Creeds and Eschatology

It is important to recognize that the historic creeds of the church do not include anything about the millennium, the rapture, the Antichrist, or the great tribulation. The creeds mention "individual eschatology," such as the resurrection of the body and everlasting life. They also say that Christ will return again in judgment. Yet, as far as the creeds are concerned, the timing of Christ's second coming is a matter of doctrinal freedom: The creeds did not bind any believer to a particular millennial position. Harold O. J. Brown observes:

The orthodox doctrine of the person and natures of Jesus Christ is one on which there has been a very large degree of agreement throughout the Christian world for more than fifteen centuries. The doctrine of the return of Christ, called eschatology or the doctrine of the Last Things, by contrast, is one on which Christians have never come to substantial agreement. Orthodox believers all recognize that the Scripture teaches and the creeds affirm that Christ shall "come again to judge the living and the dead." But the time of his coming, and the signs that are to precede it, have been interpreted in several different ways. Through the centuries, there have been any number of premature alarms.2+

Throughout history, there have been differences of opinion on the meaning of the millennium. Even more detailed confessions, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms,25 which have been the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian churches, avoid binding statements on the precise details of escha-Up to the present time "the doctrine of the millennium

24. Brown, Heresies,p. 447.

25. Work on the Westminster Confession of Faith began on July 1, 1643. The Shorter Catechism was completed on November 5, 1647, and the Larger Catechism on j\Dril 14-1648. The Assembly of men whq Darti<;iDated in this monumental project were some of the finest minds the church of the 17th century had to offer. "The Westminster Confession consists of 33 chapters. Chap. I includes 10 articles which in a very clear manner affirm the authority of Holy Scriptures and divine inspiration. . . .A Latin translation of the Confession and Catechism appeared at Cambridge in 1656. More than 200 editions appeared in Britain and about 100 in America. As early as 1648 it was translated into German. Altogether it was translated into 17 languages. As a confession it is professedly more Protestants than any other. "P. J. S. De Klerk, "Confessions and Creeds," The Encyclopedia of Christianity, gen. ed., Philip E. Hughes, 4 vols. (Marshallton, DE: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1972), vol. 3, pp. 116-17.

26. See Appendix B. The Westminster Confession contains six substantial paragraphs on the last things" without binding Christians to a particular millennial perspective. Like the ancient creeds, the chapters on eschatology deal only with 'individual eschatology* and the Final Judgment. Question 191 of the Westminster Larger Catechism deals in more detail with the future of the church, but this statement can be affirmed by amillennialists, premillennialists, and postmil-lennialists. In fact, the authors of the confession purposely left the language somewhat ambiguous to gain unanimity on this point.

Robert L. Dabney, a postmillennialist of the last century, makes this important point regarding the absence of any representative millennial position set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith: "[W]e note the caution of the Assembly concerning the millennium. They were well aware of the movement of the early Millennarians, and of the persistence of their romantic and exciting speculations among several sects. Our divines [who drafted the WCF] find in the Scriptures the clearest assertions of Christ's second advent, and so they teach it most positively. They find Paul describing with equal clearness one resurrection of the saved and the lost just before this glorious second advent and general judg-

has never yet been embodied in a single Confession, and therefore cannot be regarded as a dogma of the Church."27 If we use creeds to mark the boundary between orthodoxy and heresy, as the church has always done, we have no basis for making one's millennial view a test of his orthodoxy. And, if we don't use the creeds, what shall we use? Creeds are not infallible, because they were written by fallible men. Thus we can and should reform the creeds as necessary, or write new ones. Until that time, we must depend on existing creeds. One of the purposes of this book is to show that the eschatological views that Mr. Hunt criticizes are well within the bounds of historic orthodoxy. One's millennial position is important, but we should not say that those who disagree with us are heretical.

Conclusion

Since the turn of the century, Christians have looked for ways to identify other orthodox Christians. Prior to this time creeds and confessions did the job. With the rise of denominationalism, a divided institutional body of Christ, and the proliferation of divergent unorthodox doctrines, the church has worked to unify under some doctrinal standard. An attempt was made to articulate the "fundamentals" of the Christiaft faith with the publication of twelve volumes called The Fundamentals (1910-15). But with divergent organizational ties, there still was no way to initiate a single expression of Christian orthodoxy. Today, with the neglect of the creeds and historic confessions, individual Christians have been drawing the lines of Christian orthodoxy on their own. It's ment. So they refuse to sanction a pre-millennial advent. But what is the nature, and what the duration, of that millennia glory predicted in the Apocalypse? Here the Assembly will not dogmatize, because these unfulfilled prophecies are obscure to our feeble minds. It is too modest to dictate a belief amidst so many different opinions." "The Doctrinal Contents of the Confession: Its Fundamental and Regulative Ideas, and the Necessity and Vafue of Creeds," Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, eds., Francis R. Beattie, et al. (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897).

27. Louis Berkhof, Ihe Histoiy of Christian Doctrines(Londori: Banner of Truth Trust, [1937] 1969), p. 264.

been fashionable to despise church tradition because it tends to be by some. But this real potential for abuse should not stop the Church of Jesus Christ from drawing on the experiences and wisdom of our Christian brethren of past generations. Can we honestly say that we are any wiser?

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  • Halle
    What do christian creeds and confessions say about the resurrection?
    2 months ago

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