Of course, we all agree with John that the creeds are not equal to the Bible in authority. Nevertheless, a bit of honest reflection will bring us to realize that every time we lay down a system of theology, we ourselves are putting forth a creed. The real question, then, is whether one man’s teachings have a right to overthrow the witness of 2,000 years of Christianity. This is not a matter to be taken lightly. When John says that Christ returned in A.D. 70, he is only commending his creed. He is not arguing for the abolition of all creeds. When John says that death (the last enemy) was destroyed in A.D. 70, while Satan wasn’t destroyed until one thousand years later (!), he is voicing his creed. When he says that the resurrection is not of our physical bodies, he is promoting his particular creed. I have explained to John previously, that the pretensions of “Solo Scriptura” are wrong, for the simple reason that the Bible does not speak for itself. It must be interpreted before it can be understood. Hence it is not “the Bible alone” that constitutes orthodoxy, but the proper interpretation of the Bible. This is why creeds are important.
Now, if I present to the world some newfangled system of doctrine, I must be prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with it. I must be ready to take one of the following positions: 1) that I am orthodox, while every one else is a heretic; 2) that I am non-orthodox, but don’t really care; 3) that there is really no such thing as orthodoxy in an absolute sense. Rather, the term must be looked at in a relative sense. Please note that this third position is the one which Hyper-Preterists most commonly take. Instead of branding the historic church as heretical, the middle position is accepted. This position, however, blurs the distinctions between truth and falsehood– a practice which must be condemned. Due to the constant jostling of various systems of belief, man has a tendency sometimes to adopt a conciliatory attitude which essentially results in laxity of dogma and “toleration” toward views which the Bible marks as unacceptable, and even heretical.
The children of God, however, must always seek to make clearer the distinctions between good and evil, truth and error, light and darkness. The allegorists must concur with me when I point out that the true function of “the heavens” is to give light to all the earth. The moon (church) always shines brightest when she stands before her Lord, the Sun of Righteousness. Then the heavens truly illuminate those dwelling in darkness. When she moves away from her Lord, however, her testimony is gradually diminished, until darkness envelops the world once more. We must in all events seek to maintain our proper position before the Lord. If darkness ensues we must pray for a spiritual revival, which shall restore our position in the heavens, that the whole world may be illumined by the refulgence of Christ. In all events we must strive to make the truth shine clearer and more distinctly before all. Let us beware of compromising, lest we be found promoting the kingdom of darkness.
There is another reason why the “Solo Scriptura” argument breaks down under a closer investigation. For the New Testament did not manufacture itself. The formation of the canon was a slow and gradual process. It is clear that some well-defined standard of orthodoxy existed from the very beginning. Else, how were the fathers led to reject certain works as spurious, while others they accepted as canonical? Of course they were guided by the divine influence of the Holy Spirit, but they must also have had some kind of external standard. And when we look to church history we find out exactly what this standard was– the traditions passed down to them from the Apostolic Churches! Eusebius tells us that in his time (A.D. 324) epistles such as 2 Peter, James, Jude, and even 2 & 3 John, while recognized by many, were not universally accepted (Ecc. Hist. III. xxv). On the other hand, certain heretical books such as the Acts of Paul, Gospel of Thomas, and Apocalypse of Peter, were almost universally rejected.
Were the fathers wrong in rejecting the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” from the canon of authentic Scriptures? If you take Riffe’s approach, you are free to accept or reject any writing as you please. For he has already denied the orthodoxy of the Fathers. Thus, he cannot credibly stand with them on the issue of canonicity, for their verdict was based on their notions of orthodoxy! The Gospel of Thomas is a work of Gnostic origin, and was widely used among the Docetae; but it contains nothing obnoxious to one who holds that orthodoxy consists only of “honest seeking.” Why reject any of the Apocryphal Gospels? If a man has a right to formulate his own doctrine on his own definitions of orthodoxy, what prevents him from forming his own canon of Scripture? Obviously he can do this as well. But John, in accepting the New Testament canon as it stands, tacitly accepts Nicene standards of orthodoxy. Thus he contradicts himself in saying that we mustn’t accept the Apostles’ Creed as authoritative. Very well. In that case, neither need we accept the New Testament canon as authoritative!
You see what kind of errors one gets into when he takes this position. As I’ve said many times, and will continue to say in the face of all opposition, there is only one body and one faith. There cannot be one body and many faiths. If you do not accept the one faith, you do not belong to the one body. In departing from the one faith you create a new body of your own. Hence the rise of denominationalism. John has chosen certain heretical views, and in so doing, has ostracized himself from the true church. As long as he continues to combat sound orthodoxy, he must be steadfastly withstood. In all this, however, I realize that the Holy Spirit alone can convict him of error. For what man has power to overcome another man’s will? Know that all heresy essentially springs from self-will; as writes Tertullian in his excellent treatise A Prescription Against Heretics. The seat of all heresy lies in the will of the heretic. He will not submit himself to any authority outside of himself. And for this reason Paul ranks heresies among “the works of the flesh” (Gal. 5: 20); maintaining that “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5: 21). If John does not believe me, I hope he’ll at least accept these sacred proofs from the Word of God.
But since he has brought this issue forward, we must continue to show that his position is false. And indeed there are many flaws. His “Solo Scriptura” argument breaks down on a third point as well. For there are hardly any Christians who don’t use some extra-Biblical materials to support their theology. The historicists, for example, in making their appeal draw largely from human history. Preterists draw from un-inspired writers such as Josephus, and from the historical events of A.D. 66-70. If we should insist on sticking to the Bible alone, most of these systems will become entirely unverifiable. Unless we ourselves adhere to the practice of using the Bible alone, without any extra-Scriptural reference, we cannot reasonably bar the use of the creeds, which represent the great cloud of witnesses within Christ’s body. It is amusing to note that John, who is so dead-set against creeds and confessions, and persistently asserts that the “Bible alone” is sufficient, himself makes constant use of human writings to back up his Millennial views. Just look at his website (http://prophecyandhistory.com/), and you’ll wonder how he can seriously maintain his position of “Solo Scriptura,” when he draws more from extra-Biblical sources than any of us!
I would like to know how John can use the “Bible alone” to back up any of his Preterist views. For there is not a single passage in Scripture that states that Christ ever returned. Christ Himself says, “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 22: 12). Of course, John’s response would be that the message was addressed to a select group of people 2,000 years ago; and that the coming was fulfilled in A.D. 70. But this view, which I don’t accept at all, relies entirely on the use of extra-Biblical reference. Without knowledge of the events of the Jewish war, the whole structure of Preterism would be brought to nothing. So, how can John prove the Millennium began in A.D. 70? Really, if we were to honor those who make use of the Bible alone, without any extra-Biblical material at all, we’d have to give the top prize to the futurist fundamentalists. This is incredible! I really don’t know how John, with a straight face, can aver that creeds mustn’t be used on “Solo Scriptura” grounds. Let John first practice his own theory, and then we’ll listen to him. Until then, we will continue to hold to the historicity of the one faith, on the same basis that he makes use of history books to back up his eschatological views.
But considered on a “Solo Scriptura” level, I should say that the Apostles’ Creed represents the exact teachings of Scripture– plus nothing, minus nothing. It contains no provision that “Christ already returned,” for that is clearly not a teaching contained in the Bible itself. It must be derived from human writings, and a strangely abortive kind of logic which is totally unfitted for the investigation of the truth. Thus, the Creed, which has a real historical continuity throughout all ages of the church’s history, far from purporting to supplement the Bible, actually supports the “Solo Scriptura” view more than anything else. It is an ally of the very principle which John claims to defend. And so it is no wonder why so many Christians have found it acceptable. For there is nothing in the Bible alone that contradicts it! Is not this amazing? Behold how scorners are brought to nothing by their very own weapons. Lest John be further confounded in this matter, I call to him to “wake up!” We need not be enemies, but we do need to follow the pure Evangelical faith– the same faith delivered to the saints, and passed down through the ages. I am persuaded that this same faith has power to change hearts and lives. Let us only wield the sword of the Spirit, and we shall see its effects.
But we must move onward to discuss another reason why creeds are important. Everyone knows that creeds promote Christian unity. And in no case has this been better exemplified than by the Apostles’ Creed. When Charles Martel withstood the Moors in 732 A.D., what church was he representing? Was it a church with many different faiths?– or was it a church with one faith? When Peter the Hermit preached the First Crusade, to whom did he make his appeal? Was it to many different bodies, or only one body? When the Christian forces wrested Jerusalem from the clutches of the Moor, were they not unified by one faith? If they had been broken into several different sects, the Crusades would never have become a reality. Every time Christianity has done great things in the world, its power has been achieved through unity, not diversity. I could go on to give numerous examples from history, which show that Christian unity alone has power. I think the reason why Christianity lacks force today is because of “many different creeds” battling for supremacy. The man on the street doesn’t know what to think any more. And so, whenever he sets sail, he must needs be tossed upon the seas of controversy. When will the tempest cease?
It will cease only when we call upon Christ to calm the winds of diversity, and return to the One True Faith. When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at the day of Pentecost, unity prevailed among them. Thus we learn that the Holy Spirit promotes unity. Whenever we seek to impose strange and divers doctrines upon others, we show the lack of spiritual influence in our hearts. The prophet Isaiah gives us a standing testimony of what occurs when we rebuke sound wisdom and run after our own dreams and delusions: “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29: 14). Likewise, Paul writes: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3-4).
It is essential, therefore, to have some sure standard whereby we may test any new doctrines that come along. And even Paul intimated this when he said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2: 15); indicating to us that not all New Testament teachings were committed to writing. A large part may in fact have been delivered by word only. And this would certainly verify the statements of Rufinus; namely, that the Creed was delivered by the apostles as a measure of protection against false teachers. When one seriously considers the matter, he must agree that there had to be some easy way by which Christian disciples could test the validity of doctrinal teaching. For if there were no such standard, it would hardly have been possible for novices to identify false teachers; especially considering that these teachers used specious arguments to lure others away from the truth. So, wasn’t there some sure compass by which early Christians could stay clear of the reefs and shoals of heresy? There must have been. And this compass was the Apostles’ Creed!
But let us think. There is yet another aspect by which we may view the validity of the Creed– namely, that the Creed itself is an external expression of the internal work of the Spirit. For Paul writes, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10: 9-10). Thus we see that inward belief and outward confession go hand in hand. And these make sure our salvation. But is it possible for the confession to contradict our inward conviction of the truths of faith? Impossible! For if the tree of faith hath been planted, it must bear its own fruit. And if the same faith prevails among all of God’s children, then the same fruit must also prevail. Hence there is uniformity in both the tree and the fruit. If a man offers us strange fruit, shall we assume that it came from Christ’s tree?– or should we, seeking guidance, call to mind the rule of faith? I leave the reader to decide. If the rule of faith convicts a man’s teachings as false, then we must identify them as heretical.
The Creed, then, may be viewed as the external or outward expression of the inward working of Christian faith. Where many divers creeds exist, error must prevail. We should ask ourselves, in all honesty, whether the one faith may ever be questioned. For as stated above, true faith will always produce uniformity of belief. And the Apostles’ Creed has a historical continuity that cannot be denied. I should think that the only system with any possibility of being the truth is the one that shows consistency throughout all ages. As Tertullian writes: “Is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say they were in error who handed on the tradition?” (De Praesc. Haereticorum, xxviii). Now we have proven, in previous articles, that the Apostles’ Creed has real historical continuity. Therefore, it has the least likelihood being false; whereas a system that arose only yesterday has the highest probability of being erroneous.
Therefore, let us leave behind all delusions and return to the old paths. For these are the sure ways, which have been truly tested by many generations of pious men. Those who seek after novelty will always go astray, whether they claim the truth or not. And I think that at this time the Hyper-Preterists have abundantly shown that their system has no possibility of ever yielding the fruits of the Spirit. Instead of walking in our wisdom and folly, why not submit ourselves to the saints of old? Let us sit at the feet of the Fathers, and drink in their wisdom; for they were far more advanced than ourselves. Let us return to the true church, and submit ourselves to the New Jerusalem! Regardless of what other men claim, it empowers me to know that I belong to same church as Ignatius and Irenaeus, Tertullian and Lactantius, Eusebius and Justin Martyr. What a great honor it is to fellowship with these saints and martyrs of old! And I pray, dear friend, that you join me in worshiping our Lord and Savior in Spirit and in truth, and laboring to uphold and maintain the One True Faith. Now, what is this faith? Repeat after me:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only-begotten 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; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of 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 flesh; and the life everlasting. Amen.”
3 Comments Add yours
Brian may I post the entire series as an article on my site, of course with full credit and linkback?
Hi Dee Dee,
Of course you can! I also posted a link to your site at http://bsimmons74.blogspot.com
Peace and Health,
Thank you so much for the permission and the link. I very much appreciate it.