Eleven Theses on Being a Creedal Christian

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1. Confession of the creed is not just about faith, but is an exercise of faith. The creed, while being an expression of true doctrine, involves us adopting a committed posture of trust in the God whose identity we declare. It brings together faith as a subjective disposition and commitment relative to an identified God with faith as the objective deposit and integral act of the Church throughout its history.

2. The creed symbolizes the intensely personal posture of faith as one shared with other Christians and the Church throughout many ages. In confessing the creed we recognize faith as a constitutive act of the Church that we all participate in together. The confession of the creed challenges the privatization of faith and any sharp individual/corporate dichotomies. By teaching us to articulate our faith in borrowed language, the creed alerts us to the fact that our personal faith is rooted in and receives its strength from the faith of the body of Christ over history.

3. The creed serves to focus our faith on its personal object. The creed is a positive statement of the identity of the Triune God whom we trust and worship. It expresses God’s identity in terms of those acts through which he has made himself known to us, through creation, salvation and revelation in Christ, the Spiritual life of the new creation, and eschatological judgment.

4. The creed is confessed as a norm of faith, not just a summary of faith that happens to be true. While as Protestants we hold that Scripture is the means by which God exercises final authority in the life of the Church, the creed has a deep yet subordinate authority. When we confess the creed we do not merely affirm that its statements are true, but we acknowledge them as authoritative for our articulation of the faith. The confession of the creed is a symbolic expression of our submission to the authority and pedagogy of the Church.

5. The creed is a yardstick of orthodoxy. The creed provides a means by which we can test teachings to see whether they are consistent with the faith confessed by the Church throughout its history. The creed is given to us as a tool by which to discern error and as a form within which to recognize shared truths. Much is implied within the creed that is not explicitly stated. Various theological stances adopted by people who express the creed may be discovered to be unorthodox as their positions are revealed to be contrary to the creed on account of their hidden implications.

6. The creed is not a lowest common denominator of faith. Our confession of the creed does not mean that our position is completely orthodox and beyond challenge or censure. Rather, our confession of the creed is a principle upon which we enter into and proceed in challenging conversation with each other. Through this conversation we must demonstrate that we keep faith with the Church’s position expressed in the creed. It is a standard to which we submit ourselves and by which we will be tested.

7. The creed isn’t comprehensive. The creed doesn’t mention several doctrines of great importance. The creed focuses upon identifying the one in whom we trust. While it may be somehow implied within it, the creed doesn’t explicitly teach such things as the creation of humanity in God’s image, for instance. One could argue that it doesn’t explicitly teach salvation by grace either. However, providing a comprehensive declaration of Christian faith was never its purpose.

8. The creed presents us with its truth in embryonic form. The statements of the creed need to be unpacked. What it means for the Church to be ‘one holy catholic and apostolic’ is not necessarily obvious on the surface of things. It must be expounded. Further, like the summary of the Torah—the two great commandments—and the Ten Commandments, it is the compression of a much larger body of material into a statement that contains the whole in nuce. The summary and the full exposition are mutually illuminating. The summary highlights the purpose and telos of the various parts, while the more extensive body of law within the Torah fleshes out what the two great commandments and the Ten Commandments might mean in concrete practice. We dare not dispense with one for the sake of the other. Without the summary, the integrity and focus of the larger corpus of material can be lost sight of: without the larger corpus of material, the summary can become the victim of considerable interpretative license.

9. The creed is not the only thing that defines the faithful. The creedal definition of orthodoxy—its identification of the God whom we worship and its adoption of a posture of faith relative to him—must be complemented by standards of orthopraxy, standards which identify those practices, rites, and behaviours within which his character and blessing is expressed and known. Although the Apostles’ Creed may speak about the ‘communion of saints’, this is not an explicit declaration of the doctrine of the Eucharist. However, it would be strange indeed if we could express Christian faith without any reference to the Eucharist. There is nothing about our commitment to the poor, nor is there anything about Christian sexual or economic ethics. All of these issues are given great importance in Scripture. The creed must be accompanied by the liturgical and moral norms of the Christian Church. Some have recently argued, for instance, that treating same-sex marriage as an issue upon which Christian orthodoxy is at stake is a challenge to some supposed ‘sufficiency’ of the historic Christian creeds. Yet the creeds were never intended to be ‘sufficient’ to define the faithful.

10. The relative importance of issues cannot necessarily be deduced from their absence from the creed. The creed doesn’t directly address the issue of the construction of idols nor does it condemn the taking of God’s name in vain. It doesn’t really tackle the prohibition of wilful murder. Nevertheless, I think that all of us would rightly recognize such matters as non-negotiable matters of first importance. The importance of issues is not always immediately obvious. Issues that may seem trifling can assume considerable weight when they directly impinge upon matters of primary importance. For instance, while the historicity of most governorships within the Roman Empire might be of limited importance, somewhat more is at stake when we are discussing the historicity of Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judaea. This truth is of some consequence, as it impinges upon several matters of primary importance. As our faith is overwhelmingly (and appropriately) articulated in positive statements, we do not usually explicitly oppose positions that might nonetheless impinge directly upon matters of core importance. Nevertheless, when claims that compromise truths of first importance arise, we must forcefully attack them, even though some might receive the impression that we have badly lost sight of the relative proportion of issues in the process.

11. The creed affirms the authority of the Scriptures and cannot be used to dispense with, marginalize, or denigrate them. The ‘normed norm’ recognizes the authority of the ‘norming norm.’ We confess that Christ died and rose again ‘according to the Scriptures’ and that the Holy Spirit ‘spake by the prophets’. As Chris Seitz argues, implicit in these expressions is a declaration of the faithful and authoritative testimony of the Scriptures and their witness to Christ.

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6 Responses to Eleven Theses on Being a Creedal Christian

  1. Dominic says:

    Reblogged this on Defunct Creakings of a Cog and commented:
    5. The creed is a yardstick of orthodoxy. The creed provides a means by which we can test teachings to see whether they are consistent with the faith confessed by the Church throughout its history. The creed is given to us as a tool by which to discern error and as a form within which to recognize shared truths. Much is implied within the creed that is not explicitly stated. Various theological stances adopted by people who express the creed may be discovered to be unorthodox as their positions are revealed to be contrary to the creed on account of their hidden implications.

    ***************

    A rather interesting discussion… however, I guess I’m a little more “postmodern” in that I don’t see creeds or confessions as expressing timeless true propositions but as historically immanent acts of communicating Scripture’s meaning by the Church. To repeat myself again, I no more feel bound to die on the hill of the “ousia” of the Nicene Creed than to insist on the language of “satisfactions” in the Augsburg Confessions.

    The Nicene Creed was formulated as an answer to a very specific historical controversy and issue, not as new revelations expanding the deposit of our faith. We need to take the Anglican article concerning the sufficiency of Scripture containing all things necessary for salvation seriously, not merely pay lip service to it while parading the Nicene Creed as some infallible test of orthodoxy. If Christians in the first three centuries didn’t need the Nicene Creed to live and die for Christ, neither do we. However, we often fetishise the Nicene Creed by elevating it on par to God’s Word to us.

    To use slightly more Presbyterian language, I would take a “systems” view of the confessions and creeds, not a subscription to every proposition, line or word contained in the confessions but rather to the broader principles and system of theology articulated by the confessions.

    As Protestants, it is vital to remember that the Scriptures must ultimately occupy a central and supreme place in the life of the Church’s preaching, not merely as a storehouse of stories or narratives to provide a colourful illustration for some more fundamental theological system or proposition. The confessions and creeds exists to facilitate the communication of Scripture’s meaning, not usurp it. When the confessions or creeds are preached in place of Christ as itself a datum of faith rather than as an instrument for the communication of Scripture’s meaning, then the fundamental Protestant principle of sola scriptura has been lost.

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  4. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    The creeds come to us against a certain cosmological backdrop that was, up until quite recently, shared by just about everyone. The creeds defined Christianity against other positions which still accepted the same backdrop. The problem with relying on them to define ourselves now is that the very backdrop is in question, so you get people who affirm the incarnation, resurrection etc., but have a very materialist view of the cosmos.

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