The word “orthodoxy” is slippery today, and many use it for something more than the historic creeds. Orthodoxy refers to the faith statements of the classical creeds. “Heresy” refers to teachings contrary to those creeds. This week we are exploring how orthodoxy (and the creeds) relate to the emerging church movement. Today we will observe that creedal kinds of statements were part of the Church from the beginning. There was articulable content to the faith.
Here’s the question: Is it possible to speak of “Christian faith” or “gospel” without some kind of basic articulation? And there is a chaser to the first question: What did those earliest creed-like statements concern themselves with?
First, contrary to what some suggest, there were creedal formulations in the Bible. The impulse to “articulate the faith” emerged very, very early. Check out these references. Many think these texts were “liturgical” or “confessional” bits, and the main reasons are (1) atypical vocabulary for an author and (2) poetic, liturgical-like lines.
Deut. 6:4-9 (the Shema): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
It will be reckoned to us who believe in him
who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
who was handed over to death for our trespasses and
who was raised for our justification.
because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
yet for us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
1 Tim. 2:5
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
1 Tim. 3:16
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Thess. 4:14
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
He was put to death in the flesh,
but made alive in the spirit,
(in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience)
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
1 John 4:15; 5:1, 5
God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
We could go on. But, there are already in the NT the beginnings of creedal formulations to express the core content of the Christian faith.
These creed-like NT statements gave rise to the classical creeds. The classical creeds are not inspired; they are not infallible. Instead, they are claims made by wide segments of the Church that say these statements express what the Church thinks is at the heart of the Bible in light of challenges to the faith. Creeds were used for confession at baptism and in liturgy, they were used for instruction in the faith, and they were useful for theological debates.
So, where we have it: early NT creeds grew into the major creeds (Nicea onwards). Today there is another issue.
Second, and this could be post of its own, I think we can fairly say there are a variety of orthodoxies today, and each of these groups has its own definition of “orthodoxy”:
1. Creedal orthodoxy (affirm classical creeds).
2. Eastern orthodoxy (in fellowship with an Eastern church and affirm its orthodoxy)
3. Roman Catholic orthodoxy (in fellowship with the RCC and affirm its expressions of faith)
4. Protestant orthodoxy (in fellowship with the Protestant church and affirm the four solas: scripture, faith, and grace — and some now add “Christ” and “glory of God”).
5. Evangelical orthodoxy (in fellowship with an evangelical church and affirm its central features like personal conversion, authority of Scripture, the centrality of the cross, and evangelism).
6. Some denominational orthodoxy (in fellowship with a particular church and affirm its doctrinal statement).
In our next post we will look at the emerging movement and creeds. Where does it fit in all this?