The Creeds and Sola Fide as the standards for orthodoxy

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Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
As I was listening to Rich Mullins' song, "Creed," a musical recital of the Apostles' Creed, I was thinking about the authority and significance that is placed on the ecumenical creeds as being the "bare minimum" per se for orthodoxy. When asking if one has become altogether heretical and is to be declared by the Church a heretic, we typically ask whether or not that person has departed from the creeds.

Then I got to thinking about how we also typically tend to make Sola Fide the doctrine by which we declare an individual or a church to be within the realms of orthodoxy or not. We always speak of it an an "essential" of personal salvation and true Church status - this is precisely why we consider Rome to presently be a false church, for instance.

I then began to think about the relationship between these two "criteria" by which we typically judge orthodoxy, and it occurred to me that the two are mutually exclusive - that is, Sola Fide is nowhere to be found in the ecumenical creeds, and someone can also adhere to Sola Fide without necessarily believing everything contained in those creeds. As a case in point, we know that Rome is apostate, but they still adhere to the creeds; and we also declare certain persons or movements that themselves adhere to Sola Fide to nonetheless be apostate if they reject the essentials of the creeds. [i:e5bbe80075]So how are we to understand the relationship between these two "criteria for orthodoxy"?[/i:e5bbe80075]

Furthermore, we know that belief in Sola Fide is essential to one's belief in the true Gospel, since trusting in works nullifies the very concept of the Cross - but do we have a [i:e5bbe80075]confessional[/i:e5bbe80075] basis for declaring Sola Fide an essential of orthodoxy? If not, why not?

So basically, in summary, how are we to understand and explain the relationship of both Sola Fide and the creeds to each other and to orthodoxy and its minimal standards, and upon what written standard is that understanding based?
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Chris,

Great question.

I guess I think that since as the 5 Solas of the Reformation (or at the bearest minimum the 3 Solas of the Lutheran Reformation [and which are understood to imply the remaining two]) are biblical, and represent a distillation of proper doctrine, [i:0eafa00d10]they[/i:0eafa00d10] should be the 'litmus test' as it were, for orthodoxy.

Insofar as the creeds agree with these, or, do not contradict them, they must certainly be admitted as itemized notations of the points of common belief. However, as you rightly observe, their nearly total neglect of any soteriological statement other than "for us men and for our salvation" renders them incomplete.

My 2/100 of a Dollar.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Chris:

I have a few thoughts:

First off, I don't think that mutual exclusivity means that do not include each other's definition, but rather that the one excludes the other. I'm sure you're not saying that.

Second, I think that these are two things that you are equating, or seeing as interchangeable terms for the same thing. And this isn't right. The Apostles' Creed gives us the essentials of the faith, outside of which is not the Christian faith; the five Solas, or Sola Fide in particular, separates the church which confesses the true faith from those which do not. The former seprates church from non-church; the latter true church from apostate church.

The difference is that the JW's fall into the catergory of non-church, not recognizing the main articles of faith; while the RCC falls into the category of apostate church, relying more on man than on God while still maintaining the articles of faith. There is a big difference. For we may not recognize, for example, the baptism of the JW's, but we may recognize, and ought to, the baptism of the RCC, when someone comes to a true faith out of those institutions. The reason for this is because it is not so much a recognition of the church as a true church, but of God's faithfulness in spite of man's fallenness. The blesssings of God may still fall on the thousandth generation of those that loved Him: the JW's never did, while the RCC used to.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
[quote:d6f8216300]So how are we to understand the relationship between these two "criteria for orthodoxy"? [/quote:d6f8216300]

Its revolves around the [i:d6f8216300]regula fide [/i:d6f8216300]which INCLUDES Faith and tradition (in a good way).

See my link below on Sola Scriptura.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
[quote:fb69cd1fc4="JohnV"]First off, I don't think that mutual exclusivity means that do not include each other's definition, but rather that the one excludes the other. I'm sure you're not saying that.[/quote:fb69cd1fc4]

You are correct in what I was trying to say, John - and thanks for clarifying the terminology. I'll comment on everyone's comments eventually, but for now I just wanted to confirm that you are right on what I indeed meant by that statement.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
Creeds define what we believe. At the same time they define the limits of unbelief. If the depart from the standard set down in the three oecumenical creeds then they are beyond the pale. They are not to be called Christian.
The Webmaster's Sola Scriptura Article is great
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Blue:

You raise good points. I would note as a matter of practice, when receiving new people into a PCA church, the covenant they take (required by the BCO) asks expressly about whether they embrace a Reformed / Protestant understanding of justification (which is not addressed in any ecumenical creed) and does not ask about any aspect of any ecumenical creed, such as the Trinity or whatever.

Indeed, I imagine many rank and file church members could not give an orthodox explanation of the Trinity that does not involve one heresy or another. Try asking a typicaly lay person how many persons there are in Christ, for example (if you get anything other than a blank stare, you are as likely to get "1" as "2" for an answer). I think this is due to ignorance, not malfeasance.

Also, you would get different answers on whether Christ descended into hell. Even well-schooled Protestants are not in agreement on whether this happened and, if so, what it means. So, that part of an essential creed is basically up for grabs, even among Reformed clergy.

Making a Protestant doctrine the near only sine qua non does present other challenges. For example, some people believe that there is no evidence of this view in the early church. The early church did the hard work of sifting out authentic inspired books from fakes. If all these people were not saved, we should not trust their work. Like Luther, we can use a different canon, or perhaps no canon at all.

Scott
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
One thing to remember about any creed or confession is that they were normally in response to contraversies in the Church. For instance an Arian could easily recite the Apostles Creed since it does not explicitly define the trinity. But they could not accept the Nicean Creed, which this creed was directed at. Also looking at the Creed of Chalcedon, it was also in response to contraversies in the Church regarding Christology. So as the church progressed, the doctrines of the Church needed to be clearly articulated. At the time of the Reformation, a number of creeds/confessions were written, again to address contraversies. But creeds and confessions do more than give a response to contraversies.

The link below is a good article by Ken Gentry on creeds and their use.

[b:d4901514b0][color=#009900:d4901514b0]{URL broken up to fix page formatting; the TINYURL link below will take you to the page also - fredtgreco}[/color:d4901514b0]
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[code:1:d4901514b0]http://the-highway.com/cgi-bin/hse/HomepageSearchEngine.cgi?
url=http://www.the-highway.com/creedal.html;geturl=
d+highlightmatches+;terms=Gentry+Ken
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http://tinyurl.com/5fjxt

I would also recommend Harold O. J. Browns book on Heresies. He talks about how and why creeds and confessions were developed and how today they are pretty much meaningless.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Good points everyone, especially Wayne. It's a good point that there's not one specific creed for each "standard level" of orthodoxy (e.g. minimal salvific standards, minimal "essentials" standards, minimal Reformed standards, etc.), but an array of them for each standard level.

Still, where do we have such a standard on which to magnify the doctrine of Sola Fide? Indeed, the Apostles' Creed solidifies certain doctrines as "essentials" of the faith, and still the Nicene Creed others (e.g. the Trinity). Where's the equivalent for Sola Fide? How is Sola Fide confessionally regarded any differently than, say, unconditional election? And again, I'm not questioning its [i:4f357d5ce5]doctrinal[/i:4f357d5ce5] authority as an essential, but wondering about its [i:4f357d5ce5]confessional[/i:4f357d5ce5] authority as such.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
[quote:6582507fbd]I'm not questioning its doctrinal authority as an essential, but wondering about its confessional authority as such.[/quote:6582507fbd]

Chris - think of them as synonyms. How can you separate doctrinial information from confessional information? That, to me, is an impossibility.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
[quote:8941933091="Me Died Blue"]Good points everyone, especially Wayne. It's a good point that there's not one specific creed for each "standard level" of orthodoxy (e.g. minimal salvific standards, minimal "essentials" standards, minimal Reformed standards, etc.), but an array of them for each standard level.

Still, where do we have such a standard on which to magnify the doctrine of Sola Fide? Indeed, the Apostles' Creed solidifies certain doctrines as "essentials" of the faith, and still the Nicene Creed others (e.g. the Trinity). Where's the equivalent for Sola Fide? How is Sola Fide confessionally regarded any differently than, say, unconditional election? And again, I'm not questioning its [i:8941933091]doctrinal[/i:8941933091] authority as an essential, but wondering about its [i:8941933091]confessional[/i:8941933091] authority as such.[/quote:8941933091]

Chris,

I would agree with Matt that you can't separate doctrinal authority from confessional authority unless you believe that the confessions do not reflect the doctrines of Scripture. As far as Sole Fide is concerned that standard would best be found in the Reformed and Lutheran confessions. And I would say that all of the major tenants of the Christian faith are best expressed in the Westminster Standards.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Indeed, it is to be found in the Reformed confessions, which we believe [i:c4178f8e70]because[/i:c4178f8e70] they are biblical. But you have to admit that doctrinally, we always put a greater weight on Sola Fide than on, say, unconditional election, or cessationism. The latter two are just as plainly taught in the Reformed confessions as is Sola Fide, yet we always treat Sola Fide as more of an "essential" than those two. And biblically, I agree that that distinction in weight in justified. But as far as I know, that distinction is never made confessionally. Doctrines like the Trinity do have such a distinction confessionally, for they are given more confessional weight than unconditional election in that they are stated in the ecumenical creeds. But Sola Fide is not; the only confessions in which it is stated also give equal statement to other doctrines as well, doctrines on which we do not typically put the same weight. In other words, even though the Reformed confessions teach Sola Fide, they do not give it more weight than doctrines such as unconditional election, yet we surely do in our doctrinal discussions and convictions. And I'm asking where that extra weight is matched confessionally.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
But consider this, when we say "sola fide", there is a lot packed ino that statement. Unconditional election is apart of it. As Calvin stated that though justification by faith alone is the pillar upon which the church stands or falls, election is the foundation upon which that pillar rest. Does the doctrine of imputation have equal weight with Sola Fide? As I noted before, creeds were primarily written in response to contraveries in the Church. The fact that the Nicean and Chalcedon creeds limited there scope to the Trinity and Christology does not mean that God's soveriegn election was not just as important. Consider the other ecuminical councils that condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, which went to the issue of God's decrees. and other doctrines like original sin. As the Church has moved on through redemptive history it has had to continue to define the "essentials" of the faith for the life of the Church.

In the PCA we have had a lot of discussion about "the system of doctrine" that is apart of the ordination vows as folks have tried to determine what is "essential vs non-essential" in the Standards. What does this phrase mean? If you look at the Standards as a loose collection of disjointed statements you could then pick out your essential and non-essential doctrines. The problem is that the Standards are not a loose disjointed collection of statements but a system of doctrines that are interdependant. Just like any system, when you start taking pieces of it out, it no longer works as a system. Much like a chain needs each link, each doctrinal statement in the Standards needs the other. Ultimately, In my humble opinion, weight given to one doctrine over another is in the eye of the one who doesn't like a particular doctrine, ie; "I'm a 4 point Calvinist". Since the ultimate authority for all doctrine is Holy Scripture, you would need to determine by direct quotations or through necessary consequences, which teaching of Scripture God thinks is less essential than another. So for me all the doctinal statements in the Standards are essential for the life of the Church and all have equal weight.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
That's a great point, Wayne, and it definitely makes logical and biblical sense. But now I guess it sort of creates an apparent anomaly in my mind: As you've explained, we believe the Reformed confessions to be a biblical [i:025ca52cfa]system[/i:025ca52cfa] of doctrine, with each one essential to the others like a chain. That makes sense on one hand, but then on the other hand we say that Roman Catholics have totally departed from the biblical faith, while we do not say that of the Assemblies of God or the United Methodist Church. The latter has denied important tenets of the confessional Reformed faith, but has not denied Sola Fide like Rome has - which is why we speak of Rome as a false church, but do not say so of most Arminianistic evangelical churches. Under the "chain" paradigm, how would we square this apparent anomaly?
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Chris:

Maybe this will help. It is our time that we live in that calls for an emphasis on Sola Fide. There is again, like in Edwards time, a wave of Arminianism and works righteousness spreading over the land. It is not so much that a new theology is becoming popular, but more so that theology is becoming lax. You never hear of an Arminian lapsing into Calvinism, do you? But we are often, these days, confronted with Reformed churches that are drifting into Arminianism and other forms of works righteousness, and all because they have watered down the gospel to suit the popularized social imperitives (which is the ecclesiastical equivalent to being "politically correct". )

This is where the battle is right now. And it has been for a few decades, even in our own churches. It is the flag that needs waving.

I agree fully with Wayne that the Confessions are to be seen as equally binding teachings. But different times call for different emphases. We don't, for example, deal a great deal with the substitutionary side of the Atonement these days. That one is pretty well taken for granted anymore. But there was a time when it was front and centre, and a great dissertation on that subject was written that has been the standard ever since, though we have moved up the ladder quite a bit on it. I refer the Anselm's [u:8652714279]Cur Deus Homo[/u:8652714279], and Calvin's [u:8652714279]Institutes[/u:8652714279] afterward. But this does not take anything away from the co-necessity of all the doctrines which we confess to be "the doctrines of salvation taught in this Christian church to be the true and complete doctrines of salvation." (taken from the Confession of Faith form of the Dutch Reformed churches. )
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Your point is well-taken, John. It's a good observation that a works-salvation mindset happens to be one of the most prevalent heresies of our day, and that thus accounts for why such an emphasis on Sola Fide is warranted today. But still, we seem to take it beyond a mere emphasis of our time in making it a doctrine we require churches to hold to in order to still be considered true churches. In other words, our emphasis on Sola Fide may indeed be time-dependent just like certain ecumenical creeds were - but our distinction between Rome (denial of Sola Fide) as a false church and Assemblies of God (denial of, say, unconditional election) as still a true church seems to be a more radical and absolute distinction between the two doctrines than just an emphasis warranted by the times.

It seems like every time we resolve one question on this topic, a new one is created! :bs2:
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Chris:
There is a lot more to the distinction between RCC and AofG churches. It isn't just a denial of Sola Fide that marks the RCC. They have placed their confidence in men, not God, for one; they worship Mary, and confer on her the office of Christ, for another; they sell tickets to heaven; they bully the lowly; etc, etc. The rallying cry was Sola Fide, but that was not the cry against Rome, as much as it was the cry of the gospel to the people being called out of the RCC.

If you want to compare the two, it's like rolling a boulder off your leg compared to taking a stone out of your shoe, to exaggerate somewhat. One is from the top down, the other from the bottom up, so to speak: the RCC is an apostate church that had us in her grasp; the AofG is a church trying to get into our circles.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
[quote:6d90cb7309="Me Died Blue"]That's a great point, Wayne, and it definitely makes logical and biblical sense. But now I guess it sort of creates an apparent anomaly in my mind: As you've explained, we believe the Reformed confessions to be a biblical [i:6d90cb7309]system[/i:6d90cb7309] of doctrine, with each one essential to the others like a chain. That makes sense on one hand, but then on the other hand we say that Roman Catholics have totally departed from the biblical faith, while we do not say that of the Assemblies of God or the United Methodist Church. The latter has denied important tenets of the confessional Reformed faith, but has not denied Sola Fide like Rome has - which is why we speak of Rome as a false church, but do not say so of most Arminianistic evangelical churches. Under the "chain" paradigm, how would we square this apparent anomaly?[/quote:6d90cb7309]

I don't know a lot about the AoG and I don't believe that either denomination has a confession that outlines what the believe as the Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed do. But in looking at the United Methodists or the AoG, do they understand Sola Fide (considering just this issue) as the Reformers and the Scriptures teach. Assuming the UMC holds to Evangelical Arminianism, I would say they don't have the correct view of Justification by Faith (actually the UMC is still stuck in old style liberalism which is not Christianity, see Machen's book on Christianity and Liberalism). The RCC will also affirm Justification by Faith but drop the alone. So with many Churches today its hard to figure out what exactly they hold to. Its like putting together a puzzle without a picture showing you what it suppose to look like. As Ken Gentry noted in that article I linked, we are living in an anti-creedal age, still suffering from the effects of volunteerism, revivalism and Charles Finney.

Going back to the Ecuminical Councils, Arminianisms kissing cousin Semi-Pelagianism was condemed by the Council of Orange as heresy and the Synod of Dordt condemed Arminianism straight away.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I think I do see your point. A denial of Sola Fide is just a certain degree of a denial of other interreleted concepts as well, all just as relevant. Arminianism and works-salvation are just different degrees of the same kind of error. And just as various creeds (rather than just one) solidify the essentials of the faith, so it is with judging departings from those essentials - each system of error must be judged and rebuked for what it is against [i:5800716059]all[/i:5800716059] the doctrines of truth (rather than trying to set one particular doctrine apart as "the essential" standard by which to judge all systems for orthodoxy) as every such system will be denying some of the so-called essentials in one degree or another. Am I following you?
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
You got it! Its always going to be hard to figure out what is and what is not essential, especially when you get into more complex confessions like the WCF, because one depends on the other and all depend on Scripture.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
[quote:9ee5199d2b]while we do not say that of the Assemblies of God or the United Methodist Church. [/quote:9ee5199d2b]

That depends on who you talk to. :D

We should also remember that there must be a certain amount of biblical information in the message. For example, say we meet a aboriginy from Africa. He has never heard anything. So we quote:

Acts 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

This woudl seem unintelligible to them. Who is Jesus? WHat is cricifixion? What is "Son of God"? What is "Christ?" Etc. Etc.
 
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