“Our church is against all traditions. That is our historic position on the matter.” ~Unnamed (but not unknown)
The alternative being disaster, the modern evangelical world must soon return to the ancient faith of our fathers by saying, “I believe” and meaning it. For some time now we have hyped the importance of having a “contemporary” and “relevant” Christianity, and have done so to the point where we have almost emptied the faith of its historic and orthodox content. In a mad pursuit of cisterns that will hold no water, we have come to love the dust on the inside of our dry, empty jars. Our thirst will be a permanent one unless we come back to the creeds of a historic Christianity—in particular the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon.
Once in a conversation with one modern evangelical, I was told that the fathers who handed down these great creeds to us were “just a bunch of dead guys.” This reductionism is pretty typical of the modern mind and is really the heart and soul of the problem. Of course this modern reductionism has as its evil twin those who profess to love the creeds—do they not mumble them religiously every Sunday?—but in their hearts they are as far away from Christian orthodoxy as the Dalai Lama.
A creedal church is one which thinks, lives, worships, and disciplines in terms of that creed. A creedal church is one in which the words I believe in God the Father Almighty provoke tears of gladness in strong men. A creed muttered in nominal unbelief is oxymoronic. The word creed comes from the Latin, Credo, “I believe.” A creedal church believes certain things to be true, and acts as though truth mattered.
We must remember our heritage. We want to think that forgetting our duties somehow excuses us from our neglect in the performance of them. But in Scripture, forgetting is an additional sin. In our attempt to live creedlessly, we have forgotten the faith of our fathers. We do this because we think our fathers are somehow detached and unconnected from us, and we think this for the trifling reason that these men are all now dead and we haven’t met them.
In the world God created, we actually live on the banks of a great cultural river, and those who live upstream from us affect us in countless ways. For example, even this foolishness of modernity is still contained by categories of Chalcedonian orthodoxy, as much as modern folly rants against it. The chains that bind them are orthodox chains. Consequently, for most modern evangelicals , their sin is not yet really heresy, but rather ingratitude. But the longer we persists in this ingratitude toward our fathers, the closer we drift to actual heresy and apostasy. Many in the evangelical church are already there.
The modern church is a teenaged brat, full of angst and anger. She rolls her eyes at the historical authority of her fathers. She assumes that they had their lives and now she has hers. She is indignant at the thought that her fathers, long since gone from the scene, could possibly have any kind of authority over her. She wants to think that the placement of individuals in history is nothing more than a random number sequence, with no authority ever given to those who came before. But the Lord of history placed them there with the command that they leave an inheritance for her. Her duty is to receive that inheritance, build upon it, and become in turn a blessing to her covenantal grandchildren. Then her children will rise up and called her blessed.
Some who may be reading this are building up quite a bit of froth around the edges of the mouth at this point, I’m sure. “Does this not set the authority of the Bible aside” No, not at all. The doctrine of sola scriptura insists that the only infallible, ultimate authority is the Bible. Now this short statement which points to the Bible is nowhere found in the Bible, but nonetheless provides us with a fine example of creedal testimony. This short “creed” which tells us to look to the Bible demonstrates how creedal authority should actually work. A creed should never confess its own authority without simultaneously confessing it as a lesser authority.
The Bible is clear that other spiritual authorities exist, but they are fallible and penultimate. To go a step further, these lesser spiritual authorities are not just “allowed,” they are inescapable. The question is not whether we will have them, but which of them we will have. We do not understand that when we have removed all traces of Nicean orthodoxy, this does not leave us standing in a fresh meadow with a newly-discovered Bible, but rather with the latest heretical ballon juice cooked up down at the Knee-Deep-In-Glory Worship Center, which never met a wind of doctrine it didn’t like.
If we repent of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” we just may learn to love our fathers again. That love will lead to a more thorough acquaintance with the old guard. We will come to respect and honor those men who taught our brothers and sisters, and in so doing have left a testimony that teaches us to this day.
So, had enough of theological fads and fashions? Are you sick of the Aerobics with the Angels class on Wednesday nights? Are you tired of sermons that trifle with the truth? Does your skin crawl when you walk into the local evangelical bookstore (“Step right up folks. Holy hardware!” “Get your Jesus Junk!”)? Are you weary of the constant irrelevance of contemporary relevance? Then welcome to evangelical orthodoxy. We are glad to have you back home.
More to follow