How Inspired are the Creeds? – A Guest Article
It has long been a fascination– and a troubling fact – that so many believers place their faith in the creeds of the church and the early church fathers (ECF). I have encountered many believers who tell me that they don’t care what the Bible says, if the creeds say something different, they will go with the creeds! I am not exaggerating. This has happened to me many times!
On Facebook over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about the authority and inspiration of the creeds. It has been claimed that the creeds of the church are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus, they are authoritative for us. I must confess that I find this to be more than troubling, and not even close to Scriptural. (Of course, one of the ironies of the claims is that many of those claiming creedal inspiration differ significantly from the very creeds that the say are inspired and authoritative!
I am glad to share with our visitors an excellent article by Bill Dolack, a frequent FaceBook poster. This article on the problem of the creeds of the church is more than enlightening and should be carefully considered. It is an excellent analysis. Enjoy! (Keep in mind that he posted the article on a Facebook page and some of his comments are directed to those insisting on the authority of the creeds of the church.
Creeds and Early Church Fathers – By Bill Dolack
Some here – mainly Orthodox or Catholic – often appeal to the Early Church Fathers as “proof” that what happened in AD 70 wasn’t the Second Coming since the ECF looked to a yet future coming. Lance, (Lance Conley, DKP) of course, carries this to the extreme by claiming the ECF were inspired and that their writings were on par with scripture. (DKP– Note, others are claiming the same thing).
But even those who are more moderate in their veneration of the ECF still seem to view them as correct in all their doctrine. After all, they say, these are the men who had a direct (or close to it) connection to the Apostles themselves, so they must be right.
Yet, the point the pro-ECF crowd misses is that there were serious errors happening in the church even while the Apostles were still alive. Paul talks about this (Acts 20:29-31, 35). So the question is this: if errors were occurring during the apostolic period itself, why do some people today believe the ECF’s were incapable of error? And if they did make errors in their interpretation of scripture, could the Second Coming be one of them?
Lance has mentioned literally dozens of times the “creeds and councils” as his evidence of what constitutes Christianity. But the simple fact that they even had councils negates Lance’s claim that the ECF were 100 percent right (and that anyone throughout history who disagreed with them was wrong).
We know that the First Council of Nicaea, after much debate and arguing, condemned Arianism, and the first Nicene Creed was adopted. We also know that later councils at Antioch (341), Sirmium (357), and Constantinople (360) sided with Arius’s view, and all previously accepted creeds were rejected. And then in 381 at Constantinople, Arianism was again condemned, and an updated Nicene Creed was issued.
These men discussed, they argued, they debated. If they had been inspired, why did this happen? Why weren’t they all of one mind?
Who was right? The majority?
Was ECF Origen right when he said the Holy Spirit was a created being? Was ECF Jerome right when he said Mary was a perpetual virgin, and therefore Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” were really cousins? Was ECF Epiphanius right when he denied perpetual virginhood but declared the “brothers and sisters” to be previous children of Joseph?
An exclusive reliance on the ECF (or the creeds of the church, DKP) to determine what scripture says is courting disaster. Yes, there was much good that came from them, and we need to accept that. But there was also much error.
In his book “The Torch of the Testimony,” John W. Kennedy writes:
“Long before the apostles had completed their ministry there were destructive forces assiduously working upon the church from within… The problems encountered in the churches of the apostolic era are set down for our examination in the epistles… From the point to which Luke conducts us in his history of the Acts till the latter part of the second century there is a conspicuous lack of historical information on the development of the assemblies. When we emerge from this period of uncertainty, we find a church in many respects quite different from the churches of the New Testament. Wide and far-reaching changes have taken place, and there is an unmistakable move in the direction of the institutionalism of latter years.”
J.M. Cramp, D.D., writes in “Baptist History” (written in the early 1800’s):
“The profession of Christianity in those times [when Constantine ruled] was a very different thing from what it had been in the first and purest ages. The simplicity of apostolic form had given place to complicated ceremonies. Expediency had supplanted right. The inquiry was not, What has Christ commanded? but rather, How may influence, and power, and patronage, and wealth be obtained? How may the gospel become popular?”
Here are some examples of things the ECF added that are not found in New Testament scripture:
• Infant baptism (practiced by the RCC, Eastern Orthodox, and various Protestant denominations);
• Baptism of a new believer only after a waiting period (as seen above, sometimes a very long time, DKP);
• Great cathedrals (Acts 1:13, 1 Cor. 16:19, Romans 16:3-5, Col. 4:15;
• Stained glass windows;
• Praying to Mary;
• Praying to saints;
• Statues and icons;
• Crossing one’s self;
• Holy water;
• Ringing bells during a service;
• Calling the building “the house of God”;
• Christian assemblies run by one man;
• Confessions only given to one man (or one class of men);
• Non-participation by those in attendance (1 Cor. 14:26);
• Communion wafers (Acts 2:46-47);
• A clergy/laity divide;
• A hierarchal system of clergy;
• And worst of all, KILLING IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.
None of these things can be supported by scripture yet they were instituted by various ECF’s over the first several centuries. (Even Luther and Calvin advocated violence against “heretics”- DKP)
It is undeniable that error was ongoing during the time of the Apostles. Luke writes in Acts about the “Pharisees who believed” who had a large following (Acts 21:20). These men sought to place burdens on Gentile converts, something Paul strongly opposed. Acts 20:24 makes clear that the Pharisees were from the Jerusalem church but, according to James, “they had no such instructions from us.”
Here we have believers, zealous believers, preaching the gospel according to their understanding of it. They weren’t bad men, they weren’t wolves in sheep’s clothing. They were simply wrong (even though it’s likely that the Jerusalem church would have sided with them if Paul hadn’t complained), and needed to be corrected.
So, if error existed in the church while Paul, James, Peter, and other Apostles were still living, why do so many Christians today deny the possibility that error existed in the church ten years later? Twenty-five years later? One hundred years later?
Even an Apostle, Peter, was wrong in his actions (Gal. 2:11-16) and was fiercely rebuked by Paul. Peter led others astray, including Barnabas, and who knows what damage may have resulted if Paul hadn’t stood up for the truth.
In later years, Ignatius taught that the bishop (such as himself) was the only one who could officiate at baptisms or communion. This flies in the face of apostolic teaching.
Cramp quotes Baron Bunsen, Prussian Ambassador to England:
“As a general rule, the ancient church fixed three years for this preparation [for baptism], supposing the candidate, whether heathen or Jew, to be competent to receive it.”
Yet, in the New Testament accounts, men and women were baptized immediately after their profession of faith.
“I do not affirm that every professing Christian was enveloped in this darkness; but it is too evident that the views of the majority were confused, and that, under the leadership of such men as Cyprian, the churches were fast drifting into dangerous notions.”
Along with these drastic changes from the simple faith taught by the Apostles came the heavy hand of authoritarianism. Those who believed differently, who taught differently, were excoriated, excommunicated, and at times even martyred.
“The views entertained by the majority were called ‘Catholic,’ because they were said to be held by all, and ‘Orthodox,’ because they were assumed to be right. Those who differed from the majority were termed heretics. The words ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ were not always employed, however, in the same acceptations. As each man deemed himself right and his opponent wrong, every man was orthodox in his own eyes; and as successive emperors patronized one or another form of belief, he who was orthodox in one reign was liable to be stigmatized as a heretic in the next. Patronage, power, and persecution are closely allied. When imperial intervention was called for to settle Christian disputes or to suppress a rising sect, there was no way of exercising it but by means of penalties, for law must of necessity be powerless unless offenses against it are punished. Hence arose the monstrosity of Christian persecution.”
And this leads back to a long, heated exchange I had with Lance in which he repeatedly minimized the atrocities committed against millions of people (during, but not limited to, the Inquisition). In his book “Mega Shift,” Jim Rutz writes,
“In a stated act of ‘self-cleansing’ on January 22, 1998, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [who later became Pope Benedict XVI], Grand Inquisitor for the Roman Catholic Church and head of its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaking for the church, said that their archives (4,500 big volumes) indicate a death toll of 25 million over the centuries.”
Twenty-five million killed because the RCC considered them heretics (and the ironic thing is many people today view the RCC as the heretics for their various doctrines). Yet, Lance referred to this as “some sketchy moments,” “a few hiccups,” and “miniscule.” Twenty-five million dead.
And look at some of those martyred by the RCC: Jacques de Molay, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, Hugh Latimer, Thomas Hawkes, Joan Waste, Dirk Willems, John Wycliffe, and William Tyndale. The Eastern Orthodox Church also has blood on its hands, including Basil the Physician, Avvakum Petrovich, Quirinus Kuhlmann, the Paulicians, the Bogomils, the Old Believers, the Stundists, the Doukhobrs, and more.
In fact, the OC had a hand in the deaths of “no fewer than one hundred thousand Paulicians” from AD 832 to AD 846, according to Cramp (page 76).
“Imperial cruelty at length provoked retaliation and revenge. The Paulicians took up arms in defense of their families and their homes. The transition from self-defense to active rebellion is easy, and the Provinces of the East were convulsed with civil war, for all the miseries of which the persecutors were responsible.” (Baptist History, Cramp, page 77)
And why did the OC target the Paulicians?
“But here was their distinction: they withdrew from the Greek Church because that church had abandoned the high ground of gospel truth and spiritual worship. They asserted the right and duty of searching the Scriptures, and would admit no other rule. They abhorred saint-worship. They would not adore the cross, nor bow down before images. They abjured the ecclesiastical hierarchy.” (ibid., page 78).
More than one hundred thousand people killed for refusing to follow un-scriptural commands of the church’s leaders. How incredibly sad.
Of course, the various Protestant movements are just as guilty, though they have “only” 500 years of atrocities to account for, compared to the 1,000 to 2,000 years of persecution perpetrated by the RCC and Orthodox churches.
The attitude of violence continues today when people like Lance say that all “heretics” should be struck dead by God, or that they should do themselves a favor by committing suicide. I reminded him of the passage in Luke where James and John ask Jesus if they should “command fire to come down from heaven” to destroy the Samaritans who rejected Jesus.
The Lord, of course, rebuked them and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
We are not to have the spirit that calls for God to destroy men’s lives. That is clear in scripture. And the centuries-long history of violence perpetrated by the RCC and OC (and later, many of the Protestant denominations) is a black mark on Christianity, and reveals a fundamental error that began with the ECF and continues to this day.
But while the organized churches (RCC, OC, and Protestant) fell into darkness with their horrible attacks on those who interpreted scripture differently from them, there were groups of Christians who did not fall into the lie that violence was acceptable for Christians, such as the Mennonites, Quakers, the Amish, the Church of the Brethren, and Hutterites. Menno Simon, founder of the Mennonites, said that the sword had no place in Christian life, and that only the Sword of the Spirit was needed to protect the church.
Throughout history, many who were branded as heretics were what we would call today “Bible believing Christians.” The sad fact is that their actual words were suppressed by the RCC and OC, and the unproven accusations against them became “truth.”
“A.D. 787. By a canon of the Second Council of Nice, all persons were forbidden to conceal heretical books. Bishops, priests, or deacons, disobeying the canon, were to be deposed; monks or laymen, excommunicated. No wonder we are often so much at a loss respecting the opinions held by those who were called heretics, many of whom were not properly heretics, but genuine religious reformers. Their books were carefully gathered and burned, and it was made a crime to conceal them.” (ibid., page 88).
Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” And what fruit do we see in the history of the RCC and OC (and later, many of the Protestant denominations)? Violence “in the name of Christ.” Millions tortured and/or killed. “Forgiveness” sold. Vast accumulations of wealth while children starve to death all around the world. Rampant sexual abuse, including pedophilia.
None of this is intended to denounce the ECF as apostates. Far from it. These men had such faith in the Lord that most of them died horrible deaths rather than renounce Christ. But this faithfulness and zeal did not inoculate them from error. And a small error built upon results in a large errors.
And if the ECF – through their misinterpretation of scripture – introduced errors such as infant baptism, praying to Mary, and a silent laity, isn’t it also possible that their interpretation of scripture relating to the Second Coming was wrong?
I suggest that we all take a careful reading of Mr. Dolack’s article. While he focuses on the ECFs, what he says of the them applies in large measure to the creeds of the church as well. What is not widely acknowledged (perhaps not known by many) among many who appeal to the creeds is that the “official version” of at least some of the creeds of the church came into official standing because of outright chicanery, out right dishonesty and mechanizations (even violence) that influenced the final vote on the form of the creeds of the church. When one understands some of the back door politics (Not Biblical exegesis!) that gave rise to the final form and content of some of the creeds of the church, we have every right to look on them with great caution– DKP.