According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Remembering Covenant - A Short History of Church Creeds and Confessions


Israel's Creeds and Confessions

I've listed five synopses of the Church Creeds and Confessions from five different referring websites. The reader may also use http://www.wikipedia.org/ as an additional corroborating resource. To begin, please note that there are in addition to the church's creeds and confessions even more ancient creedal statements found within the Bible's Old and New Testament passages which have not been cited here in this post. However, the first several websites presented below will provide a (comprehensive?) list of those early confessionals. These biblical confessions are different both in type and historical procession from the later arising church creeds and confessions used by the early Church Fathers. However, they would have functioned similarly amongst the tribes and nation of Israel as did the confessional creeds that necessarily arose during the historical passage of the Church through its many historical councils and fervent-minded congregations.

Israel's History

Any adverse sociological stress experienced by alienated people groups can be cause for the creation of new societal charters within progressive-minded societies seeking freedom and liberty from tyranny and oppression. This was so for Israel who left Egypt's tyranny  and crossed the Red Sea under Moses (a step brother to the ruling Pharaoh whom they fled). The subsequent years spent wandering in the Wilderness created opportunity to come to grips with being a freed people; to examine what it meant to worship the God of their Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (known as Yahweh, YHWH) when once a free people living in the land of Canaan hundreds of years earlier; and to determine what kind of religious government they would create. They also bore with them a recently enforced slave identity in their latter years of living in Egypt's fertile eastern delta area known as the land of Goshen. Before this many generations had come-and-gone since leaving Canaan making them a foreign people to the lands they had left (because of drought and famine in Jacob's day) and an alienated people in the lands they now lived amongst Egyptian society and culture.

As a result, through Moses' leadership they left Egypt under duress and entered the arid regions of the wilderness located between Goshen and Canaan. Here God gave to Israel an ethos to live by (known as the 10 Commandments); instructed the creation of a new system of worship through the building of the Tabernacle and establishment of a priestly system through the tribe of Levi; and instituted a series of religious festivals and memorials, diets and proscriptions, civic laws and arrangements to help a despised and evicted people become a functioning society with their own identity of religious liberty and justice, commerce and trade, celebrations and evolving culture. Next would come 40 years of societal movement fraught with situational ethics that caused the emancipated tribes of Israel to further define their form of faith, religious constitution, and societal structures under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. When several generations had lived and died (some, but not all) they then crossed into Palestine against the warring tribes of Canaan. Perhaps this was out of the need and necessity of living in a harsh desert region for so many long years and the resultant depletion of resources. But we are told it was because of their desire to live in a "land of fruit and honey." A land that was not as harsh as the desert. Though perhaps the desert wilderness itself had become more severe in recent years. Or perhaps they had finally realized that a return to their adoptive lands in Egypt (the land of Goshen) had finally become impossible through the rule of another Pharaoh remembering their slavery, the destitution that the 10 plagues brought upon Egypt because of Isarael's God, and the hardship that was brought upon the state by keeping an unwanted people that had prospered and grown larger than Egypt's own people of the Nile. For these reasons and more God instructed Israel's Bedouin bands to migrate East-by-North back into the ancient lands of their Patriarchal Fathers.

Several hundred years would pass as the tribes of Israel settled into the land of Palestine and would subsequently experience a succession of priests and prophets until finally enacting themselves into a federated nation-state led by a series of good and bad kings like the nations around them. This soon resulted in the breakup of their nation into 10 northern tribes and 2 southern tribes known as Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Years would pass as Israel disobeyed her covenants and accepted the idolatrous practices and attitudes of her neighbors around them which would eventuate in her defeat by wicked Assyria's much stronger northern power and subsequently an enforced exile from the land of Canaan. Much later the southern nation of Judah composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (the younger brother to Joseph) would also go into enforced servitude into Babylon (itself having defeated their hated enemy Assyria) because of unfaithfulness to YHWH that would lead to poorer decision making and lower standards of ethos. By-and-by while in Babylon's service Judah repented and showed a desire to return to the land of "fruit and honey." Helped by the prophet Daniel, and led by Nehemiah, Israel was agreeably freed from their captor Babylon and under Ezra's leadership (among others) rebuilt not only their houses and lands, but the Temple and Jerusalem, their religious charters and constitutions, as they worked towards reinstating their ancient religion as guide and resource for their decimated cultural heritage established under their God Yahweh.

A heritage which had been in decline for 900 years from Israel's earliest days of returning to the land of Canaan from Egypt and from their desert wilderness experience of wandering for 40 years having weathered the highs-and-lows of covenantal/creedal confessionals and a religious self-awareness affecting their knowledge of God, their worship of God, the responsibilities of their government, and even their societal structures.  Similarly, we will later see similar kinds of societal movement within the history of the Church in all of its social obligations and comportments, cultural synthesis of societal philosophies and technologies, and even their own societal identities and civic conducts. So that through the Intertestamental period (the time between the OT and NT eras), and until the birth of Jesus, Israel was forced once again to re-write and re-institute what their ancient convenantal charters would mean to them as a present day help and provisional guide in the years ahead. As has been observed, each period of their historical experience of trying to follow God and to live out their godly heritage was fraught with a parallel spiritual movement, either up-or-down. Thus provoking reactions of faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God, and consequently to their form (or instructed outcome) of religious creeds and confessions pertaining to their observance or enactments of God's perceived laws and blessings. Creeds that were never static and were constantly evolving through time and historical situation in accordance with their own historical progress and evolution experienced once as a free people; then as a society of slaves; to living in the desert as ancient Bedouins; to incorporated (covenant-keeping) tribal federations; to a nation-state that later dissolved; to separate experiences of exile and bondage to foreign powers; and finally to a return from bondage to live out lost hopes and dreams locked away in the distant memories of glory and honor once  beheld and envisaged. As a consequence, the OT will have within its text a number of confessional creeds that the Jewish tribes and congregations would write and subscribe to about their understanding of God, themselves, and their objectives to live faithfully to the covenants of God. So what were those covenants?

Israel's Faith Covenants

* The originating Abrahamic Covenant which was set between a Suzerainty-King to a willing vassal entreating protection and blessing. It was unconditional in obligations which were fully dependent upon, and maintained by, the Suzerainty (and not the Vassal). Consequently the member vassal enjoyed all the privileges and honors that would come with such an arrangement. The only condition placed upon such an arrangement was that it had to be accepted in order to be ratified. Importantly, it was not ratified by covenantal obligations and duties. It was wholly dependent upon the King and not the vassal much like an adoptive charter made between willing parents to a child or teen to come into their marriage and become a family together. Thus YHWH cut the covenant with Himself to see to Israel's spiritual care, nurture, and destined progress of announcing His coming Kingdom with man.

* The Mosaic Covenant was an institutionalization of the Abrahamic covenant at Mt. Sinai under Moses. This time it came with obligatory conditions set for covenantal maintenance and subscription. As a conditional covenant it held obligations which must be kept for its observance. By keeping covenant it also brought blessing and prevented the harm and destruction that could come if covenant was broken. By breaking covenant one would project themselves beyond the boundaries of covenantal protection and wisdom that was established by staying within covenant. In a sense, it was much like a parent saying to a child "Do not go into the street." When disobeyed protection and harm could come (but not necessarily would come). By this illustration God can again be understood as a benevolent covenant-maker and not as an austere king/ruler purposely bringing harm upon His own people. Yes, God does judge in His rulership. But that is another matter. Here, under Moses, was a God who wished to reveal Himself and His holiness through love and obedience. He was a wise parent. Not a mean parent. (Please forgive my simplicity of illustrations!).

*The Davidic Covenant emphasized the nature of the king, his realm, his subjects and their obligations. Defined in terms of community it tells of an orderly society. It was both unconditional in terms of those who wished to join this covenant and conditional in its obligations once membership was obtained. All who lived in the realm of the King were considered part of his rule and kingdom. Those who wished to remain under the King's rule did not have any reason to revolt or rebel against it. To do so would be to volitionally determine one's desire to no longer live in community with either the King or his kingdom.

*The New Covenant takes-up all three previous covenants and escalates their sense of spiritual embodiment and subservience in terms of community, time and place. Jesus is the Suzerainty-King who is sacrificed for the empowerment of his (re)-newed covenant with man (Abrahamic).  It is conditional in the sense that those within covenant may experience God's protection and blessings more than if they were to stay outside of its covenantal reach  in their lives (Mosaic). Moreover, Jesus would be the ruler and judge (Davidic) of this newly reconstituted covenanted kingdom participating in both in its present reformulation and its future reconstruction of its Spirit-led inauguration. It takes shape through the Church and is incorporated at Jesus' return with His church in the Kingdom period found in the book of Revelation, giving to it it's teleology. And it is formed/founded ("cut") at Jesus' death and inaugurated at Jesus' resurrection from the dead three days later. At Jesus' return the New Covenant will be escalated yet again into a completed kingdom paradigm. Until that time the Church lives in spiritual/physical tension between God's Kingdom that has come, but not fully come - it is here, but not yet completely. Consequently, the Church lives within the threshold of an invisible spiritual kingdom empowered by the Spirit of God as a faith community willing to follow her God in determining how-and-what this would mean through its own creeds and confessional statements. As such, these covenants/confessions are written guides made between kingdom communities trying to discern God's will for themselves and their communities at a time and place in which they live (as will be shown below). Unfortunately, not all church societies have fully understood God's will and word and have acted in ungodly and wicked ways towards humanity (the crusades, the inquisitions, theft of aboriginal lands, deposing of individual properties in God's name, the loss of life and liberty, oppression and tyranny - all at the hands of the church. If it were a "church" at all during these wicked times).

Conclusion

Thus, Israel's ancient creeds and confessionals served to guide worshippers in their thoughts and duties to their neighbors and to the nation/states around them. It gave to them goals which separated their theistic culture from their neighbors polytheistic cultures. It gave to Israel identity, societal order and hope. It internalized personal behaviors and beliefs. And assisted with building a theistically-based (monotheistic) government, economy, trade and family structure. In hindsight the same growth and maturity would also occur within the history of the Church from the first century until now as various Christian groups struggled with the meaning of their faith in terms of personal/societal identity, internal ordering of beliefs, and an ethos of ethical conduct and behavior related to trade, commerce, education, government, civic laws and accountability. From Jerusalem to Zurich, from Amsterdam to London, from Calcutta to the Americas, from Moscow to Korea, each church era formed its own ethos, culture, and organizing civilization based upon their confessional beliefs and understandings of the God of the Bible. For every new cultural setting a new creed and confession arose according to the needs of the day, the demands of their societal environment, perceived fears and threats, and desired societal objectives. These documents were as good or bad, as high or low, as the earthly constituents who wrote them. So that as Christianity expanded around the world it caused each covenanted community to determine how to worship God, live with their neighbors, conduct trade and service with each other, and be accountable (or not) to the Christian ethos that they had received through similar historical movements from previous religious communities composed in their convictions and beliefs.

An ethos that was radically redefined by Jesus as Israel's rejected Messiah because of His many uncomfortable teachings regarding their mis-application and understanding of God, purposeful rejection of God's objectives for them and society, and their spiritual accountability to the men and women living around their Jewish enclaves of religion who were unseen, unrecognized, unheard, or disregarded as unworthy of God's love, grace, mercy, and peace. Jesus spoke to the Jewish religion as corrupt and unworthy in itself of the God they claimed to worship. He patiently taught and ministered what it meant to be under covenant as one who was sent by God to be Israel's prophet, priest and king. In doing so He seemed to change the very ground rules of societal worship and behavior, conduct and responsibility. He spoke of a God Israel did not understand, and when they did, did not wish to follow. In the end Israel rejected God's emissary and in that rejection God created a new spiritual movement within the Jewish community which spanned the Gentile world. A community we now know through New Testament reading as the early church's first Jewish disciples, apostles, and emissaries of Jesus. A witness that went viral globally throughout all the world's governments working itself like yeast into leaven into a variety of religious and humanistic cultures by recreating in its mighty wake a new religious faith-order for knowing the God of Israel through His Son Jesus. A Son who become the Savior of mankind, who was raised from death's failing hands, and who would rule at the Father's right hand, as the Incarnate bridegroom of the Church and risen Lord God and King of all creation.

The Church and Its Councils

Consequently, the bishops, pastors, priests and theologs of the early church came to be known as the Church Fathers, or Patriarchs, of the early church who in a sense give birth to the church by shaping its earliest doctrines and canons of Scripture (e.g., the books of the NT) from the first through to the sixth century AD. Thus, these terms are references to the ministerial offices and functions found in New Testament passages passed down through the Apostles of Jesus Christ to their disciples in steady succession.

Moreover, the terms bishop and priest are used advisedly and are unaffiliated with the today's Catholic Church formed hundreds of years later around the 11th Century. Hence, in order of procession generally, there is the early Christian church of the Church Fathers; the Eastern Church in all its many forms (which also included the Church Fathers) extending from Egypt/Ethiopia through the Middle East and into India/China; the Western Church of the Roman Empire (extending from Constantinople to the British/Irish Isles;  and from which Greek (?) and Russian Orthodoxy later arose); then the Catholic Church extending through both Roman Empires West and East; followed by Protestant denominations of the Reformation during the time of the Renaissance (extending from Europe, to Britain, then to the world-at-large including the Americas); and lately various modern movements such as the Evangelical movement of the 19th and 20th Century; and the very new postmodern movement known as the Emergent Church begun in the 1990s. Obviously I have skipped a lot but this would be the general idea where each church, each people group, and each local/regional fellowship entertained a variety of beliefs about God, Jesus, man, sin, heaven/hell, witness, ministry, methodology, church, and so on. So that with each succeeding council of the Church and creed of Christianity came split-after-split to Christian fellowship. Consequently, there are as many flavors of doctrinal approbation as there are people in the church - whether this be very old or very new statements of schisms and belief - that led to a variety of styles of worship, methods of ministry, witness of the gospel, and generally gave churches around the world their distinctive flavor and modis operandi.

Lastly, as in the early creedal confessions of the Old and New Testament, so to in the later arising Church, came the need to define, declare, and determine through debate, dialogue, and diatribe every teaching or idea found within the Bible. Through this process of codification came the general division and understanding of the major doctrines of the Bible and the resulting dogmas claimed by various Christian fellowships. Hence, "For as long as their are men and women who fervently follow Christ, so will be the number and varieties of doctrines and dogmas deemed important to each group." A quick scan of Church history proves the verity of this truth to which the past 2000 years have produced closer-and-closer agreements between syncretizing Christian groups around a more-or-less generalized agreement to what the basic creeds and confessions of an orthodox Christianity should be and look like. The more notable - and more agreeable -  major creedal confessionals are listed below, admittedly from a Western Orthodoxy and Reformed point-of-view that have resolved themselves generally into an Western Orthodoxy and traditional Evangelical mindset.

The Value of Criticism and Critique

Importantly, it should further be noted that the disciplines of Systematic Doctrines and of Church History have each provided the Church ways of understanding its heritage and its controversies. But to these studies must come the additional disciplines of Biblical and Narrative Theology serving as the foundation to any doctrinal statement, church council or enterprise.

We observe this same effort in the formation of the early Church not only in the councils of the Church Fathers but even earlier during the Apostolic era (from the book of Acts forward to the book of Revelation) as well as in Jesus' day in the Gospel as He debated early Rabbinism's apprehension of the OT scriptures. (And we could continue to carry this same didactic activity of divine apprehension even further back into the early councils of Jewish tribal assembly led by prophets, priests and kings for as far back as even unto Moses/Aaron, Joshua, and Samuel's day).

Understandably, for as long as God has spoken to man during that same period of revelation has man debated God's words to their necessary consequence and apprehension of activity and declaration. It is the normal function of men to determine between themselves the knowledge of the holy and its meaning for the common lives and activities of all men everywhere. Not only have religious councils arose, but so too have other non-Christian faiths and philosophies, both Christian and non-Christian, arisen either linked (or birthing) economic, political, educational, scientific, sociological goals and activities.

It is the natural habit of humanity to distinguish and discern, interact and debate, the symbolism of their relationship to creation, to each other, and to the divine (or non-divine as some think) regarding the celestrial (or cosmic) importance of humanity's corporate and individual personage and activity. Hence we have human governments, constitutions, religious and sociological bodies, conventions, orders, castes, classes, prejudices, biases, civic functions and activities that distinguish "who or what we are" by tenets, beliefs, convictions (or non-convictions) all the while changing, adapting, adopting, assimilating greater (or lesser) civilized or barbaric human norms and mores.

Determining What is Relevant and What is Relative

And it is to these latter areas that Relevancy22 wishes to appeal by journaling contemporary expressions of theological ideas, issues, news and topics. Meaning that creedal confessions, church dogmas and religious/systematic statements are without merit unless they adhere first-and-foremost to the text and meaning of Scripture. Their only value is in the pronouncement of codified ideas of God and Christ so that congregations can understand and mobilize around each sentiment. But it is to the Word of God that the Chritian Church must ever-and-always seek to glean through wisdom's understanding, over-and-above the mere (or mighty) words of mortal man. Whatever our degrees. Whatever our pedigrees. Despite neither the loudness of our voice, or the rhetoric of our beliefs (either good or bad). Nay, all shall stand in judgment as before the Word of God. No logic of philosophy nor power of politics can defeat examination. No society or culture may impede God's love and wisdom. His judgment. His power of justice. "Thus speaks the Lord" and thus must the Church of God "listen, repent, and so declare."

Hence, a Christian subscribes first-and-foremost to God's Words through the patient examination and study of the Scriptures as s/he listens to the history of the Church through its many litanies of error, foibles, and fallibilities, as can be examined and studied through the Church's grave liturgical history and ecclesiastical record. The best we may hope to do as God's mediator-priests is to speak God's redeeming word of love by sharing an open Gospel to any seeking soul, tribe or nation, desiring fellowship with the Creator-Redeemer through Jesus the Messiah. By presenting Jesus through open minds and hearts. By extending open hands and good will. By sharing the Gospel of Christ in every way imaginable. And through every endeavor attempted. As we understand the message of salvation through our pretext and labour, witness and words. And where our words and labours fall short, or should go astray, may God's Holy Spirit direct us - as our faithful Counselor and Guide - to the intended meaning of God's evolving revelation and redemption.

... So then, may this be our ready confession, even the declaration of our holy creed, that with bowed hearts to God's zealous passions, may we as Jesus followers be found in the ancient lines of Apostolic succession, as goodly priests and Spirit-filled bishops, confessing the creedal words of God redeeming love and mercy, kindness and grace, justice and compassion, this very day in all that we do and say. Amen.

R.E. Slater
May 8, 2012
*edited October 18, 2016
*poem by myself


So then my brethren
by God's grace and mercy
may this be our ready confession,
yeah a declaration to His holy decrees,
bowing hearts to God's zealous passions
inflaming our spirits to venerable truths
by ancient lines of Apostolic succession
as goodly priests ministering justice
as Spirit-led bishops rich in mercy
confessing creedal words fair
vowing redemption's love
by all we say and do
in humble prayer
said or done.
 Amen.
**
*






A simplified chart of historical developments of major groups within Christianity.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity#Creeds






Notable creeds and confessions in church history





  

Summary of
Church Creeds And Canons






A Short History of Creeds and Confessions

by A. A. Hodge

The short history of creeds and confessions below is reproduced from chapter I of the Introduction to A. A. Hodge’s The Confession of Faith (1869), a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith.


It is asserted in the first chapter of this Confession [The Westminster Confession of Faith], and vindicated in this exposition that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are for man in his present state the only and the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. All that man is to believe concerning God, and the entire duty which God requires of man, are revealed therein, and are to be believed and obeyed because contained therein, because it is the word of God. This divine word, therefore, is the only standard of doctrine which has intrinsic authority binding the conscience of men. And all other standards are of value or authority only in proportion as they teach what the Scriptures teach.

While, however, the Scriptures are from God, the understanding of them belongs to the part of men. Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.

As we would have anticipated, it is a matter of fact that the Church has advanced very gradually in this work of the accurate interpretation of Scripture and definition of the great doctrines which compose the system of truth it reveals. The attention of the Church has been specially directed to the study of one doctrine in one age, and of another doctrine in another age. And as she has thus gradually advanced in the clear discrimination of gospel truth, she has at different periods set down an accurate statement of the results of her new attainments in a Creed or Confession of Faith, for the purpose of preservation and popular instruction. In the mean time, heretics spring up on all occasions, who pervert the Scriptures, who exaggerate certain aspects of the truth and deny others equally essential, and thus in effect turn the truth of God into a lie. The Church is forced, therefore, on the great principle of self-preservation, to form such accurate definitions of every particular doctrine misrepresented as shall include the whole truth and exclude all error, and to make such comprehensive exhibitions of the system of revealed truth as a whole that no one part shall be either unduly diminished or exaggerated, but the true proportion of the whole be preserved. At the same time, provision must be made for ecclesiastical discipline, and to secure the real co-operation of those who profess to work together in the same cause, so that public teachers in the same communion may not contradict one another, and the one pull down what the other is striving to build up. Formularies must also be prepared, representing as far as possible the common consent, and clothed with public authority, for the instruction of the members of the Church, and especially of the children.

Creeds and Confessions, therefore, have been found necessary in all ages and branches of the Church, and, when not abused, have been useful for the following purposes: (1.) To mark, disseminate and preserve the attainments made in the knowledge of Christian truth by any branch of the Church in any crisis of its development. (2.) To discriminate the truth from the glosses of false teachers, and to present it in its integrity and due proportions. (3.) To act as the basis of ecclesiastical fellowship among those so nearly agreed as to be able to labor together in harmony. (4.) To be used as instruments in the great work of popular instruction.

It must be remembered, however, that the matter of these Creeds and Confessions binds the consciences of men only so far as it is purely scriptural, and because it is so; and as to the form in which that matter is stated, they bind those only who have voluntarily subscribed the Confession, and because of that subscription.

In all churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling. A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation. The Church is Christ’s fold. The sacraments are the seals of his covenant. All have a right to claim admittance who make a credible profession of the true religion—that is, who are presumptively the people of Christ. This credible profession of course involves a competent knowledge of the fundamental doctrine of Christianity—a declaration of personal faith in Christ and consecration to his service, and a temper of mind and habit consistent therewith. On the other hand, no man can be inducted into any office in any Church who does not protest to believe in the truth and wisdom of the constitution and laws which it will be his duty to conserve and administer. Otherwise all harmony of sentiment and all efficient co-operation in action would be impossible.

The original Synod of our American Presbyterian Church in the year 1729 solemnly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as the doctrinal standards of the Church. The record is as follows:

“All the ministers of the Synod now present, which were eighteen in number, except one, that declared himself not prepared, [but who gave his assent at the next meeting], after proposing all the scruples any of them had to make against any articles and expressions in the Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, have unanimously agreed in the solution of those scruples, and in declaring the said Confession and Catechisms to be the Confession of their Faith, except only some clauses in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters, ‘Concerning the Civil Magistrate.’”

Again, in the year 1788, preparatory to the formation of the General Assembly, “the Synod, having fully considered the draught of the Form of Government and Discipline, did, on review of the whole, and hereby do, ratify and adopt the same, as now altered and amended, as the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, and order the same to be considered and strictly observed as the rule of their proceedings, by all the inferior judicatories belonging to the body.

“The Synod, having now revised and corrected the draught of a Directory for Worship, did approve and ratify the same, and do hereby appoint the same Directory, as now amended, to be the Directory for the worship of God in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. They also took into consideration the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and, having made a small amendment of the Larger, did approve and do hereby approve and ratify the said Catechisms, as now agreed on, as the Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. And the Synod order that the Directory and Catechisms be printed and bound up in the same volume with the Confession of Faith and the Form of Government and Discipline; that the whole be considered as the standard of our doctrine, government, discipline and worship, agreeably to the resolutions of the Synod it their present session.”

What follows is a very brief and general history of the principal Creeds and Confessions of the several branches of the Christian Church. In this statement they are grouped according to the order of time and the churches which adhere to them:

I. The ancient Creeds, which express
the common faith of the whole Church

The Creeds formed before the Reformation are very few, relate to the fundamental principles of Christianity, especially the Trinity and the Person of the God-man, and are the common heritage of the whole Church.

1st. The Apostles’ Creed.

This was not written by the apostles, but was gradually formed, by common consent, out of the Confessions adopted severally by particular churches, and used in the reception of its members. It reached its present form, and universal use among all the churches, about the close of the second century. This Creed was appended to the Shorter Catechism, together with the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments, in the first edition published by order of Parliament, “not as though it were composed by the apostles, or ought to be esteemed canonical Scripture, . . . but because it is a brief sum of Christian faith, agreeable to the Word of God, and anciently received in the churches of Christ.” It was retained by the framers of our Constitution as part of the Catechism. 1 It is as follows:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell (Hades); the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
2d. The Nicene Creed.

This Creed is formed on the basis of the Apostles’ Creed, the clauses relating to the consubstantial divinity of Christ being contributed by the great Council held in Nice in Bithynia, A.D. 325, and those relating to the divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost added by the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople, A.D.381; and the “filioque” clause added by the Council of the Western Church, held at Toledo, Spain, A.D. 569. In its present form it is the Creed of the whole Christian Church, the Greek Church rejecting only the last added clause. It is as follows:
“I believe in one God, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord the Giver of life, who proeeedeth from the Father and the Son (filioque), who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets. And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
3d. The Ephesus and Chalcedon Creeds.

As subsequently heretical opinions sprang up in its bosom with respect to the constitution of the person of Christ, the Church was forced to provide additional definitions and muniments of the truth. One heretical tendency culminated in Nestorianism, which maintains that the divine and human natures in Christ constitute two persons. This was condemned by the Creed of the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431. The opposite heretical tendency culminated in Eutychianism, which maintains that the divine and human natures are so united in Christ as to form but one nature. This was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451. These Creeds, defining the faith of the Church as embracing two natures in one person, are received and approved by the entire Church. They are sufficiently quoted in the body of the following “Commentary.”

4th. The Athanasian Creed.

This Creed was evidently composed long after the death of the great theologian whose name it bears, and after the controversies closed and the definitions established by the above-mentioned Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. It is a grand and unique monument of the unchangeable faith of the whole Church as to the great mysteries of godliness, the Trinity of Persons in the one God and the duality of natures in the one Christ. It is too long to quote here in full. What relates to the Person of the God-man is as follows:
“27. But it is necessary to eternal salvation that he should also faithfully believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 28. It is therefore true faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man. 29. He is God; generated from eternity from the substance of the Father; man born in time from the substance of his Mother. 30. Perfect God, perfect man, subsisting of a rational soul and human flesh. 31. Equal to the Father in respect to his divinity, less than the Father in respect to his humanity. 32. Who, although he is God and man, is not two, but one Christ. 33. But two not from the conversion of divinity into flesh, but from the assumption of his humanity into God. 34. One not at all from confusion of substance, but from unity of Person. 35. For as rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ,” etc.

II. The Creeds and Confessions of the different
branches of the Church since the Reformation

1st. The Doctrinal Standards of the Church of Rome.

In order to oppose the progress of the Reformation, Pope Paul III. called the last great ecumenical Council at Trent (1545-1563). The deliverances of this Council, entitled Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, form the highest doctrinal rule known to that Church. The decrees contain the positive statements of doctrine The canons explain the decrees, distribute the matter under brief heads and condemn the opposing of Protestant doctrine on each point.

The Roman Catechism, which explains and enforces the canons of the Council of Trent, was prepared and promulgated by the authority of Pope Pius IV., AD. 1556.

The Tridentine Confession of Faith was also imposed upon all the priests and candidates of the Romish Church and converts from other churches.

In addition to these, different papal bulls and some private writings have been authoritatively set up as standards of the true faith by the authority of popes; e.g., the Catechism of Bellarmine, A.D. 1603, and the bull Unigenitus of Clement XI., 1711.

The theology taught in all these papal standards is Arminianism.

2d. The Doctrinal Standards of the Greek Church.

The ancient Church divided from causes primarily political and ecclesiastical, secondarily doctrinal and ritual, into two great sections—the Eastern or Greek Church, and the Western or Latin Church. This division began to culminate in the seventh, and was consummated in the eleventh century. The Greek Church embraces Greece, the majority of the Christians of the Turkish Empire and the great mass of the civilized inhabitants of Russia. All the Protestant churches have originated through the Reformation from the Western or Roman Church.

This Church arrogates to herself pre-eminently the title of the “orthodox,” because the original creeds defining the doctrine of the Trinity and the Person of Christ, which have been mentioned above, were produced in the Eastern half of the ancient Church, and hence are in a peculiar sense her inheritance. Greek theology is very imperfectly developed beyond the ground covered by these ancient creeds, which that Church magnifies and maintains with singular tenacity.

They possess also a few confessions of more modern date, as “The Orthodox Confession” of Peter Mogilas, A.D. 1642, metropolitan bishop of Kiew, the Confession of Gennadius, A.D. 1453.

3d. The Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

The entire Protestant world from the time of the Reformation has been divided into two great families of churches—the LUTHERAN, including all those which received their characteristic impress from the great man whose name they bear; the REFORMED, including all those, on the other hand, which derived their character from Calvin.

The Lutheran family of churches embraces all those Protestants of Germany and the Baltic provinces of Russia who adhere to the Augsburg Confession, together with the national churches of Denmark, of Norway and Sweden, and the large denomination of that name in America.

Their Symbolical Books are:
  1. The Augsburg Confession, the joint authors of which were Luther and Melancthon. Having been signed by the Protestant princes and leaders, it was presented to the emperor and imperial Diet in Augsburg A.D. 1530. It is the oldest Protestant confession, the ultimate basis of Lutheran theology, and the only universally accepted standard of the Lutheran churches.
  2. The Apology (Defence) of the Augsburg Confession, prepared by Melancthon A.D. 1530, and subscribed by the Protestant theologians A.D. 1537 at Smalcald.
  3. The Larger and Smaller Catechisms, prepared by Luther A.D. 1529, “the first for the use of preachers and teachers, the last as a guide in the instruction of youth.”
  4. The Articles of Smalcald, drawn up by Luther A.D. 1535, and subscribed by the evangelical theologians in February, A.D. 1537, at the place whose name they hear.
  5. The Formula Concordiae (Form of Concord), prepared in A.D. 1577 by Andrea and others for the purpose of settling certain controversies which had sprung up in the Lutheran Church, especially concerning the relative activities of divine grace and the human will in regeneration, and concerning the nature of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. This confession contains a more scientific and thoroughly developed statement of the Lutheran doctrine than can be found in any other of their public symbols. Its authority is, however, acknowledged only by the high Lutheran party; that is, by that party in the Church which consistently carries the peculiarities of Lutheran theology out to the most complete logical development.

4th. The Confessions of the Reformed or Calvinistic churches.

The Reformed churches embrace all those churches of Germany which subscribe the Heidelberg Catechism; the Protestant churches of Switzerland, France, Holland, England and Scotland: the Independents and Baptists of England and America, and the various branches of the Presbyterian Church in England and America.

The Reformed Confessions are very numerous, although they all substantially agree as to the system of doctrine they teach. Those most generally received, and regarded as of the highest symbolical authority as standards of the common system, are the following:
  1. The Second Helvetic Confession, prepared by Bullinger, A.D. 1564. “It was adopted by all the Reformed churches in Switzerland, with the exception of Basle (which was content with its old symbol, the First Helvetic), and by the Reformed churches in Poland, Hungary, Scotland and France,” 2 and has always been regarded as of the highest authority by all the Reformed churches.
  2. The Heidelberg Catechism, prepared by Ursinus and Olevianus, A.D. 1562. It was established by civil authority, the doctrinal standard, as well as instrument of religious instruction for the churches of the Palatinate, a German State at that time including both banks of the Rhine. It was endorsed by the Synod of Dort, and is the Confession of Faith of the Reformed churches of Germany and Holland, and of the German and Dutch Reformed churches in America.
  3. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. These were originally drawn up by Cranmer and Ridley, A.D. 1551, and revised and reduced to the present number by the bishops, at the order of Queen Elizabeth, A.D. 1562. These Articles are Calvinistic in doctrine, and constitute the doctrinal standard of the Episcopal churches in England, Scotland, America and the Colonies.
  4. The Canons of the Synod of Dort. This famous Synod was convened in Dort, Holland, by the authority of the States General, for the purpose of settling the questions brought into controversy by the disciples of Arminius. It held its sessions from November 13, A.D. 1618, to May 9, A.D. 1619. It consisted of pastors, elders and theological professors from the churches of Holland, and deputies from the churches of England, Scotland, Hesse, Bremen, the Palatinate and Switzerland; the French delegates having been prevented from being present by order of their king. The Canons of this Synod were received by all the Reformed churches as a true, accurate and eminently authoritative exhibition of the Calvinistic System of Theology. They constitute, in connection with the Heidelberg Catechism, the doctrinal Confession of the Reformed Church of Holland, and of the [Dutch] Reformed Church of America.
  5. The Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly. A short account of the origin and constitution of this Assembly, and of the production and reception of its doctrinal deliverances, is presented in the next chapter. This is the common doctrinal standard of all the Presbyterian churches in the world of English and Scotch derivation. It is also of all Creeds the one most highly approved by all the bodies of Congregationalists in England and America. The Congregational Convention called by Cromwell to meet at Savoy, in London, A.D. 1658, declared their approval of the doctrinal part of the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, and conformed their own deliverance, the Savoy Confession, very nearly to it. Indeed, “the difference between these two Confessions is so very small, that the modern Independents have in a manner laid aside the use of it (Savoy Conf.) in their families, and agreed with the Presbyterians in the use of the Assembly’s Catechisms.” 3 All the Assemblies convened in New England for the purpose of settling the doctrinal basis of their churches have either endorsed or explicitly adopted this Confession and these Catechisms as accurate expositions of their own faith. This was done by the Synod which met at Cambridge, Massachusetts, June, 1647, and again August, 1648, and prepared the Cambridge Platform. And again by the Synod which sat in Boston, September, 1679, and May, 1680, and produced the Boston Confession. And again by the Synod which met at Saybrook, Connecticut, 1708, and produced the Saybrook Platform. 4
Endnotes

1. Assembly’s Digest, p. 11.
2. Shedd’s Hist. of Christian Doctrine.
3. Neal, Puritans, II. 178
4. Shedd’s Hist. of Christian Doctrine.




 Confessional Interpretation of the Bible






A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE THREE CREEDS

by David Meager

Article reprinted from Cross†Way Issue Summer 2004 No.93

(C)opyright Church Society; material may be used for non-profit purposes provided that the source is acknowledged and the text is not altered.


The word Creed derives from the Latin Credo which means ‘I believe’. There are credal statements in the Bible (eg. Deut 6.4, Acts 8:37, Rom 1: 3-4, 1 Cor 15: 3-4, Php 2: 6-11, 1 Cor 8: 6, Matt 28:19).

The Apostle’s Creed

The Apostles Creed is the creed most widely used in Christian worship in the western world. Throughout the Middle Ages it was generally believed that this creed was composed by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and that each of them contributed one of the twelve sections. This appears to be a legend dating back to somewhere between the 4th and 6th Centuries. However it still has good reason to be called the Apostles Creed because its content is in agreement with apostolic teaching. The earliest evidence for its present form is St Pirminius in the early 8th Century although it appears to be related to a shorter Roman Creed which had itself derived from other earlier and simpler texts such as the ‘rule of faith’ or the ‘tradition’ which were based on the Lord’s baptismal command in Matthew 28:19. The Creed was widely used by Charlemagne (the first Holy Roman Emperor) and was eventually accepted at Rome where the old Roman Creed or similar forms had survived for centuries.

The Creed seems to have had three uses, first as a confession of faith for those about to be baptised, secondly as a catechism (an instruction for new Christians in the essentials of the faith), and thirdly, as a ‘rule of faith’ to give continuity to orthodox Christian doctrine. In the west by the early Middle Ages it was widely employed at baptism. The BCP uses it at baptism and daily Morning Prayer and Evensong except on the 13 days of the year when the Athanasian Creed is to be used instead.

The Creed is Trinitarian in form but the heart of the creed is its confession concerning Jesus Christ and the events to do with his conception, birth, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and coming judgement.

The Nicene Creed

It is known for certain that the Nicene Creed was adopted by the Council of Calcedon in 451AD which claimed it was the faith of the Council of Constantinople of 381AD. Its origin however goes back to the Council of Nicea (in modern day Turkey) called in 325AD by the Emperor Constantine to address the Arian controversy. Eusebius submitted a Creed from his own Diocese, Caesarea, and this appears to have formed the basis of the creed propagated at Nicaea although there were other older creeds that could have been considered. The Creed affirmed the unity of God, insisted that Christ was begotten from the Father before all time, and declared that Christ is of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father. It had only a single brief clause on the Holy Spirit. In its present formit appears to have been used by Cyril in Jerusalem and is also mentioned by Epiphanius of Salamis around 373AD.

The original Greek texts do not have the filioque clause 'begotten of the Father and the Son' which was a later addition to Latin translations and has contributed to the division between East and West.

Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed (also known as the Quicunque Vult - the first two words of the Latin) is named after the famous Bishop of Alexandria (296-373) who famously defended orthodox Christianity from Arianism.

There is no evidence that Athanasius wrote the creed and since the 17th Century work of G J Voss it has been accepted that the evidence points against his authorship. The original versions of the Creed appear to have been latin whereas Athanasius wrote in Greek. In addition some of the theological issues apparently addressed came to the fore after the time of Athanasius - for example Nestorianism and Eutychianism both of which concern the humanity of Christ.

The first evidence for the Creed appears to be a sermon of St Caeserius of Arles and it is similar to a relatively recently discovered manuscrpt of St Vincent of Lérins prompting the theory that it was composed in Southern Gaul. There is also evidence that its primary liturgical use was as a hymn.

The Creed contains a clear and detailed statement of the Trinity (eg. 'The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.’ It also upholds the full Deity and humanity of Christ, his death for sins, resurrection, ascension, second coming and final judgement. The Book of Common Prayer requires that it be read on thirteen designated occasions during the year.

- David Meager is a staff member of Church Society.











Early Church Councils and Creeds




Council of Nicea 325 AD

The First Ecumenical council of Nicaea was called by emperor Constantine. The council met to deal with the schism created by Arianism. The Arians wished to avoid the heresy of Sabellius who believed in a divine monad which, by expansion, projected itself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit--a form of Modalism. The Arians separated the Son from God entirely so that they believed he was a creature having a beginning. "There was when he was not." The Son was but God's first creation, yet out of nothing and hence has preeminence over the rest of creation.

The symbol answers the question, "Who is Jesus Christ." Its answer: God

Council of Constantinople 381 AD

1a. The Nicene Creed -- Constantinopolitan Creed -- Creed of 150 Fathers

1a.1.  Usually associated with the Council of Constantinople this symbol is an expansion and revision of the earlier Creed of Nicaea with which it is often confused. This is the creed recited in churches. The council met to refute Apollinarianism. Apollinarius taught that Jesus was a combination of the divine Logos spirit, a sensitive human soul and a human body. He taught that Jesus did not have a human spirit. His views were based on the platonic tripartite view of human nature.

2a.  The council condemned this view in order to show that Christ, as truly human, could redeem the whole person.

2a.1.  The symbol emphasizes the Trinitarian faith.

Council of Ephesus 431 AD

The Council of Ephesus was held in the Church of Mary in Ephesus, Asia Minor in 431 under Emperor Theodosius II, grandson of Theodosius the Great; Ephesus was the city of Artemis (see Acts 19:28). Approximately 200 bishops were present. The proceedings were conducted in a heated atmosphere of confrontation and recriminations. It is counted as the Third Ecumenical Council, and was chiefly concerned with Nestorianism.

Nestorianism emphasized the dual natures of Christ. Patriarch Nestorius tried to answer a question considered unsolved: "How can Jesus Christ, being part man, not be partialy a sinner as well, since man is by definition a sinner since the Fall". To solve that he taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus gave birth to the incarnate Christ, not the divine Logos who existed before Mary and indeed before time itself. The Logos occupied the part of the human soul (the part of man that was stained by the Fall). But wouldn't the absence of a human soul make Jesus less human? No, Nestorius answered because the human soul was based on the archetype of the Logos only to become poluted by the Fall, therefore Jesus was "more" human for having the Logos and not "less". Consequently, Mary should be called Christotokos, Greek for the "Christ-Bearer" and not Theotokos, Greek for the "God-Bearer." This was essentially a Christological controversy.

At the urging of its president, Cyril of Alexandria, the Council denounced Nestorius' teaching as erroneous and decreed that Jesus was one person, not two separate people: complete God and complete man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary was to be called Theotokos because she bore and gave birth to God as a man. This did not resolve the debate over the union of the two natures of Christ, and related issues were debated at the Council of Chalcedon.

The Council of Ephesus also declared the text of the Nicene Creed of 381 to be complete and forbade any additional change (addition or deletion) to it. In addition, it condemned Pelagianism.

Council of Chalcedon 451 AD

The council of Chalcedon met to resolve the Monophysite controversy in which Eutyches had refused to confess the existence of two natures in Christ both after the union as well as before. The definition summarizes the Church's teaching on the natures of Christ largely in negative terms

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.