Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Creeds as Boundaries

Daniel at Sibboleth, which incidentally is the best blog name I have run across, argues that Confessions of faith are not to be misconstrued as ‘boundaries, but rather should be envisioned as ‘trajectories’. This of course denies the whole point of confessions, creeds, and statements of faith. Allow Daniel to express his views of the role of confessions in his own words.

(1) a given confession of faith as an "outline." That allows for this or that point to be disputed; it allows for an overall sameness is thrust while simultaneously allowing different people to fill in gaps in different ways. (2) A confessional tradition as setting "trajectories". I like this option because it assumes growth, change, development and even divergence over time (i.e., it is in step with reality).

In the article he gives as historical evidence the Presbyterian practice of allowing scruples to the Westminster. There is no doubt that many today in the OPC and PCA view the Westminster in one of the two ways suggested by Daniel. Yet, I believe Daniel’s argument fails for the following reasons.

1. The scruples to a confession are by no means universal. Yes, American Presbyterianism allowed Scruples in the Adopting Act, but there are many other traditions that do not allow scruples to any points. For example the RCUS does not allow one to scruple. It is strict subscription or find another denomination. So while Daniel’s point may help him in American Presbyterian circles, it does not help in trying to say confessions in general should be 'trajectories.’
2. This is not the view churches have taken throughout history. Just look at the Nicaean Creed as an example. The creed was written to exclude men like Arius from the faith. One could not scruple the word ‘homoousian’ in the Nicaean Creed. It was not viewed as a trajectory to launch new way of thinking. In fact it was reaffirmed at Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and I could go on and on. The point is that early creeds were not viewed the way proposed at Sibboleth. The creeds were drawn up precisely as boundaries. The creeds kept out men like Arius and Nestorius.
3. The creeds tell us what the Bible says and does not say because they are summaries of the teaching of the Word. Daniel tries to make the jump that creeds then also tell us that the Bible cannot say certain things. I disagree with this jump. Daniel’s argument assumes a some things, and one is that people today will be able to see truths in the Bible that the earlier generations missed. The creeds received and used today do not speak on areas of the Bible that are unclear. Has anyone ever seen a creed that mandates a particular end times view? The creeds are usually about salvation, Christ, and God. Not exactly hidden subjects in the Bible. Also, every denomination that I know of has a procedure for amending the creeds if it is found to be in error. Hardly a sign that creeds dictate what the Bible can and cannot say.

If the creeds are not boundaries in some real sense, then they have absolutely no purpose at all. They are just documents for us to discuss, or paper to line birdcages. Creeds have always been designed to keep members from heresy, and keep heretics out. In other words, boundaries.


Andrew Duggan said...

So if the confession can be changed, which the PCUSA did even during its Christian history, why do you think that both the OPC and the PCA declined to change the confession regarding creation?

Perhaps the reason is that to change the confession in a way that accommodates all the diversity views would make it all-to-clear that those with diverse views don't really believe the same thing. For example, either God created the heavens and the earth in the space of six days and rested the seventh as He claims in Exodus 20, or He didn't.

I think you said it well previously when you talked of sacrificing the confession for diversity views. They have made their "Yes" both "No" and "Yes", and their "No", "Yes" and "No". Not only has the confession been sacrificed, it has effectively been disestablished.

More appropriately than the idea of a slippery slope, it looks like the shepherds have torn down the fence. Is it any wonder that the sheep are going astray and turning everyone to his own way?