Monday, November 7, 2016

The creeds as guardians of orthodoxy. . .

Evangelicals by church and those self-described as evangelicals represent a significant slice of American Christianity.  It has often been presumed that despite the breadth of what passes for worship on Sunday morning, these folks were more or less united in what they actually believed.  Ligonier Ministries commissioned a study by Lifeway to discover if this was true.  Unlike a previous study which relied on the individual's own definition of what was evangelical, this one defined it by certain core beliefs.  These evangelicals strongly agreed that:
  • 1) The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe; 
  • 2) It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior; 
  • 3) Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin; and 
  • 4) Only those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
There might be some relief that these evangelicals also affirmed with great confidence the perfection of God (97 percent), his authorship of Scripture (94 percent), the accuracy of Scripture in all that it teaches (95 percent), the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (98 percent), and that God exists as a Trinity (97 percent), among other doctrines.  The problem lies in unpacking some of these broader statements.  For example, nearly 3/4 of those evangelicals believe that Jesus is a created being -- the first and best of all God's creatures.  More than a majority describe the Holy Spirit as a force and not a full person of the Holy Trinity.

Mind you, these evangelicals typically have little knowledge or familiarity with the catholic creeds of Christendom.  Though some liturgical denominations are typically included in the definition of evangelical (the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is while the ELCA generally is lumped in with mainline Protestants), the bigger question in all of this is to what extent does the ordinary use of the creeds in worship prevent such heresies and guard the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  To what extent does the regular use of the creeds in worship and their prominent role in catechesis pass on the orthodox and catholic understanding of the Trinity and prevent the distortions or heresies that too often hide under the claim to believe in the Trinity?  That is the big question.

Without any serious evidence to support my hypothesis, I am convinced that the use of the creeds in worship and teaching makes a great deal of difference in shaping the beliefs of those in liturgical churches that are lumped together under the category of evangelical.  That said, however, there are many more issues to face as the results of the study unfold.  Not in the least of them is the eroding confidence in the social teaching of the Scripture with regards to marriage, sexuality, and the sacred character of life.  And, if that is not enough to shake you up a bit, what about the fact that it seems nearly a majority believe that their works have something to do with securing their salvation and earning a place in heaven.  All of which points to the fact that catechesis and teaching is never something we finish but always something we must begin anew -- even with those who have already been catechized and taught the faith!  In addition I would suggest that what happens in worship bears a strong resemblance to what people believe.  But that is not new -- lex orandi, lex credendi.  The relevance of that phrase will outlive us all!

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I believe it is important to recite the Creeds regularly during the worship service, as we do in the LCMS church I attend in upstate NY. I have heard some Christians, not Lutherans, say they didn't consider the Creeds important. I cannot disagree more strongly, as the Creeds affirm the core principles of our faith, and they bear frequent repitition as a reminder of essential truths which bind us together. Generally, those who dislike the Creeds are individuals who tend to be progressives holding a liberal viewpoint against orthodoxy. The Apostles Creed is something we memorized as Catholic school children, and Luther wisely included it in our teachings as well.