A Creedal Voice & the Statement of Faith: Floyd McIntyre offers his perspective
by Floyd McIntyre
Before I launch into my feelings relative to the proposed NAE Statement of Faith to be considered by the delegates to the 2017 Advent Christian General Conference Triennial Convention, permit me to share a bit of my personal history as an Advent Christian and pastor of 40 years.
There is an old hymn that I love to sing. I am particularly fond of this song because it captures a bit of my personal testimony and how I now understand my becoming a Christian 51 years ago. The song is entitled He Lifted Me. It is the words of the second verse that always move me when I sing them.
“He called me long before I heard,
before my sinful heart was stirred;
but when I took Him at His word,
forgiv’n He Lifted me.”
Hymns of Heritage and Hope p. 402
At the age of twenty-one, my “heart was stirred” and I became a Christian and an Advent Christian at the same time. However, it took several years before I understood the significance of the Adventist doctrinal distinctives. I was most impressed when I first heard the “sleep of the dead” explained to me in a small church membership class. It was not the scripture that convinced me at that early stage, but rather because “it made sense” to me. Granted that is not an acceptable defense of any particular doctrine. Terms such as “conditional immortality” and “the intermediate state“ would have been a foreign language to me. One of the first questions I asked my pastor at the time was, “Where in the Bible can I find the story of Noah?” I was really biblically illiterate at that time, to say nothing about theology!
Three years later I found myself enrolled as a 24-year-old freshman at Berkshire Christian College as a pastoral studies major. The next four years of my life opened my eyes not only to Adventist theology but to theology in general. Within seven years, I moved from being totally ignorant (uninformed) of these truths to believing that they not only made sense but also were clearly what the Bible taught. After graduating from BCC, I served four Advent Christian Churches over a period of forty years. Three of the four churches were in the Eastern Region, and one in the Central. The seeds of theological passion and interest sown in Bible college took root in my life and ministry.
As I continued to study the scriptures, I became even more convinced of the biblical foundation of Advent Christian beliefs. This occurred while I was continuing to develop other beliefs, primarily in regards to the “doctrines of grace”, finding them to be in perfect harmony with Adventist doctrine. Much of my understanding has resulted from my appreciation of the historic creeds and confessions of the “catholic” church developed throughout the ages. Therefore, I would want to make it clear that I would take a “pro-creed” position regarding the NAE Statement of Faith.”
In her book, Creed or Chaos?: Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster, Dorothy L. Sayers writes:
"It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously."
When Advent Christians say that “Christian character is the only test of fellowship and communion” (ACC Covenant), they stand on a slippery slope! Clearly, there are many who would exhibit “Christian morality” without ever taking a stand on “the fundamentals of Christian theology.” Heresy lurks around the corner!
Sometimes I struggle to understand why there is such resistance, or even fear, toward using the word creed. It is as if in saying we have a creed, we are appealing to something other than scripture for our ultimate source of doctrine. This, of course, is not true. I find it ironic that those who oppose subscribing to a particular creed, actually have a creed anyway! The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, and simply means, “to believe.” So in my way of thinking, to deny being creedal is to say, “I don’t really believe in anything”…or in other words, “I don’t believe.” How can you be a Christian and not believe? Does not the Bible itself refer to Christians as “believers”? (See Acts 5:14; I Cor. 15:1-11) The Corinthians had a clear creed!
The following quote from A. A. Hodge might be helpful in understanding the balance between the teaching of Scripture and the formation of a creed.
“While, however, the Scriptures are from God, the understanding of them belongs to the part of men. Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.”
A Short History of Creeds and Confessions, A. A. Hodge
It seems to me that if the early Adventists had not been afraid to adopt an orthodox statement of faith (including their understanding of the nature of man i.e. “Life Only in Christ”) along with the testimony of the ancient and early church fathers on the nature of God, and Jesus Christ in particular, we would not be having this discussion today. Those questions about the nature of Christ Jesus were settled in the early years of the church.
A quick look at three of the ancient creeds will show that the issue we have been discussing regarding the nature of Christ was confronted and decided centuries ago.
1. The Apostles’ Creed (120-250 AD.) This creed was written as a critique of Marcion who taught that Jesus was a divine spirit appearing in human form only, and did not possess a true physical body. Sometimes he is considered a Gnostic.
2. The Nicene Creed (325 AD.) This creed came into existence as a response to Arius (Arianism) who taught that the God the Father had divinity “over the Son.”
3. Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD). This creed defined the two natures of Christ, divine and human as existing in one person (hypostasis).
I find it interesting that two of the three creeds to which I refer, the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, appear in the latest edition of the Advent Christian Hymnal, Hymns of Heritage and Hope. In the 1967 edition of the AC Hymnal, only one of the three, the Apostles’ Creed appears. However, it is interesting to note that in the 1967 edition an additional Confession of Faith appears. It is entitled, A Scriptural Confession of Faith. One could argue that it falls short of its title, as it clearly separates not only the Lord Jesus Christ from unity with the God the Father, but it also never even refers to Jesus as the Son of God! Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is instead referred to as the “Spirit of Truth”, only proceeding “from the Father; and bearing witness of Christ.” I expect that this statement of faith was included as an accommodation for those who deny the orthodox doctrine of the Triune God. Similarly, the beloved hymn Holy, Holy, Holy, in the 1967 edition provides alternate lyrics via asterisk to the last phrase of verses 1 and 4. If you were uncomfortable singing, “God in three persons blessed Trinity”, you had the option to sing “God ever glorious, Praises be to thee”, another obvious accommodation.
And yet, the issue of the nature of God, particularly as it relates to Jesus, has not been a recent controversy for the Church. It seems to me that there is a certain level of fear in our ranks today of causing division if a statement of faith that is in agreement with the ancient creeds is adopted. I recently listened to a lecture on Creeds and Confessions where reference was made to an Episcopal Bishop who made the statement: “Heresy is better than schism…and if you must choose, always choose heresy.”
I would be saddened for sure if we have a schism; there is a biblical way of avoiding it. Other writers on this site have at least alluded to Paul’s word to Timothy. The idea that we should try our best to bring correction to heresy through sound teaching and patient instruction is on solid biblical ground and I applaud those who build their ministries upon it.
II Timothy 2:24 (ESV) reads; “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (all emphases mine).
Any departure from the orthodox teachings of the creeds given above, which are believed to be the clear teachings of scripture, is heresy. I am not sure what the answer is if people are not teachable. Nevertheless, let us be clear: we would never choose heresy over schism, as grievous as it might be.