Monday, August 22, 2011

Lying Our Way Through the Creed

Elizabeth Erazo, a Protestant well on her way into becoming either Orthodox or (if she can brave it) Catholic, made a great point about Creedal Protestantism:
It’s a curious thing — a lot of well-informed Protestants will talk very much about how historical context is vital to properly understanding the Bible. This is so true, but why don’t we apply it to other things — the Nicene Creed for example? What did the original authors, in 325, as well as those who added to it in 381, mean when they said “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” or “one baptism for the remission of sins”? We can’t go back and read it through the lens of the Reformation, because it hadn’t happened. [To do] that is sloppy theology & history. We must read it through the lens of the original authors.
I've seen the point expressed before, but rarely so succinctly.  When we say (and pray) the Creed, we're making a declaration of faith before God and our fellow Christians. If we're doing that while holding internal reservations, we're being dishonest. We're saying one thing and meaning another.

For the Creed to mean anything, it has to have an objective meaning.  Let me use an example from contract law.  Imagine that you own a blue barn.  You show a buyer around, and he draws up a contract saying that you'll sell “the blue barn” for $50,000.   Years later, you build another, much smaller blue barn.  You can't say, “now, when I refer to 'the blue barn,' I mean the small one.”  Even if you wish the phrase meant the small blue barn, that's not what it meant to the author of the contract, and it's not what was meant when the contract was formed.  If the contract means anything, it has to mean something outside of your own head.

Likewise, the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed were drawn up by men well before our time.  We can't just re-imagine what we'd like the Creed to mean.  We either believe the faith expressed by the early Church, or we don't.  If we don't, we shouldn't declare that we do, or we're liars.  Or put more positively, if we want to be Creedal Christians, we should strive to learn what the Fathers meant by things like “one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” and “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

The Fathers aren't quiet on these topics, either.  St. Optatus of Milevis, for example, one of the great forgotten fourth century Fathers, spells out what Baptism is, and what the Catholic Church is: you can find those answers in parts A & C, respectively, here.  That's just one example -- you can find innumerable statements by the Fathers on regenerative Baptism and on the visible Church.

What you'll quickly discover is that either the Roman Catholic Church is right about Baptism and the Church, or the Creeds are wrong.  You can't honestly have it both ways.  And if you would, offer up a few prayers today for Ms. Erazo and her journey home.


P.S. Speaking of journeys home, regular commenter Brent Stubbs is on The Journey Home tonight at 8 Eastern.  Check him out!

20 comments:

  1. I bring up the same point on baptism and the creed in my book. Protestants say the words but mean instead "one baptism for the symbolic outward expression of the inward belief that already happened when I asked Jesus into my heart."

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  2. This is exactly right! Seems so obvious, and I am glad it's being talked about.

    (And, isn't Elizabeth great??)

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  3. I think your analogy would work better if there had been only one blue barn when the contract was signed. The second one was built after it was signed. Otherwise you can say the words were simply unclear. The point is they were clear when they were written. Future events made them less clear.

    That would be a closer parallel to the creed. The idea that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church might be interpreted as invisible is not mentioned because it didn't exist.

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  4. Randy,

    That's a good point about the analogy. I've rewritten that paragraph.

    Originally, I wanted to show that even if the "invisible Church" theory were colorable, it isn't what the Creed means, since it's not what those terms meant in that historical context. But I think the analogy got in the way of that point.

    God bless,

    Joe

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  5. I couldn't believe the title of this post when I first saw it. This is *exactly* the question that I started asking myself when we said the Nicene Creed every week in our little Reformed Episcopal Church something like 8 years ago. "When I say these words, do I mean what the authors of this creed meant?" I heard so many weasly explanations of "communion of the saints" and "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" and I became increasingly skeptical that any of these post-reformational work-arounds were legit. So thankful for all the Catholic bloggers that presented the truth of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church through their dialogue with protestants. And that I can now recite every word of the creed with all my heart!

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  6. Thank you so much for your kind words! I appreciate your prayers very much as I continue this journey. And Devin, I am reading your book and though I had only read through two chapters when I wrote that blog post, I'm sure you influenced it very much. :)

    If you wouldn't mind, if you do pray for me, pray for my husband as well. He is a "cultural" Catholic from South America who minimally practices his faith, but doesn't see it as "truth". If this changed in him, if he became devout, I know I would follow for the sake of unity in the family.

    Once again, thanks for the kind words and prayers! Keep up the great work on this blog -- it's been constantly challenging me!

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  7. Elizabeth, I left some comments on your blog. You are in my prayers, and your husband is, too. I sent you my contact info through your tumblr site, asking you for some more feedback if you get a chance.

    God bless!

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  8. We believe in one Baptism. We believe in one catholic Church.

    What does that have to do with the Roman Church?

    Christ does the Baptizing, and the Church are those who belong to Christ.

    I think you are barking up the wrong tree to try and place everything in an earthly institution filled with sinners.

    We center everything around the One who died for sinners. Not the sinners themselves.

    I think it's been drummed into your heads for so long that the Roman Church is THE ONLY CHURCH...and told that there is the ONLY place you can be assured of your salvation, that you are scared to death to go anywhere else.

    They sure have you bamboozled.

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  9. Old Adam,

    The whole point of this post is that the words of the Creed don't just mean whatever we want them to mean. They have objective meanings which we can either believe or disbelieve. We can determine those meanings by reading the Church Fathers.

    So to your question, "What does that have to do with the Roman Church?" it's got everything to do with the Roman Catholic Church.

    If you read the writings of the Fathers on this point, you'll quickly realize that when they say "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," they mean "an earthly institution filled with sinners," the very same earthly institution filled with sinner which created and ratified the Creed in the first place.

    You might think that they're wrong (they're the "they" who have me "bamboozled," after all), in which case, don't pray the Creed. But you can't claim to believe what the Creed teaches when you re-define all the terms.

    So no, this isn't about me being "scared to death" of anything. It's about having the honesty to either stand with or against the Council of Nicea and the Catholic Church.

    If you think I'm wrong, show me where the Church Fathers (not you or other Lutherans) teach that the "One, Holy, and Apostolic Catholic Church" doesn't refer to an earthly institution full of sinners.

    Joe

    P.S. You misunderstand the point on Baptism. The Creed teaches that Baptism remits sins, which most Protestants deny. Lutherans actually tend to be on the Catholic side here.

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  10. Joe,

    We do agree with Roman Catholics that Baptism remits sin.

    We go further than R. Catholics though, in insisting that the forgiveness of sins in one's Baptism covers ALL sins in a persons life, just as the cross did (does).

    We believe in the universal (catholic) Church. Not ONLY ONE church on earth.

    Christ's people inhabit all manner of churches that proclaim Him in some way.

    We believe that R. Catholics are Christians. As well as anyone else from whatever denomination, who profess Christ.

    In this matter, we differ.

    Thanks, Joe.

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  11. Old Adam,

    Contrary to your suggestion, it's not true that Catholics deny that non-Catholic Christians are Christians.

    We just know (1) that all the saved are in some way connected to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and (2) that this Church is visible, with identifiable religious authorities -- as identifiable as the Apostles themselves were.

    It seems that (2) is our dispute: what is this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? So let me go back to what I said earlier:

    "If you think I'm wrong, show me where the Church Fathers (not you or other Lutherans) teach that the "One, Holy, and Apostolic Catholic Church" doesn't refer to an earthly institution full of sinners."

    Can you do this?

    God bless,
    Joe

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  12. Romans 1:16 tells us where the power of God is. In the gospel. In the Word. Not in any institution.

    Is it not true that Roman Catholicism believes that the only way to have the assurance of your salvation in in the Catholic Church?

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  13. Old Adam,

    I'm more than happy to talk about all the issues you're bringing up, but this conversation runs the risk of being a mile wide and an inch deep.

    I feel like you're avoiding the central question I've raised in this post: what did the Nicene Fathers mean by "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, Church," and do you believe what they believed on this issue?

    In Christ,

    Joe

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  14. By Catholic, if they meant 'universal', then I certainly agree with them.

    If they meant that the Roman Catholic Church is the ONLY church, then I disagree with them.

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  15. Such well-thought analogy, thanks. I have good Protestant friends, but can't imagine how one would think that a definitely not united number of conflicting, at times bickering, and certainly not apostolic number of denominations would be the Church Our Lord founded.

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  16. My good people, we need to agree that Christ could not simply have intended that we have over 500 different Christian Denominations teaching and believing contradictory truths. He taught us and left us One Truth and One Only. And He also left us One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to preserve, proclaim and teach that One Truth until the End of Time. God is Truth and He cannot contradict Himself.

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