Sunday, March 27, 2005

The flame passes on

Letters from babylon has a Protestant perspective and questions the claim: No Creed but the Bible? (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost)

Christians in the twenty-first century are the beneficiaries of two thousand years of Christian history, in which sincere and intelligent believers have struggled with the perennial issues of the faith, and have expressed their conclusions in many documents of church history known as creeds and confessions. Simply to reject this collected wisdom, and to pretend that we do something other than adopt a creed when we choose to reject this wisdom, is to do ourselves a great disservice. Not only can we learn a great deal from those believers who have gone before us, and avoid repeating past mistakes, but also, the fact that we stand in a long line of Christians ought to be of tremendous encouragement to our faith. We do not live alone in history, and we should not act as though we do.

Certainly, there have been many false ideas advanced throughout church history—some of them contained in the creeds—that are rightly to be rejected. But a wholesale rejection of the study of church history is not a solution to this problem. Rather, we should work to make ourselves aware of those false ideas that have previously worked destruction, that we are better able to recognize and refute them when they appear today.

Spot-on, I would say: a balanced and biblical position. On the one hand, the modern notion entertained by some evangelicals is just plain wrong: "Just me and the Bible, as illumined by the Holy Spirit." On this point our Catholic friends are perfectly right to say that this "Lone Ranger Christianity" is contrary to the Bible itself:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-21

We don't stand in an historical and theological vacuum; we are indebted to the insights of those Christians who went before us, struggled with some of the same things we struggle with, and searched for answers in the same Bible as ours (at least the 66 books we all agree on). It is only with ignorance coupled with arrogance that we could look at the Christians of the past 20 centuries and say, "I have no need of you!" In my observation, people who claim to rely on the Bible alone as their guide are for the most part relying on the proof texts taught by the leadership of their church or denomination, or possibly their favorite teacher or author. None of us are a tabula rasa, although by God's grace we can overcome our predilections in the quest for a fuller knowledge of the truth.

On the other hand, it must also be acknowledged that the creeds of historic Christianity, though often great summaries of key biblical truth as over against doctrinal innovation and error, are not themselves inerrant or infallible, at least from a historic Protestant position. In the end, all creeds must bow to what all Christians acknowledge to be the word of God Himself: the Bible.

In our quest for a robust Christianity founded on scripture, relevant in our own day and informed by the insights of earlier Christians, particularly the earliest, evangelicals should be encouraged to rediscover the patristic writings: the works of the "Early Church Fathers". After all, who today can claim that their biblical exegesis is superior to that of those taught by the apostles, or taught by those taught by the apostles? Whose dedication is greater than those brutally murdered for their faith in the days of the Caesars?

(The title of this post is from a song by White Heart on their Highlands album, dealing with this very subject.)