08 March 2011

Interesting question

in Bible Class last Sunday:  can a person who denies a specific part of the Creed still be regarded as a Christian?  I thought immediately of how the Methodists (at least, last time I checked) dropped "He descended into hell" from the Apostles' Creed, and I said:  Yes.  Yes, but...

And the but is this:  the Creeds hand over the faith as a whole body.  Can you still live, if you chop off your hand or your leg?  Yes, but living becomes that more difficult, and the danger of infection runs rife - zeroing in on the beating heart.  Can a person be healed and learn to get along without some piece of the Creed's confession of the faith?  Yes, but if they suggest then that hopping around on a single foot is actually all one needs, and a whole body isn't that important and they wish to stop chopping off our feet...well, you can see where I'm headed.  Luther famously said:  Lass das Sakrament ganz bleiben - let the Sacrament remain whole.  Same for the Creeds that express the faith of the Holy Church.  Let them remain whole.  They hand over to us the faith of our fathers to us not in pieces, but in whole.

It becomes a deadly game to play:  how much can I chop out and still remain alive?  Rather we should ask:  why settle for anything less than the fullness, the whole corpus of the faith, that the Creeds witness to and confess?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The image I like to use it this - I think of false doctrine as chips and cracks in a cup or mug. Can one still drink out of it -- perhaps, depending on how devastating the cracks are -- but the big danger is durability. If I knock my solid, CTS mug over, no harm, no foul - nothing is hurt. But if I knock over a cracked and damaged mug, it is much more likely to shatter.

An error does not automatically destroy faith, but it makes it much more likely to shatter from the banging and bruising you'll receive in the world.

Pastor Matt said...

This reminds me of an illustration that is used by Kolb in his book, "The Christian Faith." Several years ago I drafted up a teaching sheet to illustrate Kolb and some of you thoughts.




Pr. Chuck Sampson said...

Well stated, Pastor Weedon. In our area a large number of Lutheran congregations have dropped the Creed as a part of Sunday worship, contending that "Creeds and doctrine divide." In response I decided to include the confession of the Creed in our radio broadcasts. I have been gratified to hear from many outside our congregation how much they appreciate the inclusion of the Creeds.

melxiopp said...

Doesn't Mueller, at least, make a distinction between those doctrines that absolutely must be believed from those that are unquestionable but that may not be believed out of ignorance, lack of faith, etc.? He says it better and more exactly qualified than I am remembering it.

Anonymous said...

Edward Koehler's "Summary of
Christian Doctrine" says "It is not
our purpose to prove the teachings
of the Bible true to the satisfaction
of human reason, but merely to show
that we teach in agreement with the
Bible." Our Lutheran Confessions
state that the Word of God shall
establish articles of faith.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Well said Pastor Weedon, 'you could, but why would you want to?' Perhaps it's the old Adam's tendancy hope that he will be the one exception to a rule rather than seek shelter in the one who obeyed them all.

George said...

I have to say that these questions, common as they are, often betray the fact that we are intensely interested in other people's state of salvation. This, I fear, makes salvation into a theoretical game -- what's the least people need to believe, what's the least people need to do (!), what about people who've never heard, what about the guy who was struck by lightening while on the way to his own baptism...

Some of these are ridiculous, some reasonable hypotheses, but all are asking about other people, and only mask the real question "am I saved?" To that end, when a person asks this kind of question, I think we need to redirect it towards the questioner. Is there something you don't believe or don't want to believe? Why? What does that say about your faith in Christ? Sometimes people think of the creed (or confessions, or whatever) as a bunch of independent stuff that can be chosen as off a buffet. This is not true. Let the apostles' teaching remain whole, as has been said. I see any attempt to separate doctrines into essential and nonessential as a denial of the unity of God's Word. Either it's doctrine or it's an open question (or something like that).

The practical reality that individual people might misunderstand or be ignorant regarding a doctrine (whether essential or not) and yet be saved by grace through faith is not of the utmost concern to me. As a teacher of the faith I am much more concerned with explicating in all the scriptures the things concerning Christ and helping people guard the faith as entrusted to them through the power of the Spirit.

However, I do think your (Pr. Weedon) illustration of the amputee is apt. I didn't intend to rant...

Dennis Pfleiger said...

I always liken this to people who think that the faith is a buffet line. I will have a little bit or this and that. The truth is that there is a deposit a faith, the faith once delivered to the saints. This is what we are to earnestly contend for. To make choices, really is nothing other than to say that I know better than all of Christendom.

Jim Huffman said...

I think there needs to be a distinction made between 3 groups: those who do not know the Creed(s), those who do not understand the Creed correctly, and those who understand, but will not accept what is taught therein.

The first group includes lots of American Christians. I think of our Baptist brethren, many of whom have no acquaintance with the Creed, and in many of the independent or primitive Baptists, even the pastors will be unfamiliar with them. Someone (Sasse?) spoke of those who did not deny what is taught in the Creed, but were unfamiliar with it.

The second group includes a lot of folks. I think that those who teach would do well to occasionally ask, "When you confess 'x', what are you meaning by that confession?" We are coming up at the end of decades of bad (and sometimes non-existent) catechesis, and we need to ensure that folks understand correctly. There's a lot of work to be done.

Finally, there's the 3rd group. When someone who says, "Yes, I KNOW what it says, I just don't BELIEVE it," the time has probably come to quit talking so much, and start (or keep on) praying for such a one. The authority of God's word has been decimated in our time. That some will not listen to such authority should not be surprising.

Anonymous said...


I like your illustration.
I have used one similar to it when asked a similar question:
Suppose that I made you some fudge brownies. I use all the correct ingredients--milk, flour, cocao, sugar, etc. with one exception. I have a dog and I mix his feces in with the brownie mix.
It probably won't kill you if you eat the brownies, but do you really want to eat dog crap?

Former Vicar

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

Hi, Bill!

Two thoughts come to mind. One was from a brother who is no longer in our circuit. The whole issue of salvation for many is like the Bridge of Death over the Gorge of Eternal Peril. What questions do I have to get right to cross over?

The second is just about any confirmation class in which an exercise (i. e., test) is given. The first question: How many can we get wrong and still pass? My answer: You have to get everything right.

God does not grade on a curve, and the faith passed down to us by the prophets and apostles is, as you say, a whole. The fact is, it is not given to us to decide which parts we'll believe and which parts we won't.

By the way, the illustration of the body is really good.

God bless!
Pastor Kevin Jennings

Paul said...

The question that comes to my mind first is - "Which part?" If we want to ignore/leave out/disbelieve the "descended into hell" phrase, that may not be a major point of conflict for many people.

But what if the part is "maker of heaven and earth"? Or what if the part is "I believe in the Holy Spirit"? I'm fairly certain we'd be quick to say that omitting these parts of the creed would remove someone from the pale of Christianity. Why are we willing to bargain in other areas? Are we that much smarter or more enlightened than the Church Fathers? Should the creeds be redressed then in light of this newer wisdom? And if not, why bother confessing them at all if we don't agree that they are a true distillation of the core of Christian truth?

The Creeds are pretty broad - they don't talk about what type of baptism we should practice. They don't address what happens during Holy Communion. They don't even touch on the use of organs in worship, and we all know that's a doctrinal must. If the Creeds are now too constricting, on what shall we stand united?

I concur with what some others here have noted - the Creeds are not an explanation in rational terms of Scriptural truths or doctrines. They are a summary of the core Biblical statements about the triune God. We don't have to understand them all, but we ought to be able to confess that the Bible indeed makes these statements, and therefore we ought to take them seriously, even if we seriously don't understand them.