Sunday, December 2, 2007

Credo I: Binding or Not?

On a recent visit to the website of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA), I saw that they "embrace the ancient catholic creeds (the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles' creeds) as defining the doctrinal boundaries of the Christian faith."

The PCA website admits to no formal position on these three ancient creeds, but its Book of Church Order tells us "[i]t is proper for the congregation of God’s people publicly to confess their faith, using creeds or confessions that are true to the Word, such as, the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Standards."

The "such as" leaves much to be desired. It reminds me of the Congregationalist tendencies (where each particular church decides for itself what to believe) of the PCA. The Auburn Ave Controversy serves as a clear exemplar. Each church may make use of creeds that are "true to the Word", but who is to decide which are true?

Is the Athanasian Creed a proper interpretation of scripture or not? Are its expressions mandatorily binding on a Presbyterian, is this a matter of conscience, or are its expressions anathema to the Presbyterian interpretation of the Word of God?

The Presbyterian system binds no consciences, but merely attempts to filter what is taught. It narrows ecclesial discourse to be within its boundaries, but does not and cannot narrow belief to those same bounds. Its authority is strictly over the outward act of teaching, not over internal belief. Since I am saved strictly by right intellectual belief and not by overt acts, the role of the church in my salvation is thus made narrow. Unless its filter of teachings is set just right, it may not act to push me into the right intellectual camp.

(to be continued...)


Tim A. Troutman said...

By the sheer variety of denominations that claim to believe in the creeds, you'd think they must be terribly ambiguous and or basic if you didn't know any better.

But reading the creeds you find that each group must be pretty creative with their interpretation of the creedal statements in order to pretend like they still believe in it like the early Christians did.

"communion of saints" - "baptism for the forgiveness of sins" - "one holy catholic and apostolic Church"

Who cares if we all say we believe the creeds if we have arbitrary redefinitions of words and phrases of each statement to fit our denominational belief?

I could just as easily say I'm a Baptist only when they say "we don't accept creeds" they really mean "the Roman pontiff is the head of the Church" just as a non-orthodox may say they accept the creed but when they say "one holy catholic and apostolic" they're referring to the invisible church like Calvin & Luther did. One may be more extreme and apparent, but both examples are equally wrong.

Principium unitatis said...


Hence the need for an authoritative interpreter of the creeds, as the Newman post just below makes clear with respect to Scripture.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Joseph said...

Is the Presbyterian church's (not sure which one you belong to) interpretation of the Scriptures binding? I'm sure that the Creeds aren't binding since they are extra-biblical.

Joseph said...

Basically, is anything truly binding in Presbyterianism? If it were would there be more than one Presbyterian church? Or is the PCA (correct me if I'm wrong, it is a relatively new denomination) the original reformed church that Calvin started? Or does the reformed church that Calvin started even still exist? If not, then was anything ever binding from the beginning of Presbyterianism? At a glance I would say that nothing truly is. Ultimately, it seems, it comes down to personal interpretation.

Thos said...


There are several denominations that style themselves under the teachings of Calvin, but none that follow him to the letter (as some of his teachings would be very odd if applied today). The Calvinist can easily retort that Calvin, unlike the Popes, recognized his teaching fallibility, so some modification and development of his doctrines was to be expected.

Re: "Basically, is anything truly binding in Presbyterianism?" The answer is "yes", but the point of my post, if there was one, was that the answer is also "no".

The creeds are only binding insofar as they agree with Scripture. So too the Westminster Standards. The primary distinction of Presbyterianism is its system of courts of elders, who do rule with certain authority (and technically speaking there is no formal connection between Presbyterianism and being Reformed, as the former is a type of Church governance and the latter a system of doctrine, but history has held the two together). But a cardinal virtue of the Reformed teaching is that the Christian obeys Scripture by the guidance of his conscience. So my elders' authority (and their higher appeals courts) is coextensive with my submission to them. My submission to them is coextensive with my conscience believing that their rule is faithful to Scripture. Ergo, they have no authority over me when I do not believe they hold to the right interpretation of Scripture. At best, I believe, their "authority" entitles them to a benefit of the doubt, a prima facie view that their interpretation is the correct one, until I become convinced to the contrary. But if they tell me not to remarry after a divorce, but I believe God wants me to marry again and not burn with passion, or they tell me to baptize my children and I believe that's contrary to scripture, then their authority has expired.

The same, essentially, can be said of each particular church (aka "congregation"). Each session or persuasive pastor can teach each flock the Creeds he believes are true to Scripture, or can interpret them in a way that conforms to its or his view of Scripture. The denomination will at most attempt to reign in teachers that are out of step with the consensus teaching. The particular session/pastor in question could then respond by moving to a new denomination.

So Congregationalism is perhaps just collective individualism (if that's not too contradictory for you).

I could defend most of this, but feel a particular rub when the Creeds are brought up. What's lurking behind the surface when the Auburn Ave church is pro-Athanasian Creed, and the denomination appears to be less enthusiastic? Next installment.

Peace in Christ,

Joseph said...

"Basically, is anything truly binding in Presbyterianism?" The answer is "yes", but the point of my post, if there was one, was that the answer is also "no".

So, yes and no?

I won't press here. I have a feeling we could end up in infinite loop land.