hades has been destroyed and emptied and Death’s sting has been broken. Don’t ask me to paint a picture of Heaven though as I’d be speculating much like Wright is IMHO on a restored perfect earth. Who knows maybe Wright is correct or maybe God has a special gathering place for us that He has created. It matters little except for our imagination. What I do agree with on Wright is not to get wrapped up in escapism which is easy to do if we focus too much on the afterlife and not the redeemed life Christ has given us. We are called to be stewards for God as Priest and that requires a commitment.

    Heres the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away”

    Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away; To a home on God’s celestial shore, When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, When the shadows of this life have gone, Like a bird from prison bars has flown, Oh. How glad and happy when we meet No more cold iron shackles on my feet Just a few more weary days and then, To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away, fly away Oh Glory I’ll fly away; (in the morning) When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

    CGC, I essentially sing that song with varying thoughts and emotions as I’m led by the spirit. It’s probably not a rapture song in the purest sense so in that regard I should have picked a better song that exemplifies the rapture. Say “The Midnight Cry” (I just love that song as performed by the “Gold City Quartet”) but it is a perfect example of first century eschatology applied to a future rapture idea that permeates our evangelical fellowship. However that song brings goose bumps to me when I play it. It can really get you worked up. :)

    VERSE 1:
    I HEAR THE SOUND OF A MIGHTY RUSHING WIND AND IT’S CLOSER NOW THAN IT’S EVER BEEN I CAN ALMOST HEAR THE TRUMPET AS GABRIEL SOUNDS THE CALL AT THE MIDNIGHT CRY WE’LL BE GOING HOME.
    CHORUS:
    WHEN JESUS STEPS OUT ON A CLOUD TO CALL HIS CHILDREN THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE TO MEET HIM IN THE AIR AND THEN THOSE THAT REMAIN WILL BE QUICKLY CHANGED AT THE MIDNIGHT CRY (AT THE MIDNIGHT CRY) WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN

    I LOOK AROUND ME I SEE PROPHECIES FULFILLED AND SIGNS OF THE TIMES THEY’RE APPEARING EVERYWHERE I CAN ALMOST HEAR THE FATHER AS HE SAYS “SON GO GET YOUR CHILDREN.” AND AT THE MIDNIGHT CRY THE BRIDE OF CHRIST SHALL RISE.

    Blessings
    Norman

  • Jesse Reese

    Norman,

    Who was referring to a “developed tradition?” What I am saying is that N.T. Wright is NOT going against historic belief in his returning to Scripture to understand eschatology. No creedal statement contradicts his ideas. Wright is an Anglican. He uses and prays the creeds day in and day out, and openly affirms them. The reason for this is simple: The Nicene and Apostles’ creeds do not historically reflect the fanciful notion of political power oppressing diversity. Everything in them except for “of the same substance” in the NC is reflected in earlier expressions of the regula fidei in many places and times. Again, they reflect the same consensus of the church everywhere, always, and by all, not in some place, at a certain time, by some, that formed the canon.

    But if the idea that the consensus of the whole church does not determine the canon either is appealing to you, then frankly that is farewell. There is simply no standard for establishing either core belief or canon regarding God apart from a community of faith, except for what feels good to me here and now.

  • CGC

    Hi Jon G,
    I’m not sure in what sense you do not believe in the Trinity? I could be dense on this or maybe you wanted to be vague?

    Hi Norman,
    Did you know a church of Christ guy wrote the song? :-) {Albert E. Brumley 1905-1977} The reason I asked the question is am doubtful he had a dispensationalist rapture theology in mind when he wrote it. His eschatology was probably amillenial but I am not positive on that. I also suspect his main idea was simply about leaving this life for the afterlife and a kind of escaping the toils of earth for the joy of heaven. Anyhow, I did enjoy your response in #44. Shalom!

  • Norman

    CGC,

    Yes, you are likely correct, that song is more reflective of an amillenial perspective and is why I stated in the previous post that I should have picked a better example. I accept your correction and appreciate your depth of history.

    This kind of song/lyrics appears to be reflective of those who came out of the depression era burdens. There are some church of Christ song books that are really depressing and pessimistic. ;-( My wife and I like to take some of them along and sing from them when we travel. It becomes humorous and challenging to find some optimistic songs in some of those older hymnals.

    Thanks

    Norman

  • Norman

    Jesse,

    Does not the earliest church count in your evaluation of the understood canon? Do they not get a voice at the table? Who gets to decide why their list of acceptable scripture is unacceptable?

    Does the Apostate Jew council of around AD 90 get more say at the Christian Canon table than first century messianic Jewish Christians regarding who penned the OT and NT? The apostate Jews was the ones who rejected Christ yet we trust their leaders’ exclusion of some of the most profound messianic literature that influenced and birthed Christianity. Their propensity for messianic prophecy began to heavily wane after the destruction of their Temple in AD70, especially when the upstart Christian messiah predicted it as a sign of vindication against their murdering the faithful of God. (Matt 23) They only wanted God on their terms still and were sick and tired of messianic literature. In that environment we lost the spirit of the Messiah in books like Enoch and Jubilees and many others that we find quoted as scripture in the NT.

    I wear two hats in a manner of speaking. I have pastoral duties toward the health of our community of believers and yes we protect the flock which means we are gentle with what we feed them. But I also wear a Berean hat in which I investigate what I have presented before me as foundational for faith. What I don’t want is someone limiting my exercise of freedom of investigation to turn over every rock and look in every crevice that I can explore. As a science inclined type I don’t want people putting handcuffs on my investigation and if I turn up some unsettling ideas for some people then that may or may not be food for fodder. The truth cannot be hidden even in the name of protecting the flock. However since Truth is unsettling at times it therefore requires wisdom to decide on how to dispense it. That is why we discuss difficult issues here on Jesus Creed because it is an avenue of investigation and discussion that we can’t always have on the local flock level. These things tend to work themselves out over time and if they are truths then over time they will stand. If unwarranted limits have been place historically then eventually that will come to light also. God is always rising up a new generation of truth seekers who are not satisfied with the previous generations work. Of course that always unsettles the older generation and the traditionalist.

  • Mike M

    Jesse: ” Wright is an Anglican. He uses and prays the creeds day in and day out, and openly affirms them. The reason for this is simple: The Nicene and Apostles’ creeds do not historically reflect the fanciful notion of political power oppressing diversity. Everything in them except for “of the same substance” in the NC is reflected in earlier expressions of the regula fidei in many places and times.” Really? Constantine’s order for the clergy to address religious dissent is not political? And historical accuracy is not “fanciful.” Constantine was a politician. His forays into religion were no less intentioned to consolidate his power than were Ronny Reagan’s fluffing of the Religious Right despite having an astrologer on staff.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Jeff Y @13 says some excellent stuff. Please respond to it, y’all.
    I’m Scripture as Creed, not noncreedal _per se_. The advantage of Scriptural Creedalism Alone is that in that light we are all equal, all under the authority of God through His Word, rather than under the authority of a human institution or document. Having a locally “authoritative” Confession is useful and appropriate as a humanly interpreted synopsis of Christian beliefs and outline of practices, as a teaching and discipling guide, subject to revision as local bodies of believers may be lead by the Spirit.

    So Scot, you “believe in a creedal imperative, and this book can help more and more of us to find a common conversation around our common creeds and confessions.” Does that mean that you believe the Nicene-Constantinoplan Creeds are our “common” authority alongside and equivalent to scriptural authority? You seem to want to stand somewhere in the middle, not clearly saying whether scripture as our creed, inspired and instantiated by God’s Spirit, has the ultimate or exclusive authority in The Church, or whether the Creeds are an authoritative extension of the authoritativeness of the Bible. Where do you stand?

  • scotmcknight

    Richard, I confess the creeds as our common faith. Yes, the word “authority” may be a good word but I prefer our common “faith.” It is not equivalent in any way to scripture, but it is the church’s common reading of Scripture and common confess that in its earlier forms (regula fidei) formed a dialectical relationship with the rise of Scripture (qua Scripture). NT Scripture was, in its beginning, the gospel of Jesus the King/Messiah, Lord and Savior. That gospel emerged into the confession of 1 Cor 15 and then the regula fidei and then the Creed. There is nothing — as I read the Nicene-Const Creed that conflicts with Scripture; there is no one saying it tells us all we need to believe. So let me use the word authority now: it is the authoritative ecclesial summary of what needed to be expressed in the 4th Century. On its own it will not resolve all the issues a local church needs resolving, but it can unite us all into one Body and can also tie us to the faith of the church.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Just one more thought on Scot’s good comments. I know for some, the creeds are out because they are divisive. There are to many different creeds backed by competing theologies and denominations. But rather than all the confusion and sad history of the later creeds, the early creeds were a basis for unity, not division (except for those who want to give a postmodern critique of power over the marginalized and therefore Gnostic voices and other heretical voices should not have been silenced or they should be what is normative today rather than what is considered orthodoxy).

    The early trinitarian and Christological creeds are the very places where unity and consensus can be of great help in the ecumenical challenges that the church faces today. Because of Biblical pluralism, everybody fights over competing interpretations of the Bible. So should we throw the Bible out then? It seems the creeds can at least bring some semblence of unity and oneness where the Bible just leaves it up for more debates on hermeneutics.

  • MikeW

    Richard,

    I think Jef Y makes good points about the danger of creeds, namely, that creeds alway risk supplanting rather than supporting the unique authority of Scripture. So I am sympathetic to (and guilty of) the American, Protestant sensibility to be suspicious of human authority.

    That being said, I think we would agree that the scripture itself calls out to be interpreted and lived. And the Church is, for better and worse, the necessary, Bible-inspired response to that call. In the Creeds, the Church *as a people* has responded by setting the basic trajectory for future, theological faithfulness – not prescribing every jot and tittle like the Rabbinic tradition (a la Jesus’ critique).

    To be clear, I have no special love for creeds in generally, but in these two creeds I hear the Church as a whole body responding faithfully the the Bible’s call to be interpreted, proclaimed, and lived.

  • Mike M

    Apparently the line of non-Trinitarians is to be be dismissed because of Nicea. That line started with Polycarp who was a student of John. Polycarp influenced Irenaeus, who taught Hippolytus of Rome. So are these Fathers heretics because they didn’t believe the same thing as the thugs who won?

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Thanks for your response Scot. I’m a bit uncertain what you mean by the saying “I confess the creeds as our common faith.” It seems rather that our faith is to be expressed in relation to Christ and what God has done and promises to do with and through Christ; this is the Gospel (not in detail, but..), right? The Apostles Creed doesn’t actually reflect much in the way of details that one finds in The Gospels, and surely doesn’t reflect much of the story of the whole
    Bible as one finds it, for instance, in Acts as Stephen proclaimed it. There is some kind of bullet point outline, but fairly inadequate in my mind.

    Whether the Nicene-Const Creed expresses “the faith” common to the Apostles or not seems to depend on whether one accepts the authority of an admittedly prevailing ecclesial social structure surely subsequent to and not necessarily in continuity with the solidification of canonical scripture. In any case, one should I think, at least hesitate to assert that “there is nothing — as I read the Nicene-Const Creed that conflicts with Scripture” since it explicitly claims that the Holy Spirit is “with the Father and the Son together … worshiped and glorified,” but there is no example of this in the New Testament. There is no record of or picture of or reference to the Holy Spirit being worshiped or glorified alongside or together with Scripture. Is there? If I’ve missed something in my reading of the the NT please refer me to those texts. This seems to me to be in conflict with Scripture. I realize that subtle arguments may get us to that conclusion, but the idea that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person equal to God the Father is probably too far removed from Israelite revelation to be seen as not in conflict with Scripture. JMO perhaps.
    Regarding your concluding comment, though possibly more on the level of a quibble over words (forgive me if it seems so), but saying of the Nicene-Const Creed that “it can unite us all into one Body” sounds a bit too much like you’ve given it a sort of power that some hypostatic union with God might provide. Yeah, I may be being a bit snarky, but your comment is a reminder of the way idolatrous authority gets spread around in human circles. While it may tie us to the One Church, this derivative authority may also merely tie us to human traditions rather than the faith of the Apostles.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Oh, that should have read: “glorified alongside or together with [in] Scripture.”

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    OK, let me try once more: Oh, that should have read: “glorified alongside or together with [them in] Scripture.

    Now, MikeW @ 53:
    It is not just an “American, Protestant sensibility to be suspicious of human authority.” Jesus was not just suspicious of human authority but clearly proscribed it. We should follow Jesus in His tradition over those who claim to be His disciples but proved they weren’t by persecuting and lording it over other believers with their traditions. This is not post-modern, nor radically political, but a biblical call to live what Jesus taught, to be what Jesus calls us to be, rather than to believe things that aren’t explicit in scripture but have been prescribed by men, by men who overlooked and ignored what Jesus taught while they were doing it. It was not “the people” of the church that wrote the Creeds, but those willing to impose their will on others, those who forced others to confess things they had concluded on the basis of their own reasoning, then using the coercive power of the world system Christ has promised to overthrow when he returns to insure others’ compliance. The question here is not whether “the church” was responsible for authoring the Creeds, but whether the Creeds are inspired or authoritative in some sense equivalent to the Scriptures. You say the first two Creeds are faithful to Scripture; I doubt it.

  • Mike M

    This is how “some semblence of unity and oneness” was actually achieved:
    “In addition, if any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offence, he shall be submitted for capital punishment…..”
    — Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians.

  • Jon G

    CGC @ #46 -

    I’m not sure if this post is dead yet, but I thought I would answer you anyway…

    “Hi Jon G,
    I’m not sure in what sense you do not believe in the Trinity? I could be dense on this or maybe you wanted to be vague?”

    I wasn’t trying to be vague. I just felt that this wasn’t really the place to go into my whole thinking on this subject, but my impression of the Nicean Creed, which is pretty universally affirmed nowadays, and Trinitarianism in general is that there is the belief in an eternal Son, eternal Spirit, and eternal Father (by “eternal” it is meant that they always existed as 3 yet 1). I don’t get the logic of 3 yet 1, but regardless, in the Bible I see one God named Jehovah, who is “The Father” and posesses a spirit that he uses to indwell physical temples (temples generically, not literally), entering into a physical temple called Jesus. I believe that Jehovah has, as his ultimate plan, the marrying of the physical and spiritual realms and what we see in Jesus is this occuring.

    Jesus is “God with us”. Jesus means “Jehovah saves”. I believe that Jesus was/is Jehovah, the Father, indwelling a human temple. I see no Biblically necessary reason to speculate further that there are actually 3 different entities who are also 1 entity. Therefore, any creed suggesting such a reason is suspect in my mind. At the very least, I don’t think it should be a central (necessary) claim of Christianity. The fact that the NT writers never once explicitly said so is a huge red flag for me in terms of treating it as such.

    Again, this is just a brief summary of a much longer line of my thinking. I’m sure it raises more questions than answers in your mind but that’s where I find myself.

    Peace,
    Jon G

  • MikeW

    Richard, regarding your last question: the Protestant view, generally speaking, is that tradition has a certain authority, with certain parts of tradition being generally agreed to carry greater authority than others, but never rising to the level of Scriptural authority. I think several people, including Scot, have said that.

    Help me understand: are you against any creedal authority, per se – or is it these two creeds in particular that you find problematic?

  • Jon G

    Scot @ #51 -

    Please don’t feel I’m being argumentative here. I’m genuinely wondering…

    You say about the creeds “but it is the church’s common reading of Scripture and common confess that in its earlier forms (regula fidei) formed a dialectical relationship with the rise of Scripture (qua Scripture). ” And then go on to explain how it unites us (assuming we agree with it).

    I’m wondering if you are claiming that the fact that the Church commonly reads something a certain way gives it creedence. And if so, how would you address the common reading of the Gospel over the last, say, 100 years as soteriological? In a similar way, the Gospel of personal salvation united us over the last century plus, but Your KJG completely undermines it as “the Gospel”. How is your affirmation of the Nicean Creed any different than the 20th century’s affirmation of the Salvation Gospel in terms of common acceptance leading to validity?

    I’m thinking that common acceptance of the Church should require consideration, but I’m a long way from saying that it should provide affirmation. It seems…and I could be misreading you…that you are saying the Church’s common acceptance of the Creeds provides affirmation of its truthfulness rather than simply consideration.

    Am I off base?

    Jon G

  • CGC

    Hi Jon G,
    Thanks for your answer on the Trinity. Actually, I hear many Latin American Christians and other global Christians say similar things so although I don’t have a problem with Trinitarian language, I think there is room on this one as you express.