What Authority Do the Creeds Have?
What Kind of Authority Does the Westminster Confession of Faith Have?
For those who might have attempted to follow the link that I provided on FaceBook, I need to explain that shortly after I posted this article, for some strange reason, it disappeared from this site! Why? That remains an unsolved mystery.
Just recently (May, 2019) I have engaged numerous individuals over the place, the value and the authority of the creeds. In response to those who place an inordinate emphasis on the authority of the creeds and particularly the Westminster Confession of the Faith, (WCF) the Reformed Creed, I cited that work to the effect that:
“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees and councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.” (my emphasis, (Westminster Confession of Faith 1:9).
Do you see that the WCF says that all Creeds, all councils, all ancient writers, are all subject to and are to be examined, not in the light of the Creeds, but in the light of the Scripture! This means that the WCF is saying that the creeds have no authority. Scripture is the authority. And yet, on the Facebook page, all preterists are condemned because of the creeds, because of the councils, and because of what the ancient writers say. More than revealing!
Likewise: WCF- 31:3:
III. All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both. See more at: http://americanvision.org/10080/anti-postmillennialist-makes-weak-case/#sthash.uBxb4eCL.7yC38cNe.dpuf
So, according to the WCF, it is not the “final word.” Creeds are to be judged in the light of scripture. Creeds are not any kind of final authority. Creeds have been, have often been, wrong, and “are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice.”
Now, when I cited these words from the WCF– verbatim– the hate-filled Jason Bradfield produced a video attacking me as dishonest, deceitful, and of perverting what the WCF says. He went on record as saying that the WCF does have authority. Over the ensuing discussion, I asked him several times to specifically and clearly define the nature and extent of that “authority.” I asked the question no less than four times. As of the writing and posting of this article, he has not answered with so much as a keystroke in response to my very clear questions.
Now, in those discussions, I have noted the utter inconsistencies and contradictions among those who call themselves orthodox and teachers of the truth. That includes men such as Sam Frost who is fond of saying that he is creedal and holds to the beliefs of the early church fathers. You have some who are Eastern Orthodox. They reject the WCF! You have others who likewise reject the WCF. So, you have those like Bradfield who claim that the WCF is the arbiter of truth and orthodoxy, and you have others who reject it, appealing to their own creeds as the authority.
A prime example of this kind of inconsistency and contradiction is the recent discussion concerning Abraham, Hades and Heaven. I will keep this very brief since I want to focus on Bradfield’s claim that the WCF is authoritative, it has authority, so I don’t want to go too far afield. But, it is important that the reader realizes how self contradictory, how totally inconsistent those who appeal to the creeds truly are. So, ever so briefly:
Sam Frost emphatically denies that there is – or even was- a place called Sheol / Hades where the spirits went when the person died, and where they were conscious. For Frost, Sheol / Hades is nothing but the grave, the hole in the ground, dirt.
On the other hand, Lance Conley, who is Eastern Orthodox (not Reformed) view, provided an Amazon link to a book by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev. In that book, the author says that Christ went on a “preaching tour” in the hadean realm: Here is part of the promo blurb. It says that the book:
Presents a message of hope held by the first generation of Christians and the early church. Using Scripture, patristic tradition, early Christian poetry, and liturgical texts, Archbishop Hilarion explores the mysterious and enigmatic event of Christ s descent into Hades and its consequences for the human race. Insisting that Christ entered Sheol as Conqueror and not as victim, the author depicts the Lord s descent as an event of cosmic significance opening the path to universal salvation. He also reveals Hades as a place of divine presence, a place where the spiritual fate of a person may still change.
So, according to the Archbishop, the first century church, the patristics and the early church did believe in Hades as a place of consciousness. And, he speaks of universal salvation! Not only that, he says that those in Hades could “still change”! He gives one citation after another from the ECFs to support his claims.
Does Frost believe any of this? Patently not! So, Frost claims to be “orthodox” in rejecting Hades as a place of consciousness. Neither Bradfield or Frost is a universalist. We are also safe in saying that they categorically reject the idea that souls in Hades could change their status by repentance and by accepting Christ! (Conley recommended the book, but, he does not believe in universalism, since he is constantly telling everyone that preterists- especially me – are doomed to an eternal hell!)
Now, the WCF rejects the idea of Hades as a place of consciousness (something I did not realize myself until recently). There is only heaven or hell, and certainly rejects universalism. The WCF is supposedly true and right and orthodox. But, the Arch-Bishop categorically rejects that view, claiming that what he presents is the view of the first century church, the early church and the patristics. He says they believed in Hades as a place of consciousness and possible change! Just who is “orthodox” here? See the problem?
Well, let’s move on to Bradfield and the “authority” of the WCF.
I want to address the “authority” of the WCF in light of the subject of the Sabbath to see if Mr. Bradfield, Frost and any others who claim it is authoritative will be consistent. (Pretty sure that I already know the answer to that, but the reader needs to see the problem for what it is).
Here is what the WCF says about the Sabbath:
21:7 – As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion oftime be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath (Matthew 5:17-18).
21:8 – This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the 110 public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
Take a look at what the WCF claims:
1. God, “by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him.”They give Genesis 2:2f and Exodus 20:8f as the verses of appeal.
2. The WCF says that God gave that “one day in seven Sabbath” law (which they identify now as the Christian Sabbath, and say, it “is to be continued to the end of the world,” as the Christian Sabbath.” What verses do they give for proof of this? They give us Matthew 5:17-18!
4. The WCF says that due to the resurrection we now have “the Christian Sabbath.” And, they insist that on the Christian Sabbath (which is Sunday), men “do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
What verses do they give for no recreation on Sunday, for not working on Sunday? They give us Exodus 20 and Exodus 31.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these points. More could be examined, but these will suffice to show that when Bradfield, Frost and the reformed camp appeals to the WCF as “an authority” they are accepting a distorted, perverted claim about the Sabbath. The WCF teaches blatant error on this issue.
# 1 &2 – Notice the subtlety of the statement: they say that God appointed “one day in seven for a Sabbath.” No, that is wrong. The verses cited (Genesis 2 & Exodus 20) do not simply give “one day in seven for a Sabbath.” Those verses emphatically, explicitly and unambiguously identified “the seventh day”- what the WCF identifies as “the last day of the week” as “the Sabbath.” It was not and never was simply “one day in seven!”
Likewise, Exodus 20; 31; Deuteronomy 5, etc., are all explicitly clear that the “seventh day Sabbath” is the ONLY weekly Sabbath that God ever sanctified. The seventh day Sabbath was a covenant sign between God and Israel. It was never given to all men of all nations. So, the WCF is wrong. Flat, dead, wrong.
Thus, to appeal to passages addressed to Israel which explicitly identifies the seventh day (Saturday) as the Sabbath, as a covenant sign beteen Old Covenant Israel and YHVH, and to just blithely then claim that this now means we have a “Christian Sabbath” (Sunday) is a gross misapplication of the Biblical text.
For more on the perversion of the Sabbath issue in the Reformed camp, as well as others who hold strongly similar views, see my articles on “The Seventh Day Sabbath: The Elephant in the Room of Dominionism and Postmillennialism.” #1 #2
#3 – Sunday is now identified by the WCF as the “Christian Sabbath.” It is claimed that it, “is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.” What verses do they give for proof of this? They give us Matthew 5:17-18! Another gross perversion of what the Bible says.
✦ First, the Bible knows nothing of “the end of the world.” Major failure.
✦ The New Testament no where– absolutely no where – speaks of Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath.” That is a theological fabrication.
✦ Pay close attention to the fact that the verses of appeal are Matthew 5:17-18. But, read the verses carefully:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
You absolutely must catch the power of the abuse of scripture here!
Was Jesus speaking of observance of the “Christian Sabbath” in these verses? Absolutely not.
Was he speaking of the Gospel as “the law or the prophets” which he said he came to fulfill? Absolutely not.
Was he saying that “the Gospel” would not pass away until heaven and earth passes? Absolutely not.
What Law was Jesus talking about? It was the Law of Moses! It was the Law containing the commandment to observe – not the imaginary “Christian Sabbath” – but, the Law that said:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
So, it was the Law of Moses, inclusive of the seventh day Sabbath, that Jesus said would not pass away until it was all fulfilled, until the passing of heaven and earth. Not a jot, not a tittle of it would pass until it was ALL fulfilled!
“The Sabbath” will remain valid and binding on all men until the “end of the world” in fulfillment of Matthew 5:17-18 (WCF)
But, the Sabbath mandated by “the law” in Matthew 5:17-18 was the seventh day of the Law of Moses. Sabbath (It was not Sunday, the so-called Christian Sabbath).
Therefore, “the Sabbath” mandated by Matthew 5:17-18 will remain valid and binding of all men until the “end of the world.”
Will those – do those – who say that they accept the authority of the WCF honor this? No, the huge majority of them accept Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath,” in direct violation of the very Biblical texts cited by the WCF!
Now, let’s not forget that the law of Moses mandated the death penalty for violating the Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath (Numbers 15). So, since not one jot or one tittle of the Law of Moses– inclusive of the death penalty for violation of the seventh day Sabbath – could pass until it was / is “all fulfilled” (and that is not until “the so called “end of the world,” then since the “end of the world has not come, that death penalty for violating the seventh day Sabbath remains in effect. Do Bradfield, Frost, etc., obey the WCF in obeying the Sabbath command – or the death penalty for violation?
Edit: I posted this article early on Sunday morning 6-2-19. Before he even had the time to read the article, Frost posted a “response” claiming that it is nonsense, and trying to divert attention away from the article. In response, I asked him if he observes the seventh day Sabbath. He responded that he had to leave and go play the drums at Sunday worship service – thus informing us that he does not keep the seventh day Sabbath. We also know that Joel McDurmon does not obey the seventh day Sabbath law, as he shared in my formal debate with him in 2012. (A book of that debate is available on this website).I asked him then if he observed the seventh day since he claims that the Law remains valid until the end of time. Do these men bow to the authority of the WCF on this? Clearly not, although, they do accept the claims of the creeds which are an overt perversion of the Biblical text.
Of course, they would certainly appeal to the fact that the WCF says that the seventh day Sabbath has passed away and has been changed to Sunday. But, that means that the Law of Moses was completely– every jot and every tittle of the Law- fulfilled, and that the “end of the world has come! According to Jesus, you can’t have SOME of the Law passing while SOME of it remains. Not one jot, not one tittle would pass– and that includes the seventh day Sabbath– until every jot and every tittle was fulfilled. (Which of course means that if every jot and every tittle has been fulfilled, then the resurrection, the coming of the Lord and the judgment have been fulfilled since they were foretold and foreshadowed in the typological Sabbaths of Israel!)
Bradfield and company might also claim, as many do, that the “ceremonial” aspect of the Law, i.e. the death penalty for violating Sabbath passed away, but that the “moral law” remains. But again, that would demand that Jesus said: “SOME of the Law will pass when SOME is fulfilled” which is clearly NOT what he said. Further, there is no such fine distinction either in the Old Testament, or in Jewish writings. It is another invented, contrived argument without merit.
So, the WCF takes a passage that clearly, irrefutably applied to the Law of Moses, given to Israel as His Covenant people, and the seventh day Sabbath, and they make it apply to an invented “Christian Sabbath,” applicable to Christians (actually, “all men” until the so-called end of time! One would be hard pressed to find a more egregious abuse of scriptures. Matthew 5:17-18 had nothing to do with the Gospel, nothing to do with the Christian age, or a “Christian Sabbath!” Thus, the WCF is simply wrong. Seriously wrong.
#4- What does the WCF mandate for “the Christian Sabbath”? (Keep in mind that the very word Sabbath means a cessation). This is more than interesting, and it makes one wonder if Bradfield and other Reformed believers bow to the “authority” of the WCF. Remember that the WCF says that due to the resurrection we now have “the Christian Sabbath.” Well, what did the seventh day Sabbath mandate? It mandated no work, period, under penalty of death. It tells us that men, “do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” What scriptures do they cite for no work or recreation on Sunday? They give us Exodus 20 and Exodus 31. See the problem?
They give us, again – the Law of Moses – that had not one thing to do with Sunday as the reason Christians should not work on Sunday -which not a Sabbath and is never called a Sabbath! How can you cite the Law of Moses to enforce the Christian Sabbath when the Law of Moses had ZERO, ZILCH, NOT ONE THING to do with Sunday? They thus impose the Law of Moses on Christians who are not under the Law of Moses! Judaizers anyone??? You simply must catch the power of this!
So, per the WCF, the imaginary Christian Sabbath is for holy rest– no work! It is, “rest, from their own works, words and thought about their worldly employments and recreations.” Catch that? Not only no work but NO RECREATION! It is to be one full day, “the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” So, once again: No Work. No Recreation. The full, entire day devoted to worship and to duties of mercy.”
The reality is that the WCF is guilty of imposing the Law of Moses on New Covenant Christians. It is guilty of many massive theological errors, errors of exegesis, hermeneutic and logic.
The question of course is, just how much “authority” do Reformed believers such as Jason Bradfield, Frost, etc. actually posit with the WCF? They continually tell us it is the standard of “orthodoxy” truth and proper doctrine. But, do they actually bow to its authority? Is it orthodox to impose the Law of Moses on New Covenant Christians??? If so, you can have it.
★ Do Reformed believers – followers of the WCF – refrain from all work on Sunday?
★ Do Reformed believers – followers of the WCF – refuse to engage in recreation on Sunday? (My personal experience is that those of my acquaintance do not refrain!)
★ Do Reformed believers – followers of the WCF – face the death penalty if they work on Sunday, or if they engage in recreation? Remember, that Sabbath Law of Exodus 20 & 31 (and Numbers 15) is the Law of the Sabbath that the WCF cited as authority for Sunday Sabbath keeping and no work or recreation! The very verses they cite unambiguously forbid any work (and the Sabbath Law undeniably included the penalty of death for Sabbath breaking).
But then of course, the WCF changed horses mid-stream and said that the eternal, universal and unchanging law has actually passed away, being changed– and that after appealing to Matthew 5 to tell us “the law” (which is the Law of Moses) will not pass until the “end of the world.” This is mass confusion. It is an abuse of hermeneutic, logic and exegesis.
★ Do Reformed believers – followers of the WCF – spend all day on Sunday in worship or in “duties of mercy”?
If Reformed believers – followers of the WCF – do not obey each and every one of these tenets, are they not in violation of the Creed? Are they then, even orthodox? Are they not rejecting the authority of the Creed? Is there a penalty for violating the Confession? If not, then it has no authority!
Much more could be said on this subject alone. The reality is that the Westminster Confession of Faith is rife with theological error. Although the men who produced the WCF were undoubtedly good men, and sincere, that does not ensure the truthfulness of what they wrote. And when we examine what they wrote in light of scripture– as they say to do- we find that the Creed contains serious, egregious doctrinal error. To suggest that it has “authority” over believers today is a travesty.
(A closing note here. Kenneth Gentry constantly tells folks that he is orthodox and creedal. However, his views on eschatology are patently not in line with the WCF and traditional, “orthodox,” Reformed eschatology! The WCF identified the Roman Catholic church and the Pope as Babylon and the Man of Sin, to be destroyed at the end of time. (“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” (Confession XXV:6).
But, Gentry believes that the Reformed view of eschatology is wrong. In a blog post, he stated: “I am committed to Reformed theology. However, I differ from the Reformers in that I take a preterist approach to Revelation rather than an historicist approach.” Not only that, he gave several reasons for rejecting the historical, “orthodox” and Reformed view: “M. E. Boring seems to be correct when he notes that “although widely held by Protestant interpreters after the Reformation and into the twentieth century, no critical New Testament scholar today advocates this view” (M. Eugene Boring, “Revelation: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching” [Louisville: John Knox, 1989], 49).
Gentry goes even further – “It is strange that a church (Presbyterian and Reformed, DKP) as strongly committed to creedal theology as Presbyterianism would tolerate any form of Premillennialism with its demand for two resurrections. The Westminster Standards are strongly anti-premillennial.” (He Shall Have Dominion – 2009, 287, n. 44). So, Gentry ponders why Dispensationalism is allowed and tolerated in the (Creedal) Presbyterian church. But, he asks to be tolerated – more, to be believed- even though his own eschatology – by his own admission! – is at direct odds with the Creeds! Ah, consistency, thou art a Jewel so rare!! My, oh my, where is that Creedal Authority???)
So, per Gentry, it is okay to reject the Reformed view of eschatology– yet, he appeals to the Creeds to condemn the Dispensationalist!?!?
All of the above raises a question: Does Jason Bradfield, or Sam Frost bow to the “authority” of the WCF in its eschatology about the RCC and the Man of Sin? Do they accept that the RCC and the Pope represent Babylon and the Pope? (To my knowledge, they do not!) If they, like Gentry, feel that they can rebel against the Westminster Creed’s eschatology, and its mandates on the Sabbath, then just how much authority does the Creed truly have?
We have thus shared with the reader two major, significant issues that are taken from the WCF. These are not minor, peripheral issues! So, if neither Frost or Bradfield keeps the seventh day Sabbath in obedience to the Law of Moses (as mandated by the WCF!, and if both of them reject the eschatology of the Creed in regard to the RCC and the Man of Sin, then they have absolutely no grounds to claim that the Creed is authoritative!