In the rapidly changing world of the early 21st century – what has been called “liquid modernity” – maintaining Christian integrity is difficult for many people. The revivalism of 19th century Protestantism, which forms the foundation of American evangelicalism, historically eschewed creeds, preferring instead to rely simply on the Bible, if not strictly on the New Testament. Defending one’s faith today or that of the Christian community to which one belongs against a myriad of Bible interpretations, skepticisms or denials can be overwhelming. Many evangelical churches today maintain a “What We Believe” page on their websites, showing the need for a clear summary of the faith.
The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals presented its first annual Prince George Lecture on Reformed Theology at Greenbelt Baptist Church on September 23-24. Speakers discussed the need for creeds, the First and Second Nicene Creeds, and the Chalcedonian formula of the full divinity and humanity of Christ.
JV Fesko, professor of Systematic and Reformed Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, began by discussing the need for creeds. He said early 19th century reformation leader Alexander Campbell “spoke the famous statement ‘no creed but the Bible.’ It was “not just a mantra, but a creed, however short”. It has in fact become “a battle cry” for much of American evangelicalism.
Congregationalists and Presbyterians, who actually subscribed to the old beliefs, made up 39% of the American population at the start of the 19th century, but “some 75 years later their numbers have fallen to about 15% of the American population.” This decline was due to the nature of the new nation, which extended westward. The absence of a physical environment with ancient monuments and buildings that speak of the Christian past has caused people to turn only to the universally recognized authority among Christians, namely the Bible, and then to preachers, perhaps to be itinerant preachers, proclaiming the Bible’s message of salvation. . These preachers were often not trained in a seminary, but simply understood the basic gospel shared by Protestant Christians.
A creed can be defined as “human statements of Bible truth.” Fesko asked what “the Bible itself has to say about creeds and denominations.” Is a do-it-yourself Christianity plausible from the perspective of the Bible writers? He cited short creeds used in the Bible, which give very brief but crucial statements of doctrines expounded in the Bible, as proof of the correctness of creeds according to the scriptures. But beyond that, and especially in the highly individualistic world of the 21st century, Fesko believes beliefs are “necessary for the Church.”
Creeds in the Bible
A good definition of tradition is “something that is passed down”. It comes from the Latin word “trado” or “to put back”. A passage like Exodus chapter 13, which conveys the events of salvation concerning the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and how these events are to be taught to future generations, has been cited by Fesko to show that biblical faith is inseparable from belief. In addition to storytelling, they also teach a “theology that explains[s] these events. The importance of this passage was to convey the truth to future generations. Essentially, God authorized a particular tradition in Exodus 13, although for many American Christians, tradition is “a dirty word.” Americans tend to view it as “too confining”.
Likewise, the “Shema” is found in the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5). This short creed – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” – amounted to the “constitution for the nation”. It is a “confession of faith”, authorized and commanded by God to be repeated through all generations.
What the Shema shows is first of all “the need for orthodoxy”. God deserves our “solitary affection.” Then, “it involves love” and love “with all that you have”. Finally, there is “catechesis,” or the teaching of correct doctrine. “These three things should be integrated into the life of God’s people.”
In the New Testament, Fesko said, short creeds are called “faithful sayings,” also translated as “trustworthy sayings.” He defined “faithful speech” as “Jesus’ reaffirmation of the truth of Scripture in the church’s own words”. These statements were so faithful to the teaching of Jesus “that Paul could incorporate them into his inspired epistles.” Some of the faithful words of the Pastoral Epistles are I Tim. 1h15:
“this word is trustworthy and worthy of all acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”,
Me Tim. 3:1:
“it’s a trustworthy saying, if anyone aspires to overseer [or bishop] he desires a noble task,”
Me Tim. 4:7:
“have nothing to do with silly myths, rather train yourself in piety”,
and II Tim. 2:11-13:
“If we died with him, we will also live with him, if we endure, we will also reign with him, if we deny him, he will also deny us, if we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself -same. ”
The last saying agrees with the words of Jesus in Matt. 10:22 a.m.:
“you will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
These words show that the doctrinal formulas constructed by Christian believers “can be true to the Word of God,” since they have been incorporated into the Word of God. Other such formulas do not carry the authority of divine inspiration, but that “does not mean that they cannot be true”. Additional doctrinal formulas in the New Testament that Fesko considered constructed by early Christians, which were also incorporated into Scripture, and therefore authoritative, are Titus 3:4-8 (probably a baptismal formula):
“but when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the works of righteousness which we had done, but because of his mercy, by the bath of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out abundantly upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, that, justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. It’s a trustworthy saying. And I want you to emphasize these things, so that those who have put their trust in God will be careful to dedicate themselves to doing what is right. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Similarly, Jude 3-4 states:
“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write to you and exhort you to fight for the faith which was entrusted once for all to the holy people. of God. Because certain individuals, whose condemnation has been written for a long time, have slipped secretly among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license of immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
The use of beliefs
Fesko said these passages show “a biblical mandate for confessions, as well as catechesis.” Creeds are like “ebenezers,” or memory stones set in place to remind the Israelites of “the past activity and revelation of God,” and look forward to defining faith in the future. The creeds aim to “preserve the living faith of the dead, and not the dead faith of the living”. Our own faith must be deeper than our own conversion experience, Fesko said, but must also include confessions from the past. “We can have our creeds and our confessions, as long as they are subject to the authority of the Scriptures.” Prayers and preaching involve using our own words; they don’t just repeat the words of the Bible. In Nehemiah 8:8, the Jewish scribes gave the post-exilic Jews not only the words of the law, but also [the hearers] to understand reading. He said “this is how we pass on the truth of the scriptures from generation to generation”.
Generational continuity is certainly necessary in the contemporary world. There are so many unbiblical paths for a young person in a Christian home to follow, not just among their peers, but from the electronic media available to them. People tend to give priority, or at least some priority, to the beliefs of their parents. But churches still need foundational doctrines. Those stated in a “What We Believe” page may be good, and for an evangelical church, are likely rooted in the modernist-fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. But the church of the early Christian centuries was not only closer to Christ and the apostles, but also faced persecution and conflict in the church. There have always been conflicts and more and more persecution. The statements of the undivided church of those early centuries can be defended from the Bible, have informed much of Christian history, and deserve our attention and allegiance.
Later presentations at the conference dealt with the First and Second Nicene Creeds and the Chalcedonian formula of the two natures of Christ. They will be reviewed in subsequent articles.