In Defense of the Apostles’ Creed (Part 2)

   In the present article, I’d like to continue clearing up some of the statements that John Riffe has made concerning the Apostles’ Creed.  It seems to be his intention to cast doubt on the creed in a number of ways: firstly, by placing in question its authorship; secondly, by noting a lack of urgency in the Parousia expectation; thirdly, by claiming that it was amended and embellished at divers periods of the church’s history; and fourthly, by pointing out the fact that it was never equated with the word of God.  Although John has written some great material in the past, and while I appreciate his concerns, I do not subscribe to any method of argument which depends on the instillation of doubt in the minds of readers.  In every event we must be watchful and diligent in our maintenance of evangelical standards.  Let us beware of casting shadows.  The children of God have not to do with darkness, but with light. 

   Satan used doubt-instilling methods when he enticed Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.  Tempting her to question the veracity of God’s word, he pointed out the desirability of the fruit itself– not telling her, however, that the good and evil were deceptively intermixed.  The same spirit, and even the same modus operandi, underlies Hyper Preterism.  In order for Hyper-Preterists to get others to eat from their tree, they rely on a number of devilish tactics.  One of these involves planting doubt in the minds of God’s people as to the true meaning of the text.  “Does the word of God really say that?”

   They tell us that the Bible must be understood in a mystical and allegorical sense– notwithstanding that all the prophecies concerning our Savior’s first advent and Passion are clear and unambiguous.  And yet the H.P.’s would like us to believe that all statements concerning the second coming are unclear and elusive!  That is just one method they use.  Another is to make themselves appear progressive, as it were, and on the “cutting edge” of theology. They pride themselves on their supposed ability to correctly read the texts.  And yet their views cannot be found anywhere in the history of the church!  Obviously, all such methods derive force from an evolutionary theory of doctrinal development.  But the Holy Spirit does not work according to man’s theory of evolution.  Let us pause and remember where evolution all started– at the Tower of Babel.  It is essentially a product of the devil.

   But Preterism and other heretical systems rely upon it.  For they have no historicity to back up their claims.  Their teachers plead for a “solo Scriptura” understanding.  But the Scriptures do not speak for themselves.  They must be interpreted.  The evolutionists are not really saying that the Scriptures must be preferred, but that their interpretations must be preferred.  That erroneous concept, however, has caused many to err from the truth.  And I’m afraid that John has fallen into the snare.  For a brief period I myself held a similar view.  But I soon realized the flawed foundation on which it rests.  For having been led by the Spirit to know that God’s purposes never fail, I soon discerned that the doctrines of theological evolution and isolated understanding are absolutely impossible.  Let me use language that most “Reformed” Preterists will understand.  If Hyper-Preterism is the truth, then God is not truly sovereign.  If it took Christians 2,000 years to arrive at a correct system of doctrine, then the church can never really have been “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3: 15).  This would also imply that orthodoxy was preceded by 1,900 years of heresy!  Are one man’s teachings really enough to topple down centuries of church tradition?  Think again.  Such views are blasphemous and heretical, and must be rejected by every true child of God. 

   Besides, they are bogus and irrational.  And those who cling to them are equally irrational.  They are not to be listened to, but patiently withstood.  While I am entirely against the heresy of Hyper-Preterism, I think that theological evolution and headstrong pride are the real enemies.   And their popular reception would certainly account for the wholesale rejection of creeds and confessions.  One who thinks he has ‘advanced’ above all others will disdain to follow the tried and tested paths, and hew out his own deceptive trails. But if a Christian separates himself from the great cloud of witnesses in the church, what is his true status in the body?  This question will be a challenge to many.  For it is clear to me that one who contemns Christ’s body has ostracized himself therefrom.  He or she has fallen way from the true vine, and must be grafted back in again.  Only faith will enable us to stand in Christ.  But if we have not faith, we cannot be saved.  For it is by faith alone that we have access to the grace wherein we stand (Romans 5: 2). 

   That others may not succumb to the deadly fate of apostasy, I have thought it expedient to counteract, as best I can, their insidious poison with the antidote of truth.  Let us hope the medicine proves effective.  Of course, the lack of spiritual power evinced by Preterism should tell us that it is not the authorized Gospel.  And really, on a whole Preterism has had a poor history.  It is interesting to note that, in spite of the  push of academia during the 19th century to promote the doctrines of Preterism, the movement was completely wiped out within a short number of years.  Every time Preterism has made an advance, Futurism has driven it back into the darkness where it belongs.  I believe that Preterism, in its protean manifestations, will always fall under pure evangelical Christianity. 

   But let us get back to John’s contention that the creed was embellished many times throughout the years.  It is true that the creed has come down to us in a number of forms.  Yet none of these forms are contradictory.  Rufinus, writing in 390 A.D., speaks of slight additions made to the creed by different churches.  Nevertheless, all of the versions of the creed have come down to us agreeing in statement in structure.  All affirm the session of the Son of God at the right hand of the Father.  All affirm His coming thence to judge the living and the dead.  All affirm a future resurrection of the flesh.  These seem to be the articles with which John has the biggest problem.  Because he has accepted the indefensible notion that Christ returned in A.D. 70, he has cast away the creed as erroneous.  I, on the other hand, affirm the authority of the creed. Never has it been more needful for the children of God to cleave to the one true faith.

   John is correct that the Nicene Creed differs somewhat from the Apostles’ Creed.  Why?  Because the former represents the Eastern church, which was at the time of its ratification (325 A.D.) being overrun by the heresy of Arianism.  This creed contains clear statements regarding the homoousion, or co-essence of the Father and Son, which the Arian teachings denied.  Thus, the creed was only enlarged as a measure to defend against heresy.  The issue of embellishment does not prove that the creeds are unreliable.  It only shows that creeds have, in all ages of church history, been necessary in combating different forms of false doctrine.  Heresies have always existed in the church.  It is important to have some external standard whereby we may test whether a man’s doctrines be true or false.  If there is no other standard but the Bible alone, then all the heretics that ever vexed the church must stand on equal ground with those who maintained the true faith.  This is what I mean when I accuse Hyper-Preterists of dragging the truth down to lowest possible standards.  Let no man blur the distinctions between good and evil.  The truth must always be exalted.  And it will be!

   One of the important amendments made to the Apostles’ Creed is the clause adopted by the Church of Aquileia, “Hujus carnis resurrectionem“– “the resurrection of this flesh.”  Rufinus, the creed’s earliest expositor, explains this to us: “Our church, in teaching the faith, instead of “the Resurrection of the flesh,” as the creed is delivered in other churches, guardedly adds the pronoun ‘this’– ‘the resurrection of this flesh.’  ‘Of this,’ that is, no doubt, of the person who rehearses the creed, making the sign of the cross upon his forehead, while he says the word, that each believer may know that his flesh, if he have kept it clean from sin, will be a vessel of honor, useful to the Lord, prepared for every good work; but if defiled by sins, that it will be a vessel of wrath destined to destruction.” (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, xliii).

   That is a case where embellishment became necessary to more clearly define the faith.  Note that the heresy denying the resurrection of the flesh arose at an early epoch of the church’s history.  The early church fathers are in general agreement that Simon Magus (Acts 8: 9 ff.) and his disciple Menander were the authors of the Gnostic heresy which denied the resurrection.  So it is no wonder to find, at a very early date, true teachers doing all they could to combat this error.  The creed came in very a propos to their efforts, for it provided a sure standard whereby a man’s teachings could be tested by laymen and ministers alike.

   It would appear that John Riffe denies the resurrection of the flesh.  Wherefore it is only natural that he should deny the creed.  For if he accepted the creed, his system of theology would be destroyed.  Thus, I cannot take seriously his implication that the Creed must be rejected because it was embellished at divers times.  These are mere excuses made to break the authority of creeds, and yet the arguments John is using are so frail that they crumble at the slightest touch.  To be fair, however, I will ask John if he can show me one instance in which any of the fundamental articles were changed.  If he can, then I may well agree with him.  But let’s be honest with ourselves.  The Apostles’ Creed has always been the Apostles’ Creed, and always will be, to the world’s end!

   John’s fourth remark was that the Creed was never equated with the word of God.  This is correct.  But neither should we expect it to be.  And when we think it over, we must concede that it was an act of wisdom not to include it in Scripture.  For if it were part of Scripture, it would now be subject to false interpretation by heretics!  Frankly, I accept the traditional view that the Creed is a direct product of the blessed Apostles.  And only those of the Higher Critical (that is, evolutionary) persuasion will seriously doubt its Apostolic authorship.  Rufinus, in recording its history, informs us why the Creed was never committed to writing:

   “It is called ‘Indicium’ or ‘Signum,’ a sign or token, because, at that time, as the Apostle Paul says, and as is revealed in the Acts of the Apostles, many of the vagabond Jews, pretending to be Apostles of Christ, went about preaching for gain’s sake or their belly’s sake, naming the name of Christ indeed, but not delivering their message according to the exact traditional lines.  The Apostles therefore prescribed this formulary as a sign or token by which he who preached Christ truly, according to the Apostolic rule, might be recognized.  Finally, they say that in civil wars, since the armor of both sides is alike, and the language the same, and the custom and mode of warfare the same, each general, to guard against treachery, is wont to deliver to his soldiers a distinct symbol or watchword– in Latin ‘signum’ or ‘indicium’–so that if one is met with, of whom it is doubtful to which side he belongs, being asked the symbol (watchword), he discloses whether he is friend or foe.  And for this reason, the tradition continues, the Creed is not written on paper or parchment, but is retained in the hearts of the faithful, that it may be certain that no one has learnt it by reading, as is sometimes the case with unbelievers, but by tradition from the Apostles.” (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, ii).

   So, according to the statements of Rufinus, the creed is a necessary aid in combating false teachers.  It was not included in Scripture, because it was not to be read, but to be memorized.  We must remember also, that the Creed was for centuries used as a baptismal formula, and in catechetical exercises.  I remember years ago, when a child, having to recite the Creed during catechism.  This ancient tradition goes back all the way to the days of the early church.  And no one ever supposed that its absence from the Divine canon places its authority in question.  Quite the contrary.  The Reformers, far from denying the authority of the Creed, considered it a necessary part of Christian instruction.  For instance, Section II of Luther’s Small Catechism (A.D. 1529) states that the creed “should be clearly and simply explained to every household by the head of the family.”  The Heidelberg Catechism (A.D. 1563), asks (Question 22): “What is necessary for a Christian to believe?” The answer is: “All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us in sum.”  Question twenty-three reads: “What are these articles?”  In answer, the respondent recites the Apostles’ Creed.

   The French Confession of faith (A.D. 1559) likewise considers the creeds to be authoritative.  Also, in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563), the authority of creeds is expressed as follows: “The three creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”  Creedal authority is also enforced in the Anglican Catechism of 1549, as well as the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647.  It is a base misconception that the Reformers, in working to cleanse the true faith from the accretions and corruptions of Romanism, ever intended to do away with the Creeds and Confessions.  This notion, which is entirely false, has been repeatedly exposed by Roderick Edwards.  Only in recent years have Evangelical Christians sought to cast away the creeds.  And this practice has become popular, not among traditional mainline Protestant groups, but among cults such as the “Churches of Christ,” whose ministers claim to hold the pure faith, but end up impeaching all men (and each other) as liars.

To be continued…

2 Comments Add yours

  1. >>While I am entirely against the heresy of Hyper-Preterism, I think that theological evolution and headstrong pride are the real enemies. >>

    amen – I have put it as “theological novelty is NOT a good thing”

  2. Hi Dee Dee,

    And that’s the truth! BTW, I listened to some of your podcast the other day. Due to my slow connection I was only able to get some of it, however I liked what I heard.
    Keep up the good work!

    Peace and Health,

    Brian

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