What If The Creeds Are Wrong?
By Edward E. Stevens
Editorial Note: The Holy Spirit Is Not Dead
This issue concludes our three-part friendly interaction with brother Joseph Balyeat. Im sure Joe would agree that it has been a very challenging and interesting exchange of ideas. We hope it has given all a better grasp of the issues confronting students of Bible prophecy, and especially that it has helped us better appreciate the unfathomable riches of mercy and grace God has lavished upon us through Christ the eternal King. Thanks to all those who helped me in my efforts to respond to Joes excellent questions and challenges. Your input into the process made it better in every way and smoothed out many of the rough spots.
My comments in this series with Balyeat about the role of the Paraclete being finished at 70 AD may have been confusing. Some (including Joe) got the impression I believed the Holy Spirit no longer exists. Let me assure you that I do not believe the Holy Spirit has died or ceased to exist. However, His role as Paraclete has come to an end. But that does not mean we have been left as orphans (Jn. 14:18). Christ has returned as He promised, and instead of the temporary and partial things provided by the Holy Spirit in Christs absence (from 30-70 AD), we now have Christ Himself indwelling our hearts. The glorious hope of the pre-70 saints was not just to have Christ with them again, but to have Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27).
So, even though we may not have the Spirit indwelling and empowering us today, we have something better. It is obvious from Jesus comments in Matt. 7:21-23 that prophesying, casting out demons and performing miracles was not the ultimate religious experience. Many who had done that (or at least thought they had) were disappointed when Christ told them, I never knew you. Knowing Christ and being known by Him is the ultimate (Gal. 4:9; 1 Jn. 5:20; 1 Cor. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:16).
Editorial Note: Conclusion to the Balyeat SeriesThe article beginning on the opposite page is the third and final installment in our series on Balyeats objections to the full preterist view (see below). This article deals specifically with his objections based on creeds and early church opinion. We trust we have done what he asked in point number eight (below). The creeds and early church opinions are a challenging subject for all of us, so we have tried to be as brief (but thorough) as we could, while at the same time offering critiques and suggestions that are as specific as possible.
I can understand what his term "partial preterist" means. But, I dont believe it is consistent. He merely asserts that his postmil position is "more correct" than full preterism. On what basis? Creeds? Early church opinion? Or by Biblical criteria? It will not do to base it on anything but Biblical material, as the article beginning on the opposite page attempts to demonstrate. The real proof must come from sola scriptura. not from creeds and opinions, which are often mistaken.
His self-label "partial charismatic" bothers me. In a future issue we will print Balyeats written reaction to this series along with our response to it. His reaction (which we have received) is mainly a defense of his charismatic position, so stay tuned.
We would certainly be delighted to interact with any other partial preterists, premils, amils, post-mils or historicists like we have with Balyeat. The cause of truth is usually well-served when more than one perspective is presented.
I especially thank Ken Davies and Mark Baker for helping in the research for this series of articles, as well as Jeff Kessel, Arthur Melanson, Chris Camillo, Tim Kersten, David Green and many others who contributed their comments. Thanks to all of you!
I know just the mere verbalization of this question generates visceral reactions in many Christian brethren. It is not a question we want to answer. It is indeed one of those questions your pastor or seminary instructor hopes you will never ask. The article on Creeds and Preterist Orthodoxy which Balyeat mentions, was in the Nov.-Dec. 1991 issue of Kingdom Counsel. I heartily recommend it being read as a preface to what is said here. Copies of that issue are available for a $2.00 postage & handling charge. Be sure to read Joseph Balyeats objections on the opposite page before reading this article. This article is not written just in response to Balyeat. There is much confusion among many students of the preterist view over how to handle the seeming conflict between the creeds and preterism. Balyeats critique convinced me that my previous article on the creeds did not thoroughly address all the crucial issues, and motivated me to go further. I am planning to make this material available in other printed formats, as well as present more about it in my message at the upcoming seminar in June. Let me also say at the outset that I am not anti-creedal. Some preterists may be, but Im not one of them. I posit tremendous value in the councils, assemblies, synods and creeds of the historical church. Heres some of the ideas we will be looking at here :
How To View The Creeds
How To Use The Creeds
The Creeds Can Be Mistaken
Where The Mistakes Were Made
How To Solve The Creedal Problem
Hopefully I wont get burned at the stake, impaled on a sharp lance, thrown to the lions or have a permanent anathema attached to my name for saying what I am about to say. Yes! The creeds can be wrong and probably do deviate in a few points from the Biblical position. Only Scripture never needs change. All human documents need adjustments as experience and understanding grow. Perhaps a little different question will draw this idea out. Is it possible that any of the early church fathers were mistaken on any points of doctrine? Is it possible that two or three or a whole group of them were mistaken on various points of doctrine? Is it possible for a majority of them to have been mistaken? Did Jesus ever indicate that many could miss it while only a few would find it?
If the creeds of the early church were perfect and needed no revision, why were they revised and updated in succeeding councils? Why didnt the revision stop? Why didnt the Western church stay with all the doctrines that she once held in the second and third centuries? Why didnt the Eastern Orthodox churches follow the exact same creeds as the Western Roman churches? Why didnt the Lutherans and Anglicans stay with the earlier Catholic beliefs? Why did the Reformers break away and develop even more independent creedal and confessional frameworks? Why are even more doctrines continually being developed today (such as the Reconstruction movement, etc.)? Doesnt this tell us something? Our understanding of Scripture is constantly improving, so it shouldnt surprise us that our creeds need revision.
Am I saying we should throw all the creeds out the window and start over? No, of course not. But Im not advocating we gulp them down without question either. It simply isnt right to pretend that the emperor has a beautiful suit of clothes on when hes actually naked. To assume that the creeds cannot be mistaken is practically the same thing as granting the pope infallibility. As Philip Schaff well said, it is Romanizing. When the first and only test applied to a new idea is only that of creedal conformity, it shows where our loyalties are. It is one thing to say we dont consider creeds infallible or absolutely authoritative, but when they are the only things we use to test orthodoxy, our profession becomes dubious. We have become slaves of the traditions of men, just as much as the scribes and Pharisees ever were (Mark 7:8).
Having or not having a creed is not the crucial issue. Every Christian has a creed. Some are written, some are not. Some just call it tradition, confession or catechism. Others call it a pattern to go by. The Latin word credo simply means I believe. A creed is your systematized set of beliefs, whether written or not. We instead need to focus on the content of our creeds and how we view and use them.
How To View The Creeds
How Authoritative Should The Creeds Be?
Some have asked the very useful question, Are the Scriptures the ONLY authority or just the FINAL authority. Ones answer to this reveals where he stands in regard to creeds, tradition and the authority of the opinions of the historical church. It is a question of levels or of how much authority the creeds have. Perhaps it is appropriate not only to ask how much authority they have, but also what kind of authority they have. I believe this is where the real difficulty lies in the debate between pro-creedalists and anti-creedalists. There are different kinds of authority. There is absolute (eternal and universal) authority as well as relative (temporary and limited) authority. The Roman and Eastern churches posit the same kind of absolute authority in the creeds and church tradition as they do in the Scriptures. Most Protestants feel tradition and creeds have only relative authority, but few of them ever define it quite that clearly. Philip Schaff, one of the greatest students of and writers about the creeds, took the position that only God and His Word have absolute authority, and that every other doctrine or creedal formula has only relative authority. So, you can place as much (relative) authority on the creeds as you want as long as it is not the absolute kind of authority. It is not just a matter of how much authority the creeds have, but what kind of authority. They have no absolute authority. Scripture (and God who gave it) are the ONLY absolute and FINAL authority after all relative sources of authority have been consulted and exhausted. It is not a matter of either/or. Scripture is both the only (absolute) AND the final authority. Nothing else comes close. And all other doctrines and opinions outside the Bible share only limited and relative authority. Some may be more historically interesting and valuable than others, but none will ever approach absolute authority. ONLY the absolute kind of authority has the right to decide matters of orthodoxy, require conformity and define fellowship. No creed (with only limited and restricted authority) has those privileges. Orthodoxy is determined by sola scriptura, not by creeds.
We can never know whether something has merit if all we judge it by is the creeds or the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the early church. It is valuable to study newly understood ideas in the light of older patterns of thinking, but the only authority that can determine their veracity is Scripture alone. If new understandings expose our traditions (creeds, opinions, interpretations) as being out-of-sync with Scripture, then the old understandings have to be reformed or replaced. We should not hesitate doing that any more than we hesitate exposing any other traditions we believe are Scripturally inaccurate. The preterist view can easily be shown to be in harmony (orthodox) with Scripture. It is time students of Scripture exhaustively examined eschatology, using all the valuable information that has accumulated since the first century, but reserving all judgment to Scripture alone.
Value or Authority?
When Balyeat says, some weight must be attached to the creeds, we need to know what he means. By weight does he mean value or authority? If he means authority, he has violated the absolute authority of sola scriptura. Nothing else can share that kind of authority. If he means value, then I totally agree with him. A mistake some creedalists make (who claim to be following sola scriptura) is the failure to understand the difference between value and authority. They vest near absolute authority in the creeds. Only Scripture has that kind of authority. I would liken the restricted and limited authority of the creeds to basically a matter of value. The creeds and traditions have tremendous historical, theological, edificational and didactic value. But, no more authority should be attached to the creeds (or ante-Nicene opinions) than we attach to the opinions of the Pope, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or Hal Lindsey. The net effect is that relative authority is not authority at all, but rather just a matter of value. Creeds may have much more value than those other opinions, but no more authority. They can be and are mistaken on some matters, and need to be revised more in line with our better understanding of Scripture which has developed through the centuries. And this revision must be an on-going process as our understanding gets better and better.
The value of creeds for our understanding of the Christian faith is immeasurable and unquestionable. We cannot very deeply grasp where we are now and where we need to go unless we understand where we have been. But their infallibility and authority are quite different matters. We dont allow the Pope the luxury of claiming infallibility. Only inspired Scripture has absolute infallible status, and that only in its original autographs. The creeds are not inspired documents. It is possible for them to be in error. As the centuries unfold and our understanding of the Bible gets better, more and more defects in the creeds will start showing up, as is beginning to happen now with the preterist view. If the creeds are possibly mistaken and have no absolute authority, then why are they being used to determine orthodoxy and define the boundaries of fellowship?
How To Use The Creeds
How Should Creeds Be Used?
It is okay to say I believe (Lat. credo) a certain set of doctrines. But when we start using our (individual or collective) written creeds as a standard for determining orthodoxy and defining fellowship rather than Scripture we have gone too far. It is one thing to have a creed (a belief system), but another to use that belief system as a club or whip. Its not the creeds that are at fault necessarily, but rather the way we view them and use them. Kind of like handling a gun. If used the wrong way it can be deadly. Exclusiveness (divisiveness) is the problem, not the creeds themselves.
Why shouldnt creeds be used to test orthodoxy? Because we can never be sure the creeds themselves are orthodox. They go beyond the mere recitation of Biblical statements. They attempt to interpret the Bible. And then creedalists take those interpretations (or commentary) and use it against other Christians interpretations (creeds) which are just as much based on Scripture. If it could be shown that a creed does nothing more than organize the doctrines of Scripture without adding any human interpretations or commentary to it, then they would be very useful as educational tools. But if human interpretations are attached to the Biblical doctrines in the creeds, they should not be used as litmus tests of orthodoxy, whips to enforce conformity or excuses to restrict fellowship. Such a function is the prerogative of Scripture only. Thats what the leaders of the Reformation had in mind when they framed the sola scriptura ideas.
What Is Orthodoxy?
Orthodoxy (ortho: straight, doxy: doctrine) implies doctrine that is in line with scripture (not in line with the creeds). We must not use creeds (our beliefs and doctrines) to check the straightness of other doctrines. Only scripture (sola scriptura) can provide the straight rule to determine orthodoxy. A different understanding than our traditional doctrines stands or falls exclusively on the basis of Scripture alone (sola scriptura). To say otherwise is to denigrate the authority of God and His Word, and deny the very foundation upon which the Reformation, Restoration and Reconstruction movements are supposedly based. It is elevating human opinions and traditions to a place equal to or above Gods Word.
Can We Assume The Creeds Are Correct?
If Balyeat is satisfied with judging the merits of the full preterist position by Scripture alone (sola scriptura), he would not have mentioned the creedal issue as a serious argument against it, as David Chilton (Paradise Restored, pp. 138-139; Days of Vengeance, pp. 264, 531) and Ken Gentry (The Beast of Revelation, p. 25n) have done also. He brings the creeds into the picture evidently because he believes they are correct and feels they are authoritative to some significant degree. True creedalists do not say the creedal formulas just reflect the state of understanding in the fourth century, but rather that they embody truth itself. They might say the creeds could possibly be mistaken, but they dont really believe they are. They assume the creeds are correct, and on their basis evaluate all new understandings that come along. The fact that they use them as a basis for determining orthodoxy shows they consider them utterly correct and authoritative. If there was any doubt about them, they would not use them as authoritative standards. They built a creedal fence to lock out heresy, but didnt realize they built their own prison walls. They have locked themselves into the impossibility of changing their views once a better understanding comes along. They have already decided exactly what the scriptures can and cannot mean. Nothing is left in the realm of opinion for future study and better understanding. The saints of the first two centuries (before creeds) must then be considered hopelessly adrift.
Then How Do We Set the Bounds of Fellowship?
In Leroy Garretts on-going series of articles about the Restoration movement entitled, What Must The Church of Christ Do To Be Saved, (Restoration Review, Sept. 1992), he discusses the attitude of Barton Stone (a leading figure in the beginning of the Restoration movement) regarding both written and unwritten creeds:
It is incredible how well Stone read the future as well as the present in what he said to the Churches of Christ in 1832. Early in the Address he warned against unwritten creeds, which he considered more dangerous than written ones. The purpose of both, he noted, is to exclude from fellowship the man who dissents from them. He observes that there are those who clamor against (written) creeds and yet have (unwritten) creeds of their own, and are as intolerant toward those who dissent from their [unwritten] creeds as those who make written creeds are toward their dissenters.
...Creeds are designed to draw lines and to defend the party line. Stone was right in preferring written creeds to unwritten ones, for written ones are more reliable and predictable. In unwritten creeds people make up their rules as they go along, tailoring the creed to fit the occasion, or the one to be marked.
Chris DeWelt (One Body magazine, The Unwritten Creed, Fall, 1992, p. 16) makes a similar comment about Alexander Campbell, one of the better-known leaders of the Restoration Movement in the mid-1800s, out of which came the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ:
...Alexander Campbell issued a challenge. Campbell said he would debate anyone who would deny the premise that written creeds had produced at least one division in every generation in which they were known. ...the one thing Campbell feared more than a written creed was an unwritten creed, for the unwritten creed would produce even more division and strife.
Garrett and DeWelt are acting in the interests of freedom and unity when they point out the dangers of using our creedalized opinions for defining our circles of fellowship. The only hope for unity in a fragmented Christianity is for all of us to back away from our exclusive attitudes. It is one thing to have extreme opinions, but another to exclude others over them. It is not extremism that is divisive, but exclusivism. It is not wrong to separate into denominations for fellowship with others who understand the Bible the same way we do, but it can be wrong if it is done for the wrong reason, and one wrong reason is exclusivism. We can hold to our extreme opinions study them teach them (as our opinions only) without excluding others over them. Let God through His Word (not the creeds) be the judge and corrector of our opinions.
One pioneer in the restoration movement a century ago observed that nothing should be essential for fellowship except what is essential for salvation. But this doesnt solve all the problems. Even if we remove everything that is NOT essential for salvation from our fellowship considerations, there would still be much debate over exactly what IS essential for salvation. I suspect if I asked what is essential for salvation, I would get a thousand different answers. Even in this area of essentials for salvation we must consider the possibility that we have misunderstood some things and be open to a better understanding as time unearths it. We need to leave things as open-ended as Scripture does. It is just as wrong to bind where Scripture doesnt bind as it is to loose where Scripture doesnt loose. And it is just as wrong to bind an unwritten creed on others as it is to bind a written one.
Why Isnt Scripture Sufficient?
Perhaps the reason why the scriptural statements are not deemed adequate is because we cant find enough proof-text evidence to build our case, so we have to construct our own creedal base that we can use to enforce conformity. We have the irresistible urge to control people. We would be better off giving freedom in those areas where scripture is not clear, than to go beyond them into binding our own opinions. It is a temptation that too many of us find irresistible, and has caused incredible grief to Gods people.
It is much safer to stick with the way Scripture defines and formulates doctrine. Any time man tries to improve on the Scriptures he almost invariably makes a mess of things. I feel extremely uncomfortable letting a group of fallible uninspired men decide by majority vote what I have to believe. If the Scriptures dont clearly spell out the essentials, then we are all lost. And if the essentials are easy to understand, they dont need some more complicated creed to confuse and divide people. Anything not spelled out clearly in Scripture must be treated with great reverence and restraint. To bind or loose in that area is dangerous. It is better to be conservative and cautious, and assume our understanding could be wrong, than force others to pay homage to our creedal (belief) opinions. Why not just stick with the way scripture says it, and if scripture doesnt clear it up, give freedom to differ (just like the saints before the creeds had). Lets not go beyond the Scriptures.
We could solve most problems we have over creeds (both written and unwritten) by viewing and using them properly. It would also help if we could change them more in line with the better understanding that has developed in the last few centuries. Before such change could ever occur, it would have to be reasonably demonstrated that the creeds are wrong.
The Creeds Can Be Mistaken
The Creeds Contain More Than Just Scripture
When a doctrinal question comes up, our immediate response should be as the Bereans (Acts 17:11), examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. The average person CAN understand Scripture. It is a sad commentary on the Roman Church and anyone else who believes that ordinary Christians cannot understand the essentials for justification and eternal life without the guidance of creeds and church tradition. They didnt have the creeds at Berea, nor even all the books of the NT. Thats why such statements as A. A. Hodges below (quoted in Ken Gentrys tract, The Usefulness of Creeds, p. 11) need to be questioned: 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 Gods people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds. There are two problems with Hodges statement (and Ken Gentrys use of it). First, he doesnt trust his fellow Christian (unassisted by the creeds) to arrive at the truth. This condemns the poor Bereans. Secondly, he assumes that the creeds have been thoroughly tried and proved to be absolutely correct in their interpretations. No more trial by the tests of time are necessary? Have we really arrived at such a complete understanding of Biblical truth that no further development is possible? Then why are those in the Reconstruction movement and others trying to change our concepts? What happens if a better understanding comes along which is in conflict with the creeds? What does that prove? Is it possible that a mistake could have occurred very early in the formative period of the creeds and have gotten perpetuated down through the centuries until finally noticed by later Christians who understand Scripture better? Is it safe to assume that the early church understood all doctrinal matters so clearly that no mistakes were possible? Did they have any other doctrinal errors at all? Dont mistake what Im saying here. I see a tremendous value in the creeds, but they cannot be assumed correct nor used as if they are infallible guardians and guides. Too many of the early churchs doctrines have turned out to be misguided. Creeds have to be considered suspect because they embody more than just Scripture. They embody interpretation of essential truths and application of Scripture (according to Gentry, ibid., pp. 13, and 11 resp., emphasis mine, EES). Whose interpretation and application do the creeds contain? Why isnt Scripture sufficient? If Scripture doesnt clear the matter up perhaps we should leave it in the realm of freedom. I definitely have to differ with Hodge (and Gentry) on this. Since they admit that the creeds contain more than just Scripture, and since interpretations and applications of Scripture are often mistaken, especially in early centuries, we have to hesitate giving any authority to the creeds and assume they will need change and update as time progresses.
Again, for emphasis and to make it crystal clear, I am not advocating the abolition of creeds or the refusal to write new ones. I am simply suggesting that we keep creedal formulas in their appropriate place as statements of how we as individuals (or as a group of individuals) understand the Scriptures at a certain point in history. They are a snapshot of what the saints believed and understood at a particular time and place in history. And, they can be mistaken. As we grow in our understanding, it will necessitate revision of the creeds. Well then, what in them needs to be changed? And how do we change them?
Where The Mistakes Were Made
Time &Nature Interpretations in the Creeds
Ken Gentry has well noted that the creeds contain more than just Biblical statements. This is where the mistakes crept in. The creed writers were not content in just reflecting the doctrines of the Bible. They set out to interpret their TIME and NATURE of fulfillment and then bind that interpretation upon future generations. I can already hear someone saying, No way. Such persons believe there are no interpretations in the creeds, but merely Biblical facts. Let me give just one example: the doctrine of the resurrection. The Bible states that there would be a resurrection in the future. The creeds not only say there would be a future resurrection, but that the nature of that resurrection was to be of fleshly-physical human bodies. The Bible does not state it that way (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-44). The least that can be said is that the Bible presents the NATURE of resurrection in a somewhat ambiguous manner, if not in a spiritual manner. The resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 can be and has certainly been interpreted in several different figurative and literal ways. The creed writers assumed a physical/fleshly NATURE for the resurrection and inserted that presupposition into the creeds because of their over-reaction to the Gnostics. They would have been better off leaving it in the more vague language of 1 Cor. 15. They made another mistake in relation to the TIME of fulfillment. Because of their physical-fleshly concept of the resurrection, they assumed the resurrection had not occurred, so they put a futurist TIME perspective into the creeds as well.
The creeds did the same thing with the Kingdom as they did with the resurrection. The saints before 70 AD looked forward to the coming of the Kingdom, and believed the TIME of its arrival was imminent (Lk. 21:31). In Jesus model prayer in the Sermon on the Mount He prayed, Thy Kingdom come (Matt. 5:9-13). Has that Kingdom come yet? We would all agree that the Kingdom He spoke of was still future before Pentecost. But, there are other statements where the Kingdom was still viewed as future (in some sense) even after Pentecost (i.e. Mt. 25:34; Lk. 21:31; 1 Cor. 6:9; 15:24; 2 Tim. 4:1,18; Heb. 12:28; 2 Pet. 1:11 and Rev. 11:15; 12:10); in addition to statements where it was viewed as present in some sense already (Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:6, 9; 5:10); or as in the process of being received (Heb. 12:28). All of this is stated to point out that the TIME perspectives of the NT writings are significant and must be taken into account along with the NATURE of fulfillment, especially if the originally predicted TIME for them to occur has passed. The Kingdom is no longer future. It has arrived and is present. This past/present perspective was not recognized by the creedal framers. They kept the NTs futurist perspective.
The creedal debates noted that there were different concepts of the NATURE of the resurrection (i.e. the Gnostic and other ideas). But they rejected any other concept but a physical/fleshly resurrection. And since that kind of resurrection had not happened yet, they assumed it was still future. They never questioned the TIME of fulfillment because their presuppositions about the NATURE of fulfillment never created a need to. It is sad that the creedal framers overlooked other possible ways of interpreting these matters. They were so caught up in their attempt to counter the Gnostics that they jumped to the opposite extreme which was just as incorrect. Each extreme had Biblical points in its favor, but both were wrong, and somewhere in the synthesis the correct Biblical position resides. Origen attempted to arrive at a middle position with his spiritual-allegorical concepts, but unfortunately over-allegorized in some areas and under-spiritualized in others.
Have Some Creeds Gone Too Far?
Do we have the right to bind creedal formulas on others that are built on just our consensus of opinion about what it means? Would we consider a doctrine automatically right if every Christian theologian in the world agrees with it? Does majority vote determine absolute truth? Or should we leave well enough alone? Maybe we have tried too hard to help the Bible out of its jam, when we didnt need to. Perhaps we have gone too far and gone beyond what is written. (1 Cor. 4:6) Isnt that what the Bible repeatedly warns against when it says not to add to the words of revelation? We must be content to leave it ambiguous if that is where the Scriptures leave it. God knew what He was doing when He revealed Scripture. There is nothing essential left out, and there is no filler put in. The secret things belong to God (Deut. 29:29). If God didnt nail it down, perhaps we should leave it in the area of freedom as well.
The Creeds Go Beyond Scripture
Make no mistake, Im a firm believer in the Deity of Christ and His Divine Union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But I think the creeds might have gone too far in trying to define the Divine Nature in ways that Scripture does not necessarily dictate. What if the creeds formulated an interpretive position on the Trinity that is un-Biblical (not anti-Biblical necessarily, just un-Biblical) and created an unnecessary and impossible barrier for the staunchly monotheistic Jews to get through? If we had just stuck with the statements of Scripture (like Hebrews 1, Phil. 2 or John 1), the Jewish people and many others might have been better able to accept Christ. I have heard more Jews object to Christianity because of creedal ideas than because of NT statements. The language of the creeds perhaps goes too far in formulating a position that was never spelled out exactly that way in Scripture. They formulated traditions that Scripture was just not that clear on. They had good intentions. They were trying to counteract the Gnostic (docetic) ideas, but went too far in the opposite extreme.
Was There A Majority View in the Early Church?
Every time I hear someone (as Balyeat does) say something like, inconsistent with the overwhelming majority of opinion in the early church, I immediately want to ask them how much patristic study they have actually done. How many of the early church writings have they actually read? Have they read all 40 volumes of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers? What about the other 300-plus volumes of Greek and Latin Fathers in Mignes Complete Patrology that have never been translated into English? Have they read all those too? How can they be so sure they really have a handle on what the overwhelming majority of opinion really was in the early church? They are probably taking somebodys word for it. What if the authority they are basing their opinion on was theologically biased or just plain incorrect? Was there really such a thing as a majority consensus of opinion about eschatology in the early church? And if there was, how can we be sure we know what it was? As James B. Jordan has noted (Biblical Chronology, Problems With New Testament History, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. 1993, p. 1):
We have to remember that we only have a few Church Fathers to draw on. Often Christian scholars have strained mightily to build on evidence from these writings, writings of men clearly not familiar with the facts in other instances. Many of the Fathers were new converts to the faith who wrote apologetics, and who did not know much about Christianity (as can be seen when we compare them with the teachings of the New Testament). What we dont have are reams of sermons preached by pastors in local churches during the first two centuries, and that is the kind of material that would give us an accurate picture of the early church. Finally, though the Church Fathers are fathers in a sense, and are of real value to us, they are also the Church Babies in another sense. All this should be born in mind when it comes to their haphazard testimony... [emphasis mine, EES]
While the early writers occasionally mentioned eschatological themes in their writings, they did not develop them in any detailed fashion. There really was no systematized orthodox view of eschatology in the second and immediately following centuries. As Alan Patrick Boyd (a futurist), writes in his thesis, A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers, p. 91, note 2:
It is this writers conviction that historical precedent cannot be employed to disprove a system of belief, but only Biblical precedent. There is much error in the Fathers studied in other areas of theology (e.g., soteriology incipient baptismal regeneration, a weak view of justification; ecclesiology incipient sacerdotalism), so it should be no occasion for surprise that there is much eschatological error there.
So few writings survived that era that we dont really have enough pieces to form a crystal clear picture. We may never know what all the major and minor beliefs were in the late first and early second centuries. So, we need to be very careful making statements about the overwhelming majority like Balyeat does.
Balyeat uses some opinions of the early church to argue against the full preterist view. Is his own partial preterist view any more well-supported in the patristics than the full preterist view? If such support is essential before a view can be considered worthy of our attention, then Balyeats partial preterist view is in the same position as the full preterist view. Whatever patristic criteria anyone uses against the full preterist position must also be applied to his own views. I challenge any futurist or partial preterist to find his own particular view of eschatology more fully documented, developed, systematized and adhered to by all Christians before the fourth century than is the preterist view. It just isnt there. There was no consensus.
Balyeat might respond by saying, It may be true that my view of eschatology is not any better attested in the early writings than the full preterist view, but at least Im in harmony with the creeds futurist perspective for the Last Things. Full preterism is not. But as we have pointed out above, the composers of the creeds were off-track on several points of doctrine. It is not hard to believe that they might have been mistaken on creedal matters as well. And since there is a possibility the creeds are mistaken, we cannot view them as authoritative for determining orthodoxy. Only Scripture can serve that function. Critics of the full preterist view are amiss if they suggest it is automatically disqualified from any further testing if it is not in harmony with the creeds. The creeds may be useful as an additional mechanism for examining a recently understood idea, but it should never be the only test nor allowed to be a disqualifying test. Only disharmony with the Scriptures can disqualify a doctrine from serious consideration.
What About the Ante-Nicene Saints?
A real question that needs to be asked, is what we do with all those saints who lived in the late first, second, third and early fourth centuries who didnt have the four ecumenical creeds yet, much less know whether they agreed with them? Were they any less our brothers and sisters simply because they were creedless? In those first three centuries before the first [written] creeds were formulated, was there any debate over the doctrines that later came to be creedalized? Or were all those doctrines completely and universally understood and agreed upon? Any student of the formative period of the creeds knows there was anything but universal understanding and agreement on these issues before Nicea. Well, did everyone agree with them after they were formulated? Did all debate instantly cease? No. There was intense debate and discussion both before and after the councils. Are we to assume that all those Christians (in the early centuries before the creeds) were lost if they happened NOT to understand things exactly the same way the later creeds formulated them? How much freedom do we give? Where do we draw the line? Is it okay to allow the same freedom for differences of opinion today that those saints had before the creeds? Did any of them believe differently about the doctrines that later came to be formulated in the creeds? Were they Christians anyway, despite the fact that the issues had not even been debated yet?
If it is possible for people before Nicea to be brothers in Christ without understanding nor agreeing with the later creedal formulas, why is it now necessary to impose the creedal formulas on everyone after Nicea? Creeds are well-intentioned and do have much historical, educational and theological value, but they must never be considered infallible or authoritative or used as a basis for determining orthodoxy and fellowship.
The Early Church Misunderstood Much
Since the early saints made so many blunders in so many areas, because of their shallow understanding, pagan background, and political motives, is it safe to assume that the creeds somehow escaped (like inspired scripture) being corrupted by it? Is it possible that the creeds, though well-intentioned, could have gone beyond the scriptures and created doctrinal formulas that not only could be UN-scriptural (not clearly taught in Scripture), but ANTI-scriptural as well (against the correct application of Scripture in this age of the Kingdom)? The Creeds are not mistaken just because they reflect too little of the Biblical position and too much human opinion. They are wrong because they reflect the NTs transitional futurist perspective which is no longer applicable to our fulfilled perspective in the Kingdom today after 70 AD. The creeds reflect the understanding of the church during its transition period (30-70 AD) when things werent very clear. They were still looking forward to the full inheritance of the Kingdom. They only had a taste of the good things [that were about] to come, an earnest (pledge, down payment) and seal of that inheritance. And Christs coming, the judgment and the resurrection were all connected inseparably with the imminent coming and full inheritance of the Kingdom at 70 AD (cf. Matt. 16:27f; 25:31ff; 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 50). Since that consummation is past, the creeds need to reflect the current status of the Kingdom, not the status it had before 70 AD. When the fulfillment has arrived, it no longer makes sense to pretend we are still waiting for it.
Isbon T. Beckwith (The Apocalypse of John, Studies in Introduction with a Critical and Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. pp. 319-320) seems convinced by his careful study of early church doctrines that even the apostolic church had difficulties in their comprehension of eschatology:
Like every scripture inspired of God the Apocalypse was certainly meant to be to those to whom it first came profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16), and so the writer must have counted on its being understood in its chief lessons. Doubtless the readers had already been instructed orally in such eschatological teaching as appears in the Gospel record of our Lords words, and in the epistles; and if so, they possessed the norm guiding them to the general understanding of a book which likewise told of the approach of the times of the Gentiles, the messianic woes, and of the near appearing of Christ in his kingdom, a book which also warned and encouraged the Church in view of what was coming on the earth. That there is much in it which was not understood by them or misunderstood, can hardly be doubted, but the monitions to preparedness and steadfastness, the revelations of hope and comfort, were clear; and as long as the eschatological expectations of the apostolic age continued active, the Church was not altogether far from the authors thought in the understanding of the book; but as that expectation died away, or was transformed, the Church entered into a wilderness of wandering in its conception of this portion of Scripture, from which it is only in recent years escaping through the rise and rigorous application of the historical method of study. (emphasis mine, EES)
The majority seems to have misunderstood eschatology, even in the period before 70 AD. The inspired Apostle Peter said eschatology was hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:14-18). How could that be? How could they miss it? They certainly knew some things were fulfilled at 70 AD. The above quotes show that clearly. They argued heatedly with the Jews in their apologetic writings that the mission of Christ was not nationalistic and that Christ had accomplished all the OT scriptures had predicted about Him. After 70 AD they stopped thinking of eschatology in nationalistic terms, but nevertheless still clung to their hopes for an imminent worldwide fulfillment in some materialistic sense. They originally understood rightly that the time of fulfillment was to be imminent, until the middle of the second century when they began to abandon that and suggest the delay/postponement and second advent ideas. But they evidently did not understand much about how it was to be fulfilled (in a spiritual way). The physical-literal materialistic notions inherited from rabbinic Judaism continued to be perpetuated and made them miss the spiritual fulfillment.
Imminent Expectations Created A Need For A Shift in Thinking
As noted in the previous article in this series, a major shift in perspective regarding the imminence of the end occurred in the middle of the second century. Up until that time (c. 150 A.D.) there seems to have been a single advent/parousia idea among the church fathers. They believed that Christ had made His (single) advent into the world which included a suffering phase that had already occurred and a materialistic victorious-glorification phase that was about to occur at any moment. They believed the kingdom had come in some sense. And they knew that Death had been defeated, but somehow they just didnt see the connection in Scripture between Jesus parousia in glory and this spiritual victory over death. They still had physical-literal concepts of it and therefore assumed it hadnt taken place. It is possible that some held a full preterist view right after 70 AD, but if so it seems never to have gained any significant widespread acceptance and was quickly obscured in the turbulence of the post-destruction period. It is more likely that they just didnt fully realize the significance of the events they were caught up in, the same way apostle Peter had difficulty understanding it (2 Pet. 3:16). One thing seems certain the post-destruction and post-apostolic church continued in their belief that the End was imminent, as F. W. Farrar has noted: Even in Justin Martyrs time there was still the expectation of an immediate parousia. [The Early Days of Christianity. p. 108n. cf. Justins Dialogue With Trypho] The Montanist sect of the early second century provides another convincing proof of the continued belief that the end was near.
By the middle of the second century, enough time had elapsed to make the imminent expectation of a materialistic victory become frustrated, so Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr and II Clement postulated the delay and second advent/parousia ideas we discussed in the previous article in response to Balyeat. Their mistake was looking for a materialistic fulfillment rather than realizing the spiritual fulfillment already there in Christ as a result of His one advent (with two phases) into the affairs of man.
Early Preterist Statements
There were a number of early writers who made significant preterist statements (i.e. Eusebius, Athanasius, Origen, Melito and Odes of Solomon). One doesnt have to look too closely to find some real gems. They have been there all along. We just didnt recognize them as preterist statements. We werent sure if they were amillennial or historicist or just examples of the confusion which plagued the early church. We just knew they werent what we have traditionally been taught. Space does not permit an exhaustive treatment of this subject, so we will only quote from a couple of representative sources (Eusebius & Athanasius). These two writers were very much involved in the formation of the Nicene Creed. They are not on the fringe of Christian leadership. Would Balyeat say that these two writers are inconsistent with the overwhelming majority of opinion in the early church? Here are a few examples of preterist statements found in their writings. Think deeply on these things:
The same historian [Papias, c. 60-140 A.D.] also gives other accounts, ...from unwritten tradition, likewise certain strange parables of our Lord, and of his doctrine and some other matters rather too fabulous. In these he says there would be a certain millennium after the resurrection, and that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth; which things he appears to have imagined, as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations, not understanding correctly those matters which they propounded mystically in their representations. For he was very limited in his comprehension, as is evident from his discourses; yet he was the cause why most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man, were carried away by a similar opinion; as, for instance, Irenaeus, or any other that adopted such sentiments. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch. 39) (emphasis mine, EES)
Eusebius records the statements that James (brother of Jesus, writer of the book of James) made just before (c. 63 A.D.) he was pushed off the temple to the pavement below when he was being martyred for his faith in Jerusalem: Why do ye ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Ch. 23; cf. James 5:8,9) (emphasis mine, EES)
Eusebius says that the abomination of desolation (i.e. the antichrist, man of sin and beast of Revelation) occurred at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD: ...these facts, as well as the whole tenor of the war, and each particular of its progress, when finally the abomination of desolation, according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire; all this, I say, any one that wishes may see accurately stated in the history written by Josephus. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch. 5) (emphasis mine, EES)
After quoting sections of Matt. 24:19-21; Lk. 19:41ff and Lk. 21:20, 23, 24, Eusebius says this about the destruction of Jerusalem: All this occurred in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian [70 A.D.], according to the predictions of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ... On comparing the declarations of our Saviour with the other parts of [Josephus] work, where he describes the whole war, how can one fail to acknowledge and wonder at the truly divine and extraordinary foreknowledge and prediction of our Saviour? (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch. 7) (emphasis mine, EES)
Eusebius declares that the Great Commission had been accomplished by the time Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 (cf. Matt. 24:14): Of whom [Christ], indeed at this very time, the sound of the holy apostles went throughout all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch. 8; cf. Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6,23) (emphasis mine, EES)
Athanasius: For now that He has come to our realm, and taken up his abode in one body among His peers, henceforth the whole conspiracy of the enemy against mankind is checked, and the corruption of death which before was prevailing against them is done away. For the race of men had gone to ruin, had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to meet the end of death. (Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word, Section 9 Verse 4; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-26) (emphasis mine, EES)
In reference to the Jews rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and their interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9, Athanasius has this to say: Perhaps with regard to the other (prophecies) they may be able even to find excuses and to put off what is written to a future time. But what can they say to this, or can they face it at all? Where not only is the Christ referred to, but He that is to be anointed is declared to be not man simply, but Holy of Holies; and Jerusalem is to stand till His coming, and thenceforth, prophet and vision cease in Israel. (Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word, Section 39 Verse 3; cf. Dan. 9:24ff) (emphasis mine, EES)
Athanasius: For when He that was signified was come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? When the truth was there, what need any more of the shadow? For this was the reason of their prophesying at all namely, till the true Righteousness should come, and He that was to ransom the sins of all. And this was why Jerusalem stood till then namely, that there they might be exercised in the types as a preparation for the reality. ...the Saviour also Himself cried aloud and said: The law and the prophets prophesied until John. If then there is now among the Jews king or prophet or vision, they do well to deny the Christ that is come. But if there is neither king nor vision, but from that time forth all prophecy is sealed and the city and temple taken, why are they so irreligious and so perverse as to see what has happened, and yet to deny Christ, Who has brought it all to pass? ...What then has not come to pass, that the Christ must do? What is left unfulfilled, that the Jews should now disbelieve with impunity? (Athanasius On the Incarnation of the Word, Section 40 Verses 1-8) (emphasis mine, EES)
Athanasius: Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we shew it forth, but we come to it in truth. For [the Jews] being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament, acknowledge the grace given us from the Saviour, who said, Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, I am the life; so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice. ...And God is no longer known only in Judea, but in all the earth, their voice hath gone forth, and the knowledge of Him hath filled all the earth. ...in accordance with the injunction of the Apostles, let us go beyond the types, and sing the new song of praise. ...For no longer were these things to be done which belonged to Jerusalem which is beneath; neither there alone was the feast to be celebrated, but wherever God willed it to be. ...when the things pertaining to that time were fulfilled, and those which belonged to shadows had passed away, and the preaching of the Gospel was about to extend everywhere; when indeed the disciples were spreading the feast in all places, they asked the Saviour, Where wilt Thou that we shall make ready? The Saviour also, since He was changing the typical for the spiritual, promised them that they should no longer eat the flesh of a lamb, but His own, saying, Take, eat and drink; this is My body, and My blood. When we are thus nourished by these things, we also, my beloved, shall truly keep the feast of the Passover. (Athanasius The Festal Letters, Letter IV. No. 3-4) (emphasis mine, EES)
Athanasius: For He raised up the falling, healed the sick, satisfied those who were hungry, and filled the poor, and, what is more wonderful, raised us all from the dead; having abolished death, He has brought us from affliction and sighing to the rest and gladness of this feast, a joy which reacheth even to heaven. ...how must all its hosts joy and exult, as they ... look on sinners while they repent ... and finally on the enemy who lies weakened, lifeless, bound hand and foot, so that we may mock at him; Where is thy victory, O Death? where is thy sting, O Grave? Let us then sing unto the Lord a song of victory. ...the Lord gives to them at the right hand, saying, Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. ...Wherefore let us not celebrate the feast after an earthly manner, but as keeping festival in heaven with the angels. (Athanasius The Festal Letters, Letter VI. No. 9-12) (emphasis mine, EES)
What Did These Men Say?
Eusebius says that the apostolic writings about eschatology were meant to be taken in a mystical or figurative way. James seemed certain that Christ was about to come on the clouds of heaven in 63 A.D. when he was martyred. The abomination of desolation (the beast, antichrist or man of sin) occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They knew Matt. 24 and all of its parallel and related passages had been fulfilled at 70 AD. The Great Commission given to the apostles was fulfilled just before most of them died in the late 60s. They knew Christ had conquered the last enemy (death). Prophecy and vision (inspired revelation) were to cease at 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed. The OT things were types of the reality that Christ brought through His work, and Christ left nothing unfulfilled. They knew that the feast we celebrate now is a spiritual communion with God in the heavenly spiritual realm, not just a physical feast, and that now we are to sing the new songs in the Jerusalem which is above. The Jerusalem above was already accessible. They knew they had been raised from the dead and had inherited the kingdom.
Did these statements just come out of the thin air? Were they just dreamed up, or were they rooted in the earlier beliefs and understanding of the apostolic and sub-apostolic church? Are these what J. N. D. Kelly would call the realized elements of the authentic eschatology of the primitive church?
It must be noted that the saints who made these statements were not full preterists. But these quotes do show there were some very significant preterist concepts floating around with all the other ideas in those early formative centuries. These statements by Eusebius and Athanasius, if taken all the way to their consistent and logical extremes, would have forced them into a full preterist position.
Why didnt they see the full preterist view? Why didnt they see the full futurist (premillennial, post-millennial, amillennial or historicist) views? It seems that some of the apologists against the Gnostics took extremely physical-literal approaches in order to contradict the extremely esoteric and immaterial (docetic) concepts of the Gnostics. The apologists against Judaism did not have that handicap. Many of the best preterist statements are found in the apologists against the Jews. There may be no Biblical defense for the Gnostic extreme, but the other more traditional extreme may be just as unfortunate (since both extremes failed to consistently and accurately distinguish between figurative and literal language).
The above quoted men were certainly not insignificant. Did their writings reflect the beliefs of the overwhelming majority in the early church, or were these preterist statements by Athanasius and Eusebius totally out-of-character with what the majority believed? How can we brush the considerable number of these preterist statements aside (like the premil dispensational futurists do) and simply say they didnt agree with the overwhelming majority of opinion in the early church, therefore they must be wrong? How do we know there was a majority view, and if there was, how do we know it was right?
Some of the quotes above perhaps reflect some of the other opinions that were current in Justins day. Maybe these quotes teach things that went against the grain of the majority in their day, and maybe not. But even if they do, it doesnt make them automatically wrong. I really have a lot of problems with this idea of basing what we believe on the overwhelming majority of opinion in the early church instead of on Scripture alone. Truth is not determined by majority vote, not even by the majority of post-apostolic fathers. All truth was revealed by the Paraclete and written down by the apostles and prophets. We must learn not to go beyond it. The current crop of futurist positions are not spelled out in the early church fathers any better than the full preterist view. And even if they were it would not recommend them any more to our acceptance than the full preterist view since those early Christians were off-track in so many areas. Our appeal for confirmation of any doctrine must be sola scriptura.
How To Solve The Creedal Problem
What Are Full Preterists Saying?
The full preterist does not deny the Biblical teaching of the resurrection. We just deny the Scriptures teach only a physical/fleshly NATURE of that resurrection. And we believe the TIME of its fulfillment is past. It is the time and nature of fulfillment that we are questioning, not the Biblical event itself. If the creeds had simply left the time and nature of the Last Things in the realm of opinion (like Scripture does), the problems would vanish. So, the creeds embody more than just Scripture. They embody human interpretations and presuppositions about the TIME and NATURE of the Last Things. Both the doctrinal affirmations of the creeds (the nature of fulfillment) and their historical perspective (the time of fulfillment) need revision. And we need to be more careful how we view and use our creeds. There is nothing wrong with having them. We all do. Its all in the way we view them and use them.
Change, Neutralize or Remove?
Since (as several patristic theologians have noted) the church never engaged itself in a serious and objective examination of eschatology until the last century, perhaps it is now time to re-examine the creeds also, especially since new interpretations of the TIME and NATURE of Last Things have appeared. If we dont want to change the creedal presuppositions regarding the time and nature of fulfillment, then perhaps it would be better to neutralize them so the time and nature of Last Things are left in the realm of freedom. Of course, the full preterist would prefer the creeds to have a past fulfillment perspective, but we would be satisfied if they merely were given a neutral perspective. Others might want to remove all references to eschatology from the creeds, but that would be unfortunate since the Bible (esp. the NT) has such a tremendous amount of eschatological material in it. Eschatology is the study of the final events of the redemptive plan of God. It simply cannot be left out of any comprehensive statement of faith. Neutralizing its time and nature presuppositions seems like the only equitable solution.
I believe the time has come for the creeds to be revised. The kind and amount of authority we give them should be seriously revised, as well as the time and nature presuppositions. And, the possibility should always be left open that the creeds might need further revision in the future. There should be no restrictions to the revision process. It would be blind and unwise to ignore the invaluable insight and historical testimony that older creeds have to offer. One eye should always be kept on the original process that developed the creeds in the first place. We dont want to spend all our time re-inventing the wheel. A lot of thinking went into the development to this point, and it would be a gross mistake to ignore it. Where possible, we should definitely stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us so we can reach higher levels of understanding than they did. In some cases going further may not be possible because their understanding was too weak to support a further development. We would need to back up and remove the defects out of our teaching before proceeding to reconstruct society around Gods Word.
If the foundations of Gods house have any creedal material in them that is not absolutely orthodox with Scripture, then that house cannot stand. The defective parts of those foundations will have to be removed or replaced if His house is going to weather the storms of time. The only foundation that can survive is the One laid in Christ and the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). Creedal content can never support the House of God unless they are exactly and absolutely orthodox with Scripture. And the only way to guarantee that is to put nothing into our creeds that is not pure Scripture. I hear so many today clamoring for nothing in our hymn books but the Psalms and words of Scripture put to music. Lets get consistent. If our liturgy should only have Scriptural content, what about our creeds?
The creeds embodied the best understanding and interpretation of Biblical truth that they were able to arrive at in their day. But much progress has been made since then, and it would be a mistake to hold tenaciously to forms that have now been proven unorthodox with Scripture.
It might be useful if every 50th (Jubilee) year (once in just about everyones lifetime) representatives from the whole Christian community could convene to both present their own beliefs and hear the reasoning of others, similar to the three councils being organized by the laudable efforts of Jay Grimstead and the Coalition On Revival in Sunnyvale, California. A better understanding could result, which might help heal some of the division. The danger is that such councils could drive us further apart, especially if the opinions of the majority are in any way made binding upon the others. It should be an informational encounter only an educational and communication session. No ones beliefs at such a meeting should be forced on anyone else. The only pressure we should feel in such an encounter is Gods pressure to harmonize our beliefs with His Word. It simply would be an opportunity to study and learn and share and understand each other better a true mass communication session. Wouldnt it be grand if our local fellowships could have this same kind of tolerance and openness toward each others opinions and beliefs?
What should we do if we find that the creeds are wrong? Change them. If we cant muster the courage to do that, we should at least change the way we view them and use them!