Saturday, February 05, 2005

the Federal Vision as Anti-creedal

The Federal Vision Theology is also inherently anti-creedal. This again, stems from the belief in Historical and Theological Development. Philip Schaff and John Nevin were no friends to creeds either. The Mercerburg Theology eventually led to a merger between the Evangelical Lutheran church and the RCUS and then later with Congregational Churches to form the United Churches of Christ. The differences between the creeds of the churches were ignored and left up to a liberty of conscience. James I. Good states that Nevin and other Mercerburg proponents mistranslated the Heidelberg Catechism on purpose so that it supported their ideas. Philip Schaff argued for changing the Westminster Confession of Faith toward the end of his life. In the end, John Nevin states clearly the Mercersburg position on creeds:

In admitting moreover the necessity of confessional distinctions, we do not allow them to be good and desirable in their own nature. They are relatively good only, as serving to open the way to a higher form of catholicity than that which they leave behind; whilst in themselves absolutely considered, they contradict and violate the true idea of the Church, and are to be bewailed on this account as an evil of the most serious magnitude

Nevin states that creeds are an evil of the most serious magnitude. Creeds violate the principle of Theological development because people adhere to them, and thus are reluctant to move along when the next stage of truth arrives.

Sadly, this same attitude can be found in the Federal Vision men of today. Confessions are a barrier to catholicity, unity with all churches, both Protestant and Roman. Rich Lusk states his view on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Nevertheless, the Catechism can serve as a barrier to Reformed catholicity. The Shorter Catechism essentially reduces the biblical story to a set of propositions. It treats theology in a highly analytic way, as a matter of defining terms (e.g., "What is justification?", "What is sanctification?”, etc.).

The very idea of defining justification is seen as a barrier to unity and goes against the very foundations of Theological Development. A definition does not change, and that is the root of the problem. John Barach agrees and apparently so does Andrew Sandlin. Christianity is not to be defined in the Federal Vision Theology. Creeds may have a purpose, but they are ultimately evil or at least in the way.

A new denomination has grown up over the last several years called the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. If you browse their church constitution, member churches must adhere to a Reformed creed, and just about any from the 16th or 17th century will do. The Westminster is allowed in both its original and American forms, the Three Forms of Unity, or even the London Baptist Confession. What about where these creeds disagree, such as on such important questions as baptism? Each church is to be respected and trouble with creeds is not to be adjudicated above the local church level. This seems to follow nicely the path blazed by Schaff and Nevin. If the creeds contradict, then just do whatever feels right to you. Who needs creeds anyway?


pduggie said...

"Philip Schaff argued for changing the Westminster Confession of Faith toward the end of his life"

I would think that would actually be a very pro-creedal stance, to actually change it to reflect what one thought was biblical, rather than allowing things to diverge from it on the sly.

Lee said...

It actually is not. Schaff is not against having creeds, but he is against creeds as ‘apt summaries of God’s word’, which is usually how people subscribe to them. Creeds were fine with Schaff as long as they change with the times. Schaff favored change in the Westminster Confession because in the 1600 the Confession was an apt summary of God’s Word, but in the 1900’s it no longer was a good summary. This runs against the whole idea of Confessions and Creeds. For Schaff, doctrine developed, and if the creeds did then they were fine, but if not then they were worthless.

In my opinion someone who thinks creeds must constantly be changed is just as anti-creedal as one who rejects creeds and confessions altogether.