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Volume 9, Issue 5: Presbyterion

Saying the Creeds

Douglas Wilson

The alternative being disaster, the modern evangelical world must soon return to her heritage, true authority, and the high past. For some time now we have hyped the importance of having a "contemporary" and "relevant" Christianity, and have done so to the point where we have almost emptied the faith of its historic and orthodox content. In a mad pursuit of cisterns that will hold no water, we have come to love the dust on the inside of our empty jars. Our thirst will be a permanent one unless we come back to the creeds--in particular the Apostles' Creed, the Nicean Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon.

In a conversation with one modern evangelical, I was once told that the fathers who handed down these great creeds to us were "just a bunch of guys." This reductionism is typical of modernity, and is really the soul and heart of the problem. Of course this modern reductionism has as its evil twin those who profess to love the creeds--do they not mumble them religiously every Sunday?--but in their hearts they are as far away from Christian orthodoxy as the Dalai Lama.
A creedal church is one which thinks, lives, worships, and disciplines in terms of that creed. A creedal church is one in which the words I believe in God the Father Almighty provokes tears of gladness in strong men. A creed muttered in nominal unbelief is oxymoronic. The word creed comes from "credo," I believe. A creedal church believes these things to be true, and acts as though truth mattered.
We must remember our heritage. We want to think that forgetting our duties somehow excuses us from our neglect in the performance of them. But in Scripture, forgetting is an additional sin. In our attempt to live creedlessly, we have forgotten the faith of our fathers. We do this because we think our fathers are detached and unconnected from us, and we think this for the trifling reason that these men are all now dead.
Our common mentality is that we have come to live around the edges of a pond that we call the "nineties." We used to live around another self-contained pond called the "eighties." That was ten years ago but, as citizens in a mobile society, we have all since moved. In a few years we will all move again, as soon as the trend-spotters at Newsweek tell us to. We call ourselves modern men, but in the memorable words of Andrew Lytle, we are actually momentary men.
In the world God created, we actually live on the banks of a great cultural river, and those who live upstream from us affect us in countless ways. For example, even all this foolishness of modernity is still contained by the categories of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, as much as folly hates to admit it. Consequently, for most modern evangelicals, their sin is not really heresy, but rather ingratitude. But the longer we persist in this ingratitude for our fathers, the closer we drift to actual heresy and apostasy. Significant portions of the evangelical church are already there.
We revolt against historical authority as well. We assume that they had their lives, and we have ours. We are indignant at the thought that our fathers, long since gone, could possibly have any kind of authority over us. We want to think that the placement of individuals in history is nothing more than a random number sequence, with no authority given to those who came before. But the Lord of all history placed them there, with the command that they leave an inheritance to us. Our duty is to receive the inheritance, build upon it, and become in turn a blessing to our covenant grandchildren.
Of course objections spring readily to the modern mind. "Does this not set the authority of the Bible aside?" Not a bit of it. The doctrine of sola Scriptura insists that the only infallible, ultimate authority is the Bible. The Bible tells us that other spiritual authorities exist, but that they are fallible and penultimate. Further, these lesser spiritual authorities are not just "allowed," they are inescapable. The question is not whether we will have them, but which of them we will have. We do not understand that when we have removed all traces of Nicean orthodoxy, this does not leave us standing in a fresh meadow with a pristine Bible, but rather with the magisterium of the latest heretical balloon juice cooked up at the Christian Booksellers Association, which never met a wind of doctrine it didn't like.
Repentance will bring with it a love for the high past. That love will lead to a more thorough acquaintance with the men there--from Polycarp to Athanasius, from Irenaeus to Augustine, you will come to respect and honor those men who taught your brothers and sisters, and in so doing left a testimony that teaches to this day. Part of this testimony is their crucial contribution to the formation of the glorious creeds.
So had enough of theological fads and fashions? Are you sick of that Aerobics with the Angels class on Wednesday nights? Are you tired of sermons that trifle with truth? Does your skin crawl when you walk through an evangelical bookstore? Are you weary of the constant irrelevance of contemporary relevance?
Then welcome to evangelical orthodoxy.

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