This article is written in response to a recent conversation with John Riffe. In discussing the issues of historicity, I told him that as it was impossible for two opposing parties to be right, I would have to agree with the party that has historical continuity of the faith, as it is not possible that the Holy Spirit could have failed to guide Christians into the truth for 2,000 years. Such a theory is not only ridiculous, but is frankly heretical. The opposition between our views, while never vehement, nevertheless became so sharp, that, like Barnabas and Paul, we were forced to part ways. Since that time, John has written attacks against the Apostles’ creed. And he has also refused to publish any more of my comments. Since this conduct does not agree with the principles of fair play, I wrote him telling him that I would issue a formal response to his article at http://prophecyandhistory.com/?q=node/323.
Let me start by giving my own opinion concerning the Apostles’ Creed. I do not believe that anyone can be saved unless he or she believes in the one faith delivered to the saints. I believe that this faith is contained in the Apostles’ Creed. Those who do not accept the creed I cannot accept as Christian brethren, and the church fathers would have supported me in this. How is one a Christian if he does not even believe in the tenets of Christianity? If there be many bodies with many different faiths, then I find no trace of them in Scripture. At any rate, the doctrine of “many bodies” does not concern me. My duty is to cleave to and defend the “One body” (Eph. 4: 4) that has the Apostolic power, gifts, and graces.
Preterism, as we all know, has had a history of dragging the truth down to the lowest possible standards. Preterists insist that they are Christians, but I think few of them really take their professions seriously. Even the Scribes and Pharisees maintained an outward form of religion; but Preterists cannot even do that. Most of them are of low moral character, not sticking to lie, cheat, or do anything they can to promote their views and overthrow the true faith. For all that, they are afraid to label their own beliefs orthodox or even stand behind one another. They will not even dare call themselves a church. Rather, they insist on being known as a “community.” Very well. Let the community either come to Christ to be cleansed, or remain without the assembly.
When we deal with Preterists, we must remember that they are people who have voluntarily separated from all of forms of orthodox religion. They have consistently declared, either by their speech or their actions, that they are enemies of any kind of orthodox futurism. Rebuke them, and, like Simon Magus, they shall only redouble their efforts against us. But their weapons are not sound. There are many holes and inconsistencies in their system to which their headstrong arrogance blinds them. Point these inconsistencies out, and watch them war against reason. Warring against the Bible is bad enough. But to insist on being irrational is to drag oneself down to the level of the brute beasts. Be men and at least agree to reason with us. But no. The groveling methods they use prevent them from lifting their eyes to the sun.
After a brief run-in with Hyper Preterism, it came as no surprise to me to learn that these men are implacable enemies of creeds and confessions. Their promiscuous standards of truth do not permit them to even frame any kind of formal creed for themselves, for they are constitutionally unable to believe in anything they assert. When one destroys the meaning of language, one must deal with the consequences. In pulling down the temple, one risks killing himself; and so, as a natural consequence of his actions, he only destroys his own faith. I believe this is the case with many Preterists. They cannot take seriously even their own beliefs anymore.
It’s nice to see that John Riffe, a former full preterist, made some effort to conform the Apostles’ Creed to his own Millennial system. But it would be more praiseworthy, I think, if he sought to conform his system to the creed. For rejection of the creed places him outside the ranks of orthodox Christianity. As I have told him many a time, there is only one faith and one body. The one body has always maintained and held the one faith as contained in the creed. If there is one body but many faiths, let us just throw away our Bibles and embrace Islam, Buddhism, or some other religion that knows what it is about.
In his recent article, I’ve noticed that John has cast doubt on the Apostolic authorship of the creed. That is fine. Let me say that the authorship of the creed is, in my mind, a red-herring. For anyone reading the creed can clearly see that the doctrines proclaimed therein are those taught by Scripture. What is important to me is not proving the authorship of the creed, but proving historical continuity of its teachings from the Apostolic period onwards. Surprisingly, this is very easy to do. Unless one chooses to completely set aside the testimony of the early church, one must concede that there isn’t a trace of evidence for the assertion that Christ returned in A.D. 70. This being the case, it is only natural that the earliest church documents agree with belief in a future second coming of Christ.
That some kind of formal creed was used by the early church may be inferred from 1 Cor. 15: 3; Heb. 6: 1-2; 2 Tim. 1: 13-14; 2 John 10; Jude 3, and similar passages. This is no new idea of my own, but has already been pronounced feasible by scholars such as Philip Schaff, S. Baring-Gould, and others. True, the apostles never enclosed such a formal creed in any of their own writings. The probable reason is that it wasn’t necessary. For the apostles handed the truth down to the their disciples, who handed it down to their disciples, and so on. The Ante-Nicene fathers are very clear in their statements concerning Episcopal succession. There is far more evidence in that matter than, perhaps, John Riffe supposes.
Although John has been unable to trace the creed prior to Tertullian, I have to say that he is mistaken. The earliest traces of a formula similar to that of the Apostles’ Creed may be found in Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of John the Evangelist. In A.D. 107 he wrote: “Stop your ears, therefore, when anyone speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified and [truly died], in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from Whom we do not possess the true life.” (Epistle to the Trallians, ix).
Since Ignatius was a disciple of John, it is impossible that would have have derived his beliefs from a source other than the blessed Evangelist. That he is speaking of a resurrection of the flesh is evident when we consider that at that time, he was combating the errors of the Docetae, who held that Christ had an ethereal, non-human body. Thus, Ignatius confirms to his hearers that Christ was truly raised in his own flesh, and that we will be raised “after the same manner.” Polycarp, his brother in Christ (another disciple of John), also speaks of a future judgment and resurrection. (Epistle to the Philippians, ii, v, vi, xi).
Now Ireneaus was a disciple of Polycarp. And Ireneaus makes implicit statements regarding historic succession of the Apostolic churches. In Book III of his work Against Heresies (A.D. 180), he gives a detailed account of the early succession of churches (cap. 2, 3, 4, 5), and goes on to affirm that nowhere else outside of the One Church is the truth to be found. What is this truth? He tells us clearly in the following words: “Believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus the Son of God; Who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth and despise His Father and His advent” (cap. 4).
I don’t think the words can be any clearer than that. If my friend John needs more proof of the historical continuity of the creed, I am not sure where to get it for him, as it is impossible to go back in time and ask the Apostles themselves. As in all cases of this nature, we must either believe or disbelieve the testimony that lies before us. I, for one, am a believer. For I have found it a principle of well-being not to go through life doubting everything that purports to be what it is. Doubt is opposed to faith and drags downward. But faith inspires upward. So, while we may not have all the answers now, it will be much safer for our souls if we simply accept and believe the testimony of men who spilt their own blood for the faith. I hope that John will agree with me on this.
He (Riffe) goes on to say that all Scripture was written from the pre-A.D. 70 time frame. I trust he knows, however, that this view does not represent the consensus of Bible scholars. The book of Revelation, for instance, cannot be traced prior to the end of Domitian’s reign. I admit, of course, the slim possibility of it being composed prior to A.D. 70. But let us look at it this way. If it first appeared around 97 A.D., then we may rest assured that it was not sitting in a corner for thirty years, but that it was being handed downward from disciple to disciple. If this view is feasible, then we have a right to expect some notification of its fulfillment, if such were the case. In other words, if the churches knew this book had already been fulfilled, then I’m sure they would have passed that knowledge along with the book. At least we should think so! But, no. Ireneaus, a grand-disciple of John the Evangelist, was a pre-Millennialist! And this only helps to confirm the view that the book was written during Domitian’s persecution.
Even though Preterists continue to argue over the supposed “internal evidence” of Revelation– as, for example, the Jewish temple being represented as still standing– this evidence is not at all conclusive, as the book is written largely in symbolic language. At any rate, what I am saying is this: that there is no evidence, here or elsewhere, that Christ ever returned in A.D. 70. Neither the early churches held this view, nor can any support be garnered from the New Testament writings themselves. Shocking as this may sound to Hyper-Preterists, nevertheless it is true. For there is no way the logical threads, faithfully followed out, ever lead to the conclusion that Christ returned in A.D. 70. Full Preterism comes about through an insufficient gathering of facts, followed by vigorous a priori kickback. I’ve already explained in previous articles why such a method is not acceptable. Let us drop this method, for it will never lead us anywhere except into deeper confusion.
Since the view that Christ returned in A.D. 70 is obviously what is preventing John from accepting the orthodox creeds, I urge him to re-examine his own conclusions. He seems to see in the creed some vague and elusive cessation of the parousia anticipation. However, I frankly do not see this at all. For if Christ is still sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the general judgment and resurrection are represented as still future, then the very opposite must be conceded. Rather, the creed itself states that the Second Coming is a future event. Please wake up, John. I am not at all your enemy. I am trying to lead you back to a common sense view of the Parousia. And in the weeks and moths to come I hope that others will see that what I am saying is correct.
As for the Patristic writers, I shall quote them freely. Far from being insufficient, the church Fathers constitute my largest source of ammunition against Preterism. As long as Christians are willing to look at the issues of historicity, I have no fear that pure Christianity will ever be pulled down. Of course we must remember that Satan is on the loose. An apostasy is raging, and many men have crept in unawares. But Paul tells us the reason why heresies are permitted to exist. “That they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11: 19). Heresies exist to refine and purify the righteous. Those deceivers and stewards of Satan have already proven by their fruits that they are bastard vines who have no part in Christ. So, “let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15: 14).
To Be Continued…