I want to start out by saying a few things:
- I affirm the Apostle’s Creed. I have no disagreement with the propositions therein.
- I affirm the idea of Mere Christianity. That is, I understand that there are first order and second order doctrines, and that we should not break fellowship over second order doctrines. I count anyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation, that God is a Trinity, that all three persons of the Trinity are equal in glory and nature, and that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, to be a brother in Christ. I do not doubt their salvation,
- I do not believe that a perfect understanding of a doctrine is required for salvation. Nor do I believe that anyone who cannot explain in technical language a first order doctrine is unsaved.
Now that that’s out of the way, lets do this.
I am a part of an organization who has as its primary focus the practice of evangelism through apologetics. On its internal messaging system, only those who are Christians are allowed. This system is primarily used for answering tough questions, discussing techniques, mutual edification, etc.
The group defines what it takes to be considered a Christian by means of the Apostle’s creed, and is composed of primarily evangelical protestants, with a few Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians scattered about.
Recently, I have run into many on this board who espouse various forms of Christological or Trinitarian heresies. Most prominent is a form of Apollinarianism that seems to stem primarily from a platonic understanding of the immaterial human existence. The specifics are not important, but it got me wondering how it could be the case that so many with such obviously unorthodox views could be allowed in a board that is explicitly for those who hold to historic Christian orthodoxy. Then it struck me.
The Apostle’s Creed isn’t enough to determine orthodoxy or not. Simply put, it is not specific enough.
While there are a few variations of the Creed, the important parts are all essentially the same.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Here are 7 reasons why confession of this creed is not sufficient to determine orthodox Christian belief.
- It does not address Christology: Now, I don’t mean this to say “It doesn’t endorse a specific understanding of Christology.” That is true as well, but the main problem is that it doesn’t address Christology at all. An Arian (who believes that the logos was a subordinate divine creature through whom all OTHER creatures were made) can confess this creed. An Apollinarian (who believes that Christ lacked the spiritual aspects of the human nature, specifically the human soul) could confess this creed. A Eutychian (who believes that the the human nature was swallowed up in the divine nature the way a drop of vinegar would be swallowed up in the ocean, such that the human nature is functionally not existent) could confess this creed. Finally, a Nestorian (who so divides the two natures of Christ that there are functionally two persons rather than one) could confess this creed.
- It does not address Pneumatology: This creed only demands confession that there is a Holy Spirit. It does not however demand that this Holy Spirit is a Person, that this Holy Spirit is God, or that the Holy Spirit is not subordinate to the other persons of the Trinity.
- It only tangentially addresses the Trinity: This does not require us (as seen above) to affirm that the Holy Spirit or the Son are God. It does not require us to affirm anything specific about the nature of the second and third Persons of the Trinity. It doesn’t require us to affirm anything about the Trinity at all, apart from the fact that on some level we hold doctrines regarding the Father, Son, and Spirit (but as I showed above, it does not require us to specify what doctrines we hold regarding their nature). A Modalist (someone who believes that there is one God who merely presents himself in three different ways) could affirm this creed. A Tritheist (someone who affirms such a separation in the Trinity that there are actually three gods) could affirm this creed. A Partialist (someone who believes that the three Persons are component parts of God such that when you combine these three persons you have God, rendering no one Person of the Trinity to be God a se) could affirm this creed.
- It does not explicitly exclude heretical sects that orthodox Christianity rejects. As far as i know, there is nothing about this creed that Jehovah’s Witnesses necessarily reject, that Mormons necessarily reject, or that Oneness Pentecostals reject.
- The Apostle’s Creed was exclusively used in the West for most of the Church’s history, while the Church in the East did not adopt (although they also did not reject) the creed.
- The historic orthodox Christian Church has turned to the Niceno-Constantinopolitian (Commonly called the Nicene Creed) that was confirmed at the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381. This was the definition of Christian belief for the vast majority of Christian History, and all Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, and the vast majority of Eastern Orthodox Groups affirm the creed (not all affirm the authority of the Creed, but all affirm the theology of the Creed).
- In the area of Christology, the Chalcedonian Definition (from the 1st Council of Chalcedon in 451) has been the standard definition of orthodox Christology for the vast majority of the Church. Like the Nicene Creed, there are few groups within Protestantism, Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy who deny the theology of this Definition.
Now, I’m writing this specifically as a medium to organize my thoughts before approaching this organization I am a part of to begin pushing for a change to have the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition replace the Apostle’s Creed as the standard for one to be considered a Christian. This is the standard the the Church has used for over 1500 years, there was little or no actual dispute until the 19th century, and it is still broad enough to allow us to have Unity in the Essentials, Liberty in the Non-Essentials, and Charity in the Rest.
What does this mean for everyone else? Well, that is a question that only you can answer. However I would suggest that you take some time to look at the faith statements of your church and other Christian organizations that you are a part of and see how they measure up. Are they specific enough to avoid the issues that the Apostle’s Creed runs into? Are the broad enough to leave room for disagreement? How about your own theology? Does it line up with the standard that the Church used for 1500 years? Are you more rigid than this definition when you assess someone’s theology? Less rigid?
At the end of the day, the only authority for faith and morals for a Christian is Scripture. However, the Church catholic has always affirmed these two statements to be faithful summaries of the Biblical testimony. We should not disregard or overturn them lightly.