By What Standard

But, again we must raise the practical question, what standard do we use to determine what doctrines are essential to the

10. Attributed to Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).

11. It is important to distinguish between breaking fellowship and breaking denominational ties. It may be advisable to break denominational ties over less central doctrines, though this should not lead to a loss of fellowship and cooperation. We should refuse fellowship and cooperation only with churches and individuals that have abandoned orthodoxy.

Christian faith? Historically, the boundaries of orthodox teaching have been established by the Christian creeds. Historian J. N. D. Kelly notes that the creeds that were formulated by church councils in the 4th century were "tests of the orthodoxy of Christians in general" and "touchstone [s] by which the doctrines of Church teachers and leaders might be certified as correct."12 This is true ecumenism, which, one author notes, is defined in some dictionaries as " 'the doctrine or theology of the ecumenical councils.'

Today many churches claim to be creedless. But in fact, every church, whether it admits it or not, has a creed. As John Frame writes,

If we have the Bible, why do we need a creed? That's a good question! Why can't we just be Christians, rather than Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians? Well, I wish we could be. When people ask what I am, I would like to say, quite simply, 'Christian." Indeed, I often do. And when they ask what I believe, I would like to say with equal simplicity "the Bible." Unfortunately, however, that is not enough to meet the current need. The trouble is that many people who call themselves Christians don't deserve the name, and many of them claim to believe the Bible. . . . We must tell people what we believe. Once we do that, we have a creed.

Indeed, a creed is quite inescapable, though some people talk as if they could have "only the Bible" or "no creed but Christ." As we have seen, "believing the Bible" involves applying it. If you cannot put the Bible into your own words (and actions), your knowledge of it is no better than a parrot's. But once you do put it down into your own words (and it is immaterial whether those words be written or spoken), you have a creed. *

12. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Chris/tin Creeds (New York: David McKay, 1972), p. 205. Doctrine is not, of course, the only mark of a true church. An organization may be theologically conservative, but if it does not administer the sacraments, it is no church. Our emphasis here is on doctrinal orthodoxy, but we believe that orthopraxy — biblical practice — is equally important.

13. J. Marcellus Kik, Ecumenism and the Evangelical (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), p. 2.

14. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), pp. 304-5. Frame's entire discussion on tradition and creeds is helpful (pp. 304-314).

A creedless faith opens the door to all types of theological aberrations and the unwelcome necessity of books like The Seduction ofChristianity and Beyond Seduction. Why should we be surprised when we find heretical doctrines littering the theological roadside? In the attempt to abandon the creeds, we have opened Pandora's box and let loose a whole host of false doctrines. The issue, therefore, is not 'creed or no creed," but "which creed."

A call to return to biblical doctrine must take its cue from the creeds. We should not call our contemporaries to line up with our particular brand of Christian doctrine. Rather; we all - from Dave Hunt to the Positive Confession movement to Kingdom Now teachers to reconstructionists - must line up with what the church has historically believed and taught concerning the orthodox faith, as the Spirit has led the church through the centuries. This is neither because the church is infallible nor that the creeds and confessions are substitutes for Scripture or even equal with Scripture. Rather, it is because the creeds deal with issues that are central to the Christian faith. 15 If an article of the creed is denied, the foundations of the faith are destroyed. Practically, the creeds have dealt with the doctrines of God and of Christ, in other words, those teachings on which the Christian faith stands or falls. 16

Background to the Creeds and Confessions

Some of the disciples were put to death because they believed certain truths over against the prevailing views of the day (e. g.,

15. There might be those who want to maintain that the Bible is our standard and the creeds are designed by men who are fallible. This is indeed true. But every book written and every sermon preached is someone's view of what the Bible teaches. The creeds are the work of many men who have labored countless hours and studied the issues thoroughly to arrive at what they believe the Bible teaches. If there is a disagreement with a creedal formulation, then let that disagreement be made public for the Christian world to see. Let the biblical reasons also be attached. Of course, this too will be a creed. Even Dave Hunt's books are creedal formulat ions.

16. See Harold 0. J. Brown, Heresies: Thelmoge of Christ in theMirror of Heresy andOrthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), pp. 2-3; and R. J. Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in theCreeds andCouncils oftheEarly Church (Fairfax, VA:Thoburn Press, [1968] 1978).

Acts 7:54-60). These truths were based on what had been "seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). The Apostle Paul calls the basic tenets of the Christian faith "trustworthy" or "faithful" sayings: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ." (1 Tim. 1:15). Each time Paul stood before a civil official he would confess what he believed (Acts 22-26). The Apostle was often sneered at because of his creed (e.g., Acts 17:32). His confession consisted of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. He followed the example of Jesus who "testified the good confession" (1 Tim. 6:13). The Latin word credo, from which we get the word creed, means simply, "I believe."

But what are creeds, how did they develop, and what help can they be for the church today? There is always a desire to distill and systematize the faith, to make it easy to communicate to others. This systematizing usually revolves around what the Bible says about God, Jesus, man, sin, death, and judgment. The doctrine of the millennium is also very important, but as we shall see, it has never been made a test of orthodoxy— a test governing access to baptism and the Lord's Supper— by the historic church. While the doctrine of time (eschatology) is certainly important, the church has not been able to settle on a single position.

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