A Brief Critique of the Creedalist Argument for Adopting a Statement of Faith
by David E. Dean
I have wondered about the vocal promulgation of creedalism within the Advent Christian Denomination. I want to share some thoughts regarding what I understand are two of the major arguments in favor of adopting a statement of faith and present what I feel is the greatest weakness to the presentation.
In introduction, I want to be clear my opposition to the Advent Christian Denomination adopting a creed is not the merit of the particular creed. My opposition is to the mindset surrounding the promulgation of adopting creeds. The issue is creedalism: the mindset that a creed is the only way to preserve doctrinal purity and the demarcation for fellowship with true believers.
Creeds protect orthodoxy
A major point of the call to adopt a statement of faith is that creeds, especially the early church ecumenical creeds, protect the church from error. If we want to be protected from theological error we should adopt a creed.
This argument may sound strong but it is, as history shows, patently incorrect. Our current Church landscape is deluged with a plethora of creeds. Because, tragically, the church of Christ has too often repeated the cycle of God’s people during the time of the judges. The church falls into error and apostasy, only to have reformers call people back to God. Renewal and revival ensue only to within a generation or two the new movement (church) falls into error and apostasy.
Let us remember that the church that articulated the ecumenical creed later became the Roman Catholic church, which during the middle ages strove to extinguish the revival of godly life and true doctrine. How well did the creeds protect the church’s orthodoxy? Not well at all.
More recently than the middle ages, in the first third of the 20th century, J. Gresham Machen called the Northern Presbyterian church to enforce faithfulness to the Westminster Confession of Faith (which many of us believe is one of the great statements of orthodox faith), only to be defrocked and expelled for his efforts. Clearly, adherence to a creed did not protect the Northern Presbyterian church.
The call to serve God is a call to love God and love others—not a call to adherence to a set of propositions, regardless of their veracity.
An orthodox creed will make us more acceptable to modern day Evangelicals
Who among us does not want to be accepted? Rejection is painful. And we Advent Christians have endured that pain at the hands of the broader conservative and evangelical community.
But is conformity the way to gain acceptance? I think not. The issue for acceptance among those who hold to orthodox theology is not adherence to the ecumenical creeds or the NAE statement of faith. Acceptance is built upon relationships and mutual understanding.
A major reason the Advent Christian denomination has a more positive reception in New England than in other parts of the United States is due to the relational influence of people like James A. Nichols and Edwin Gedney. These Advent Christian leaders earned the respect of the broader community, in spite of remaining in a non-creedal group.
For the majority of conservative Christians and a large percentage of Evangelicals, we are considered unorthodox not for our non-creedalism and the diversity of our theological make-up, but because we adhere to the unorthodox doctrines of Conditional Immortality and the Sleep of the Dead. We are not and can never be orthodox, for the orthodox creeds of our day reject our distinctive doctrines.
We are thoroughly evangelical, but we are not orthodox. Adopting an orthodox statement of faith will not make it so.
A major weakness
The problem with creedalism lies in its reliance on an objective statement to protect what is at its core a spiritually dynamic relationship with God and others. Jesus did not leave us a command to believe as he believed but to love as he loved (my paraphrase).
All forms of creedalism err in how it downplays character and spiritual development. Look at the scandals that have rocked the Christian world in the last quarter of a century. From the pedophile scandal of the Roman Catholic Church (a creedal institution) to the fall of the NAE President, Ted Haggert (a person who subscribed to the statement of faith being presented to the delegate body this year).
Apostasy is not just a matter of the head—to be protected by a creed, it is a matter of the heart—to be protected by a growing relationship with God and the children of God.
I have shared my concern regarding two key arguments in favor of the push for creedalism. I find them inadequate and uncompelling.
I have written a longer piece which I am making available as an e-book through Amazon Kindle. Non-Creedalism: Our Heritage and Hope is available for free download from Amazon through June 28, 2017.