Monday, April 23, 2007

Creeds as Flags


Recently, a friend passed along a podcast of eminent historian Jaroslav Pelikan's 2003 interview with Krista Tippett on the radio program Speaking of Faith. Pelikan made lots of interesting insights into the importance of creeds in faith, but one statement has stuck with me for several days:

"Creeds act a bit like our flags. We look to them as representation of what we believe."

That quote may not be 100% precise, but that was the idea conveyed by Pelikan. Creeds may not capture or communicate all of the intricacies of our personal beliefs, but they do unify us to some degree. They are a bit of a rudder as we sail the seas of faith and life. They are a bit like flags. When Americans sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" or as hundreds of Mexican flags go up when Mexico scores a goal in the World Cup, the flag is a representation of history, present, and future. They represent where those countries have been in times of peace and war, joy and sorrow, unity and division. The creeds function in a similar way for Christians.

Unfamiliar with creeds? Two of the most recited creeds are the Nicene creed and the Apostle's creed. Millions of Christians around the globe affirm these creeds every day.

Get more podcasts from Read another Pelikan interview on Credo on


Jeff said...

How about Rich Mullen's song, "Creed"

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ
His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried

And I believe what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not
The invention of any man

I believe that He who suffered
Was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and
On the third day, rose again
He ascended into Heaven where
He sits at God's mighty right hand
I believe that He's returning to
Judge the quick and the dead
Of the sons of men


I believe it, I believe it
I believe it
I believe it, I believe it

I believe in God the Father almighty
Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son,
Our Lord
I believe in the Holy Spirit
One Holy Church, the communion of Saints
The forgiveness of sin
I believe in the resurrection
I believe in a life that never ends


I believe it, I believe
I believe it, I believe
I believe it, I believe it

Travis said...

Creeds, in my opinion, are a dangerous thing. Because creeds tend to unite people of faith together against people who have differing beliefs.

What should unite us isn't a creed, but God's Word. Creeds are devised by men and often include their specific interpretations. The Apostle's Creed for example says that Christ descended down into hell and then arose the third day.

That's a concise view of a very complicated thought. What Christ did on the three days his body laid in the tomb is not expressed explicitly in scripture to the best of my knowledge.

I don't mean that in particular to be a sticking point, but rather an example. Creeds, like denominational names, tend to divide more than unite, in my opinion.

Cort said...


I do not think most would put a creed on the same level as God's Word. They are more a statement, even an affirmation, of what we believe about God's Word and the faith. Sure, they could be divisive, but less so than individual interpretations of Scripture, I'd argue. Many of the creeds have stood for centuries.

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

I always heard "He descended to the dead..." for the Apostles Creed, which is pretty undeniable. It looks like there have been different translations though. I would think since the Nicene Creed leaves that part out, and simply states that Christ died and was buried, and on the third day rose again. Maybe the early chrch had different views on this as well. Ultimately, most of us do not have much at stake concerning what Christ accomplished during those three days, but rather our hope lies in that on the third day he defeated death, leaving us a promise that we too may have victory over the grave. Just a thought.

Travis said...

There are some 33,800 different denominations of Christianity according to the World Christian Encyclopedia. I don't pretend to have any idea how many of those have a church creed on their walls or in their offices. But my point is that many creeds are born of individual interpretations, as each creed has an author or authors who are human.

Within any one congregation there exists any number of individual interpretations. But we are united by common faith in God's Word.

I believe, like you do Cort, that most RATIONAL people do not put a creed on the same level as God's Word. But I have argued with people who defending the thoughts in their chosen creed with little thought given to the scriptures that produced them. Many defenders of Calvinism will use their personal reason over God's Word, for example.

Kevin Burt said...


Thanks for the link again. The podcast was great. I just received in the mail Pelikan's last book that he published, Credo, and I'm looking forward to reading it even more now.

Creeds are absolutely necessary AND unavoidable. Those who decry creeds have their own; they just refuse to write them down. Thus, no one can ever tell what goes in them and what does not, what issues are worth "fighting over" and which ought be only "opinion."

In my own heritage in the Churches of Christ, we had NUMEROUS divisions. Churches divided constantly. Why? Because someone would come up with a new issue or Scripture and "make it an issue," and others would disagree. This is called HAVING DIFFERENT CREEDS. But, the LACK of a unifying, historical, written and frequently and corporately confessed Creed made division MORE likely.

The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church confesses the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed every Sunday morning, worldwide. How often do they "divide"? The myriad of reactionary American denominations that reject written creeds (though they all have their own, often in "brotherhood magazines" and "tracts" and what the most respected preachers conclude) divide at the drop of a hat every few weeks.

Written Creeds to not divide. What divides is the fact that people believe different things. And the lack of a historical creedal confession guarantees only one thing: divisions will come much, much more often. The proof is in the pudding.

I've often wondered why those who say, "Just unite around the Bible," don't actually unite. Instead they split more frequently, again because without being linked in some way to the historical body of Christ, they know not which issues are necessary and which are not.

Brandon and Travis, the word "hell" in the Apostle's Creed is simply th old English word for "grave." In Acts 2 in the King James Version, it speaks of Christ not being "left in hell." I don't think much more is intended, though the early Church did have some profound understandings of what went on during those 3 days (based in part on 1 Peter 3).

Thanks again for the link, Cort!

Cort said...

Back to Pelikan's flag analogy, the "country" is the faith. The creed is a flag of that country.

Now, how the country is run is a matter of debate. However, most can pledge their allegiance as citizens of their country. We are citizens of the faith.

To Travis' point, it becomes problematic when people start making up their own flags to represent the country. But, with the Nicene and Apostle's creeds, we are talking about statements of faith that go back to at least the 4th century and have roots even further back than that.

Billions have affirmed these creeds. Creeds lay out the foundations of the faith communicated in the Word. They are a smaller, more concise representation of the larger faith--and what is communicated in the larger Word.

Cort said...

No problem, Kevin. Sorry I didn't publish your comment sooner. Somehow, it did not make it to my email inbox for publishing.

Thanks for your thoughts, too. I know that in our common prayer book, the Apostle's creed does not say "hell," but descended "to the dead."

The King James Version translates both "gehenna" [fiery place of torture] and "sheol" [the grave] as "hell", I believe. It seems that the creed favors "sheol" here. That would fit with the idea that Christ was not left in the grave.

Travis said...

As a member of Christ's church that worships at the West End church of Christ congregation, I can very much appreciate what you're saying. The unifying principal of God's Word is often better in theory than in practice.

But for the purpose of this discussion, I think we ought to more precisely define creed. The two definitions in the American Heritage Dictionary are:
A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith.
A system of belief, principles, or opinions: laws banning discrimination on the basis of race or creed; an architectural creed that demanded simple lines.

The written system of beliefs, in my opinion, gives people a reason to latch onto that documented creed and ignore their own personal search of the scriptures.
A person may reason within themselves, "Yeah, that sounds right." When what that person should do is ask honest questions of the scriptures and then objectively listen to what God's Word says.

My own congregation is experiencing some losses right now over a divisive issue. But a unifying creed wouldn't have helped. I say that with confidence.

We may differ on what divides more, written creeds or personal beliefs being our personal creeds. But division is sinful and I think it is the most destructive force in God's Kingdom today. We can't stand opposed to one another on scriptural subjects and then shrug saying that we just think differently. We should strive to unite.

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? -1 Cor 1:13.

Cort said...


We might also benefit from a definition of "unity." Common definitions are "oneness" or "the state of not being multiple."

Now, how far are we take that. If unity means "oneness" in Christ by those tenets set forth in the Apostle's creed, I think that is (and has been for centuries) attainable on some level.

If we mean "oneness" by one interpretation of Scripture or total agreement on who God is, how He works, who can teach/preach/minister, or who Christ is, I feel comfortable saying that the church has NEVER been that way and never will. In fact, that is precisely why many councils and creeds came about: a striving for some sort of unity. Did it unify EVERYONE? No. But it certainly helped.

For example, the reason that we are not arguing about the Trinity is that the issue was hammered out at Nicea in the 4th c. There has been tremendous unity amongst Christians regarding the Trinity (and Christ's death, Resurrection, His Return, etc). How the Trinity works and exists can be cussed and discussed, but that it exists is a given for most Christians.

"We're one, but we're not the same. We carry each other." ~U2

Bono is not quite as highly regarded as 1 Corinthians, I know, but it fit the moment. :)

Travis said...

Now the question is, did the Nicene Creed serve to unite our belief in the Trinity or was that the search of scriptures that people did that led to a common belief?

I'm just a little worried that we're giving a bit too much credit to creeds. But in all honesty, I've not done the research to back up my thoughts. They are just my thoughts.

Cort, I don't believe that we are all to believe and behave exactly the same in serving Christ. The rigid rituals and laws that made up Mosaical Law proved to sap the heart of the law out of the minds of the people and gave birth to Pharisees.

For that reason, I believe the new covenant left things a bit more open. We don't have the specific ceremony in worship services that priests had under Levitical law for instance.

So there can be differences and there should be. But major issues of doctrine are not unknowable. We are to be of one mind. How we define that unity I suppose is the crux of the matter.

I guess what concerns me is a particular creed that professes that women should only worship with their head covered. That may provide a point of unity for those who believe that, but it excludes those who don't believe it. And while they may concur with 99% of that particular church creed, the 1% divides them against the others.

I suppose individual beliefs can do the same thing, but having that creed posted on a church wall is a passive aggressive way of stating, "All who worship here believe women should worship with their heads covered." Therefore those who beieve otherwise, will leave.

Kevin Burt said...


Nice to "meet you," if only on the blogosphere.

The Creed is the symbol of our faith. It is part of the Tradition of our Faith, just as the Scriptures are also. It is passed down (paradosis), as were the Scriptures.

As an Orthodox Christian, "latching onto" the Creed has absolutely no negative impact on Scripture study at all. In fact, it encourages it. You put kids on the top of a plateau surrounded by a cliff, and they'll huddle in the middle, afraid to explore for fear of the edge. The Creed is the safety fence around the edge. It gives us borders; it gives us basics. It gives us freedom to explore while knowing "how far is too far," and also to prevent us from dividing over things that ought not cause division. In short, it is liberating.

But, I also have a serious biblical problem with the idea that every Christian is told to study the Bible on their own and come to their own conclusions. Such leads to anarchy and constant division. In the churches of Christ, this is borne out rather clearly. The reason it does not work in practice is because wrong theories lead to wrong practices. I do not say that to be harsh, but after years of preaching in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and years of studying history and religion, the pattern is clear.

What is God's Word? Why do I believe it? Upon what authority? Have you or I done sufficient study to prove that Hebrews belongs in the Canon? How do you know the Gospel of Mark is "Scripture"? How do you know any of it is "inspired"? And what does that mean? And what hermeneutic is "divinely inspired"? Why, if it is so clear, are there so many divisions, even among the non-institutional CofC (not to mention all the various cousin denominations resulting from the Stone-Campbell movement)?

I don't ask those questions looking for an answer to each, but only to illustrate the problem. Scripture, not just the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, is part of Tradition. The same Holy Spirit that began to lead the Church in the first century remained the soul of the Church throughout all generations: "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age," said the Christ. Tradition is nothing more than the life of the Church in the Spirit. It includes the Scripture -- its writing, its collection, its sifting and delineation -- just as it also includes the councils (which began in Acts 15 under the leadership of St. Peter and St. James, bishop of Jerusalem).

The idea that it is possible to "just listen objectively to God's word" is simply unrealistic. I think it is a noble effort, and I respect deeply many within the Stone-Campbell family, but it errs on several counts. First, it isn't possible. We all speak from our experiences more than we often care to admit. Second, it isn't biblical. The early Christians held to the Apostles doctrine and were told to submit to Apostolic leadership, not "study it out on your own."

I do agree with you that we ought to strive for unity. But we ought to do that according to the Faith, not according to the interpretation of one part of that Faith (The Bible) by one family with Christianity (the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement).

This is too long already, so I'm going to stop there. I'd love to discuss this more with you. I've been right where you are, and I respect your zeal and your commitment to your belief.

The Lord bless you.
Pray for me, a sinner,
Kevin B.

Travis said...

Thanks for this discussion. It has been beneficial to me. In regard to your post:

"Second, it isn't biblical. The early Christians held to the Apostles doctrine and were told to submit to Apostolic leadership, not "study it out on your own.""

Acts 17:10-12 talks of the church in Berea who compared what the apostles said with scriptures. If the first century Christians weren't searhing the scriptures exclusively, it was because the epistles either weren't written yet or weren't available.

I agree that they submitted to Apostolic authority, but in the modern absence of living apostles, our closest compliance is to read the scriptures that were left for us.

As far as the canon goes, I'm not readily equipped to begin a discussion on that. But I'll just say that I disagree with the premise that we cannot be unified on study of scripture alone. However, I don't believe that it's purely an individual effort. We must study together, as we are given example of the Ethiopian eunuch.

There's a lot more black and white in the scripture than people generally give credit for.

Thanks again Kevin. It's been a great discussion and very much appreciated. I ask for your prayers as well.

Vaya con Dios,

Kevin Burt said...


The account in Acts 17 is very interesting. You said: "Acts 17:10-12 talks of the church in Berea who compared what the apostles said with scriptures."

It may seem a minor detail at first, but I think it's important to point out that, actually, Acts 17:11 does not talk about the Church doing anything; it speaks, rather, of how non-Christians responded to the Apostolic Faith.

These Jews were more noble, I am told by Greek experts, actually more for "receiving the word with eagerness" than for searching the Scriptures (though I've no doubt the latter was a noble action, too). They exhibited precisely what the Apostles would have wanted to see from any non-Christian Jew. Since the Apostles were claiming that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Moses and the Temple, it was only natural for Jews to look at their Scriptures to see whether this was plausible, and then "whether this was so."

It is pertinent to note that no Christian, anywhere in the New Testament, is exhorted to listen to the Apostles only when the Apostles' teaching agreed with an individual's private interpretation of Scripture. For an outsider, a Jew, or other non-Christian -- who has not yet submitted themselves to Apostolic or Ecclesial authority -- it only makes sense for them to compare the Christian message with their Scriptures.

For a Christian, however, the scenario is different, and this is borne out by the glaring lack of anything like Acts 17.11 in reference to Christians. Instead, Christians are told to "obey those who have the rule over you, who watch for your souls" (Hebrews). This does not denote a blind adherence to anything, and we in the Church recognize that the Faith was delivered to all the saints for safe-keeping, not just to the Bishops. But, as the Tradition is passed along, as the Faith is transmitted (including the Scriptures and their correct interpretation), we all both help to enrich it and strive to be faithful to it, "with the mind of the Church."

Jesus never intimated that a future collection of writings would be the sole source for religious authority. He spoke repeatedly of a life-changing community, the Ecclesia; he spoke of the Holy Spirit being sent to guide the Church, under the Apostles, into truth. St. Paul never mentioned a final book; in fact, at a time he could have helped immensely by telling the younger Timothy about this future compilation, he instead tells Timothy that the preferred mode of Transmission is by "laying on hands" of "faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." In fact, few if any of the NT books (a misnomer because the "new testament" was a covenant, not a book or literary collection) seem to exhibit any self-awareness as being "inspired" or intended as an eternal written authority.

As one moves from Scripture through the Apostolic Fathers and post-biblical writings (which ought to be the normal, logical next step unless one starts with the illogical bias of inerrancy/inspiration of the NT Canon), one finds the same mindset. Scripture important? Absolutely. Inspired? Yes (but the canon varied locally until much later). But sufficient apart from the Apostolic understanding of Scripture? Absolutely NOT. The "Rule of Faith" was necessary, and it included Scripture, but was the proper understanding of Scripture.

So, as Christians, if we seek to imitate the earliest Church, we will not go to Acts 17.11 for our pattern, for it is the example of those outside the Body of Life. Rather, we will look to those already on the Way, those already received into the Church, those who follow not their own autonomous studies, but those who instead "hear the Church."

Of course, in all of this, we cannot allow our eyes to be taken off of Christ. As Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote: "Christ did not say, 'I am Custom'; He said, 'I am the Life'." A technical discussion of paradosis and canon are meaningless apart from a life of prayer and spiritual discipline. And with that, I am reminded that it is time for Compline.... :-)

Take care, brother.
Christ is Risen!

Kevin Burt said...


In rereading your last response, I noted one additional comment I wanted to address briefly. You said,

"I agree that they submitted to Apostolic authority, but in the modern absence of living apostles, our closest compliance is to read the scriptures that were left for us."

The question really becomes: Did a body of writings that came to be known as the "New Testament" exclusively and gradually replace the leadership of the Apostles?

"Yes," say most Evangelicals, many Protestants, and most from our background in the Stone-Campbell movement (and other similar "restoration" type approaches to ecclesiology).

But, I believe this answer has several problems.

First, none of the Apostles or the Lord ever say that this will occur. How can we bind something on others which neither Christ nor His Apostles proclaimed? How can we be sure of something not found either in history, extra-biblical writings, or in the Bible itself, and which the "NT Scriptures" never claim for themselves?

Second, what if the presumption that there is no modern equivalent of Apostolic leadership, is itself suspect? St. Paul passed the Gospel on to others, and then instructed them to pass it on to others, under the power of the Spirit. Far, then, from having to depend on the integrity of an ancient text (which itself made no exclusive teaching claims for itself), we instead have the assurance of the Holy Spirit that the Church will be led into all truth, "unto all ages" (for St. Timothy, see 2 Tim. 1.6, 13-14; he continues the Pauline mission by the ordination received by St. Paul, and accompanied by the Holy Spirit within Him).

In the NT Scriptures, the office of bishop is seen as a "charisma," a spiritual gift from God (Eph. 4, 1 Cor. 12). With ordination by the Apostles to this role of leadership comes the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Bishops are not the exact equal of the Apostles, but might they not carry on the same function, in a way? In fact, this is exactly the view we find in the Apostolic Fathers. St. Clement of Rome (St. Paul's companion) even writes specifically of this, saying that the bishops "succeed" the Apostles.

Third, if God replaced Apostolic leadership with a book, we are at a decided disadvantage. The NT Scriptures were written as occasional letters, mostly, addressing frequently unknown issues and questions. They are written not to lay out a systematic theology or pattern for worship or church government, but to encourage and further teach people who are already within the Church. We can gain much from them, but only if they are interpreted correctly, a daunting task considering the several thousand denominations in America, all of which make some sort of claim to have found the divinely approved hermeneutical key.

Hermeneutics in the first century or two was markedly different. If you and I had lived in Jerusalem, and disagreed over whether the flute ought to be used with our "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," what would we have done? Surely we would not have made Ephesians our final appeal; no, we would have gone straight to St. Paul himself and asked, "Paul, what did you mean by that part about singing? Did you mean, "sing only," or would a flute be allowable, seeing that the psalms often call for musical accompaniment?"

But today, without any ongoing life of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church through Bishops filled with the Holy Spirit and within the life and Tradition of the Church, we are left to our own "private interpretations," a situation specifically disputed by Scripture.

Fourth, and finally (sorry; so much for a brief response), we have the insurmountable problem of even knowing the authenticity of the NT canon. One can appeal at length to comparisons of various early canons which are fairly consistent, or different only on 4 or 5 books, but to what end? Those lists are themselves the product of Tradition, lists drawn up by men to show what common usage by the Church (a Church which was decidedly in favor of a continuing Tradition and Apostolic succession in the Bishops). If I were to come to the conclusion, after much historical research and biblical study, that Hebrews, or Jude, or Revelation, or John's Gospel, were not actually inspired, upon what logical grounds would someone excommunicate me? How would they argue for the inspiration of 3 John ONLY from Scriputre, which their position demands that they do? How would they justify questioning my conclusion without an appeal to Holy Tradition?


Sorry, I really didn't mean to blather on that long. I've enjoyed our discussion... thank you for the cordial manner in which you have carried it out. I know that these dialogues can be testy and often lead to strife, and I appreciate your Christlike manner; I hope that I have exhibited at least some of your graciousness.

Your brother in our common Lord,
Who truly is Risen!

Travis said...

Kevin you've been nothing but cordial and Christlike.

I'll attempt my own brief response, hopefully with more success than you had (just kidding there.)

In regard to whether or not we know if the canon is indeed what it should be, that's a matter of faith. I have to believe that God in His providence would maintain what was necessary for us to serve in spirit and truth. It is the only source I have for knowing the mind and will of God.

In regard to the absence of living apostles and the position of bishops. I believe, as you do, that the apostles spoke with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter gives some inclination to this in 2 Peter 3:15 when he refers to Paul and the wisdom "given to him." That may seem like a reach, but it was of course very important to relay to early Christians that Paul carried authority.

The apostles passed on spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands, but there's no indication that I know of in scripture that those who received spiritual gifts in that manner were able to pass it on. Or that they became inspired speakers.

To the appointment of bishops, Titus (who was not an apostle and had no spiritual gifts that we know of) appointed bishops/elders as Paul commanded him too.

I don't believe the bishops carry the same authority as apostles. First, apostles carried authority over several churches, yet elders/bishops were appointed in each city. Second, 1 Peter 5 says shepherds are to provide examples, not to lord over the flock. Third, if elders were given a spiritual gift in the first century church, I see no evidence of the perpetuation of those spiritual gifts. If those gifts do persist, then do the gifts of healing and speaking in tongues persist as well? I contend that they do not.

It is my belief that God equipped the church as needed. Which brings us back to the original question. The circumstances were different then, with no written word bound, and everyone being a first generation Christian. We have God's Word preserved for us now, thus the need for spiritual gifts has ceased.

Kevin Burt said...


Hey, bro, I want to discuss further with you, but I'm really busy for a few days. Just wanted you to know I wasn't disappearing... I'll try to get back to when I am able, hopefully Tuesday(?). Till then, may the peace of Christ be with you.

Christ is Risen!

Kevin Burt said...


You said: "In regard to whether or not we know if the canon is indeed what it should be, that's a matter of faith. I have to believe that God in His providence would maintain what was necessary for us to serve in spirit and truth. It is the only source I have for knowing the mind and will of God."

But, this is the same approach taken by Mormons and others who finally realize that they have no historical basis for what they believe. If your position is truly that you "have to believe the canon," and then you use that same canon to self-authenticate itself and argue for the "Word of God," it is circular reasoning of the most profound sort.

But, why "must" you believe this? Why not allow the same approach taken by the vast majority of Christians for 2,000 years? Of the early martyrs in the second century? Of the apostles and their pupils? Why must you or anyone believe that Scripture is all there is? Why take this presupposition into the situation, without allowing for a more historically viable perspective? I let this a priori approach go some 6 years ago, and far from seeing my faith shrivel, I have seen it grow! I no longer have to ignore the obvious logical problems with "sola Scriptura," and my faith in God -- rather than in a book standing by itself -- has grown exponentially.

As I've stated before, in the first century, Scripture was NOT "all they had." Jesus never taught it, the apostles never taught it, and they never hinted that it would one day be so. **Nothing is EVER said about a future "NT canon" that would be the "sole rule" of the Church. And it is now such irony that this non-existent entity has become the bedrock of the faith of Protestants and Evangelicals and others, even when it is not promulgated in the very Scriptures, themselves!

Titus was a bishop; Eusebius records this in his histories. St. Clement, St. Irenaeus, and other early theologians and martyrs recorded the transmission of the Faith **via the successors of the apostles.** The reason you see no evidence of the continuing "laying on of hands" and "passing on of gifts" is that (1) your hermeneutic of a few very suspect passages (the CofC interpretation of 1 Cor. 13 is terribly tenuous, at best) demands you not see this, and (2) you haven't, apparently, delved into the continuing "Acts of the Holy Spirit" in the ongoing, historical, identifiable Body of Christ. In short, there is a presumption, based on our 20th century movement's hermeneutic, that the Church "fell away." Thus, any ongoing developments in Christianity are nixed from the outset.

In a word, our restorationist peers start out with a theory that demands a negation of theh validity of the Church's history. I've seen over and over, good, solid, historical and biblical arguments be turned away with a final, "Well, I just believe...", or more tragically, "accusations of "believing a lie" because someone else "loved not the truth." I find those trends troubling.

So, why hold on to something that you finally must say, "I just have to believe..."? Travis, you investigate history, and the historical church, and you'll find the same thing as you find in the Restoration movement...a bunch of sinners trying to become holy, some succeeding, some not. But, you'll also find a historical and authentically viable Christianity that is able to stand under critical fire without having to respond to fideistic backpedalling. And I guarantee you that you'll find THE Church, the Body of Christ with the same DNA as the one begun by Christ and His Apostles, the one handed by those men to other "faithful men," who now "teach others also."

In such a paradigm, Scripture is not relegated to "less important" (Wow, if you could see the Orthodox's view and veneration of Scripture...), but truly valued by being placed in its **God-given** place.

Don't settle for a prioris. Go to the sources. What if the bare Scriptures and your heritage's interpretation and your dependence on your own interpretation of a 2000 year old set of writings is **NOT** "all you have to go on"?? What if God actually still lives in His People, the Church, and continues to guide them as he guided the Israelites? This is not such a stretch, either; it is, after all, the exact faith of the Church that shaped the Canon of SCripture in the first place!

(I want to discuss bishops/presbyters more in coming days, but gotta get to work)

God bless you, brother.
Christ is Risen!!

Kevin Burt said...

Christ is Risen!

Travis, to continue a bit...

You said: "The apostles passed on spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands, but there's no indication that I know of in scripture that those who received spiritual gifts in that manner were able to pass it on. Or that they became inspired speakers.

Actually, what we have in Scripture is a big silent spot. Those bishops who were ordained by Apostles.... were they able to pass on the "gift" given to them? Scripture simply doesn't say.

So, from a hermeneutic of "silence," how do we interpret this? The Churches of Christ have long held, traditionally, that "silence" is largely negative. E.g., if nothing is said about a certain thing, then it necessarily didn't happen, or is "excluded." but this is a strange way to read any other history.

However, I'd point you to a couple of places in Scripture that might shed light.

The first is Acts 8, where Simon tries to "buy the gift of the Apostles with money." You recall the story. Simon wants to buy the ability to pass along the Spirit to others. When the Apostles rebuke him, they do NOT tell him, "You have no part in this matter, because you are not an Apostle." No; they tell him, "...because thine heart is not right with God." The implication that is most clearly drawn from this statement of St. Peter is that, had Simon's heart been right, it might have been possible for him to have been granted this gift AS a gift, not as a purchase. Any other interpretation of this text is based on the presupposition that only Apostles could pass on the Spiritual gifts, something NO WHERE stated in Scripture (and therefore, a "going beyond what is written" to affirm such).

A second example, again not explicit but most likely, is with the conversion of St. Paul. When he goes to Ananias' house, Ananias "lays hands on him" (the same action performed by the Apostles in Acts 8), and says (paraphrased), "The Lord has sent me that you may receive your sight and receive the Holy Spirit." Immediately, this happens. The most likely understanding of this is that the Spirit came through the laying on of Ananias' hands. Again, a forced alternate interpretation is "reading into the text" and is done only to further one's own presupposition or hermeneutic.

And, when we come to the next generation of Christians, we find people who believe staunchly that the Bishops continue to pass along this gift. This does NOT mean that ever bishop is also an "apostle" in the sense of the original 12 or St. Paul. It does mean that they carry out a leadership role left vacant with the death of the Apostles (St. Clement). They "succeed" the ministry of the Apostles.

I don't know exactly what you mean when you say that others did not "become inspired speakers." I'm not sure what that even means, biblically. The Apostles...was EVERYTHING they said "inspired"? And what does that mean? Where is the biblical definition? I think that's probably opening another can of worms, but I do think I agree with you in taking care to discertn between a qualitative difference between the authority/inspiration of the apostles and that of the bishops. Rest assured that this is not the question; no one questions the unique authority of the apostles (even though we have no writings preserved from the vast majority). The issue is about function of their successors, not about inspiration.

I'm stopping there. I'd like to still address more about apostles and bishops and what you said about them/ contrasted them later.

But, I'm worn out. Gotta get some sleep. The kids will be up early, which means so will I!

Pray for me, a sinner,

Kevin Burt said...


I wish that my posts had not been so long, but I am trying to respond thoroughly to your concerns. The alternative is either to ignore or respond with simple statements that, while they might express my belief, would offer no careful explanation. So, I hope you haven't been "overwhelmed" by my verbosity; I just want to be complete.

You said: To the appointment of bishops, Titus (who was not an apostle and had no spiritual gifts that we know of) appointed bishops/elders as Paul commanded him too.

Eusebius records St. Titus as the first Bishop of Crete, which fits well with the biblical data. As a Bishop (which to argue he was not based on "silence" in the Bible would be very poor history, and illogical), he had a charismatic gift (the biblical description of bishops and other church leaders). So, yes, he ordained other men, certainly with the laying on of hands (again, the biblical "pattern" if we are looking for such). This is evidence for the Orthodox position. Titus and Timothy were both ordained bishops per Eusebius, thus confirming that only apostles and bishops were able to ordain further men to the episcopal elevation.

You also said: I don't believe the bishops carry the same authority as apostles. First, apostles carried authority over several churches, yet elders/bishops were appointed in each city.

The Bible NEVER says that bishops only had authority in just one city. That is being read into the text by a commitment to a certain ecclesiology of autonomy, something outrightly contradicted in the churches of Acts, not to mention by the Apostolic fathers.

But, I do agree that Apostles carried greater authority than Bishops (though apostles were themselves "bishops" also, according to Acts 1). The question is not whether Bishops have "equal authority" (we are talking about the body of Christ, not some corporate structure where people grab for power and "who has the most" is at the top of our discussion), but whether they carry on the Apostle's Ministry, which both Scripture and the Fathers support.

Second, 1 Peter 5 says shepherds are to provide examples, not to lord over the flock.

Neither were the Apostles to "lord over people" (per Jesus). That doesn't preclude them from carrying a real -- not just symbolic -- authority. We are told to "obey them that rule over us, who watch for our souls." These are the bishops and presbyters; God has entrusted us to their care. We Americans chafe at that, given our almost idolization of democracy, but it IS both the Biblical AND the historical model of antiquity.

Third, if elders were given a spiritual gift in the first century church, I see no evidence of the perpetuation of those spiritual gifts. If those gifts do persist, then do the gifts of healing and speaking in tongues persist as well? I contend that they do not.

No evidence? Just because the Bible ends at Revelation 21, there is no more evidence? There is a profusion of evidence, if one believes the Holy Spirit kept doing His job! :-) The Patristic corpus is replete with examples of charisma, and we have MANY examples of miraculous gifts from God in Orthodoxy.

BUT, the REAL ISSUE is not these types of "miraculous gifts" (cessationists often focus on these visible things in their attempts to discredit the ongoing life of the Holy Spirit in the Church). The REAL ISSUE is that "charisma" is a much broader umbrella. Were you aware that, in the Apostolic writings, even "showing mercy" and "hospitality" are charismatic gifts JUST AS MUCH AS "prophecy"?

I believe that our heritage, being formed as it was by men who suffered from the influences of the Enlightenment and Lockean philosophical commitments, turned into a faithless (?) quest for "provable facts." The Bible became the sole guide, not logically, but pragmatically: it allowed us an escape from the "messiness" of the Holy Spirit and the scientific ability to "have faith in God", seeing that He was sequestered in a neat little box that was closed some 19 centuries ago.

But, that aside, biblically, charisma as a general life of the Church were NEVER said to be on the verge of disappearing (poor exegeses of 1 Cor. 13 notwithstanding). A bishop can have a charismatic gift without ever working a miracle. That's the bottom, and the biblical, line.

You "contend" that these gifts do not. But why? Those who discount the ongoing life of God are not going to see it, for they are not open to seeing it. But where is the proof? The Church NEVER, from day 1, saw the Holy Spirit as withdrawing His active presence. The Scriptures do not say it. Why insist upon it, unless, again, because one "just has to" in order to maintain an a priori?

It is my belief that God equipped the church as needed. Which brings us back to the original question. The circumstances were different then, with no written word bound, and everyone being a first generation Christian. We have God's Word preserved for us now, thus the need for spiritual gifts has ceased.

I agree that God equipped the Church. In fact, St. Paul says in Ephesians that this equipping was able to bring to Church to completeness. St. Paul also says that the Scriptures are part of this process (2 Tim. 3.16-17)

But again, as I've said before, you are basing your entire approach to Christianity on an assumption NEVER intimated by either Jesus or His Apostles, and which was not taught by anyone in the years immediately following.

The "New Testament" (one of the biggest misnomers in religion) was not available to most people for several centuries, and until then even in varying degrees of completeness.

The life of the Church is not the Bible, Travis. It never has been. The life of the Church is God in His people. It is God's very presence in the Church. Only this would do; a bare law code did not work for the Jewish nation -- how would a convoluted compilation of situationally specific letters work for people millennia removed?

Most people throughout history could not even read. But, they COULD have faith, could have hope, and could live in love. Under the guidance of a Faith passed along as LIFE, not as "book," these people flourished. They were often martyrs, though they had never read a page of Scripture.

The "New Testament" is the new covenant God has made and perpetuated with His people, and which He continues in His Son's Body, the Church -- which has never disappeared from the Earth. It can be traced right back to the Apostles themselves. It is not a book, however high a place that compilation we call "Biblios" ("book") is given.

I think you'd really benefit from reading some of the patristics, Travis. And I'd love to get together with you more and talk, over coffee or something. I've been nothing but impressed with your "dialogue generosity." I've got a few books I'd like to loan to you, if you would care to read them. They are actually books that enabled me to see some of the serious problems with the blind spots I'd had for years as I grew up in our heritage, and they are written by men within the Stone-Campbell tradition.

Sorry again that my responses are so lengthy. I just know from experience that short, snippy answers without sufficient answers do nothing but perpetuate an old "debate mentality" that ulimately serves no purpose for anyone.

God bless, brother.
Christos Anesti!

Travis said...

You left me a lot to work on. So I'll try to answer one of these posts now, and perhaps the other later as time allows.

You said that "Nothing is EVER about a future 'NT canon' that would be the sole rule of teh Church."

2 Peter 1:2-4 say that we have all things pertaining to life and godliness. That is all we need, is it not? What need of further revelation would there be?

In verse 15 it says (NKJV) "I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease."

These two scriptures may lend themselves to the idea of a preserved Word of God that would include all that Christians needed.

I don't at all understand your point about the "CofC interpretation" of 1 Cor 13.

First, I don't believe there is any standard "CofC interpretation" of any scripture. I am very careful not to ever say that the CofC believes this or that. Christians are individuals and their beliefs are individualized. We should strive to reach a common understanding of the truth, but never should we say definitively that this scritpure says "this or that" because that's what we say it does. When we do that, we eliminate objectivity which is crucial in study.

Second, I simply don't know what you're referring to.

Third, I do not believe, nor do I personally know any Christian who believes, that the entire "church" fell away.

I try very hard not to ever say "Well, I just believe..." Perhaps you're referring to my saying that "I have to believe..." earlier. That was based largely on the writings of Peter.

The question I have is how would Christ's church be unified if it continues to evolve based upon the teachings of men throughout time? Are those teachings available for all or should the church be vastly different in core beliefs based upon geography?

If indeed God is continuing to reveal Himself to us through the mouths of men, is the bible not enough?

Kevin said...


I'm going to make future posts more brief, as I think I've said enough for anyone who wanders along to think about. I'll try to answer new questions without revisiting covered ground.

Your use of 2 Pet. 1.3,15 really exemplifies, I believe, the tendency of sola Scriptura adherents to read more into a text than what is there, in a quest to find the "missing link," so to speak, which will prove sola Scriptura.

Here, St. Peter says simply that God has given us all things that pertain to life in God. What are those things? He does NOT say "a NT canon" or even Scripture. In fact, if this was a completed action, then 2 Peter and all books not yet written would be excluded from what God had *already* done.

American Christians are individualistic, but biblically, this is not the case. No one is ever told to "lean upon their own understanding" of Scripture. In fact, in 2 Peter 1, St. Peter further says that "no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation." We are to hold to the Apostolic Faith, whether we fully understand it or not, and especially whether our intellectually modern whims feel like submitting to it.

To your last question: Christ's Church does not continue to evolve. It has been the same Church since the beginning. It did not need Campbell, or Stone, or Luther, or anyone to "restore" it.

No one in Europe or the Americas would have resembled your church, or your beliefs to any degree, before the Stone-Campbell movement. There are still large areas of the world where your version of "the church of Christ" simply does not exist. This really proves nothing, as it is the case with any group.

So, yes, to a degree Christianity has always been a matter of geography, though Christ's call is to take the Gospel to every creature. The Apostolic Church has been there for all time, and is found over the entire Globe.

The Church would not be vastly different in various places if men and women were not so intent on becoming a law unto themselves. The Apostles left one Faith to their successors, who have faithfully perpetuated that Faith within the Life of the Body of Christ. To get back to Cort's original issue, it is the Creed. The Nicene Creed is not the problem; the problem is the plethora of other creeds drawn up by every group or autonomous individual -- whether written or oral.

Travis said...

I think we have reached a fundamental impasse.

I perceive this as you believing that we should be open to God's revelation beyond what we have preserved what we would call the NT Canon. To the extent that interpretation and doctrine can be made by bishops/elders/presbyters.

My belief based on the 2 Peter passage is that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles (including Paul) to write the things that we would need to be the church that Christ created. Further revelation by men throughout time should not be needed, although it may be desired.

Not all churches should be the same because obvious differences persist and the rigidity of the Old Testament Law has been replaced by a much more "forgiving" system in the New Testament. But some fundamental aspects should permeate all churches of Christ (not in a perceived denominational sense, but as in a church looking to serve Christ).

If my summation is incorrect, please forgive me and explain.

(By the way, I had to look up "sola Scriptura")

Kevin Burt said...


I think I agree with you; we've (or at least I think I have!) repeated ourselves several times now, and I think further discussion would probably increase that.

I have enjoyed the discussion, and again I appreciate your willingness to dialogue and to do so cordially.

I think that if we ever wanted to dialogue more, it would be most beneficial in person, where we could sharpen our focus on one issue; sometimes that is difficult on a comment board like this.

Your summary is basically correct, I think. I believe that Scripture is inspired, but that it nowhere claims to be the only revelation of God to us. In fact, I believe strongly that Scripture itself testifies to an ongoing "revealing" of God Himself to His People, the Church, in many ways: charisma, wisdom, conviction of sin, the Sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, etc.)... all of these things being the "Life in the Spirit." I believe the Scriptures are a pointer to "The One Faith," described in Scripture, but not primarily contained therein. The Faith was deliverd "to the Church," and it is the Church which Scriptures label the "pillar and ground of truth."

Tradition, then, is not "further inspiration," for the Scriptures need no revision. But, they do need to be heard in the proper context, which is the Church, where the Spirit dwells and where they can be heard correctly. Tradition is simply the description of this ongoing life of the Church, this ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit, who has not "packed up his bags and gone home."

That would be my summary, and I think I agree with you that it is the fundamental difference between us.

Best wishes to you, Travis. Stop by my blog anytime or email me if you ever care to discuss further over a cup of coffee, lunch, etc.

May we both learn to live more fully "in the heavenly places" with the Ascended Christ.

On the Feast of the Ascension,
Kevin B.

Travis said...

My final post. Ahhh.

It has been a great discussion and one that has forced me to review some of my personal beliefs. For that I thank you.

You too have been cordial and have presented good, well supported points. I wish you nothing but the best in your continued study.

I'll keep you bookmarked. God bless you and keep you.

In brotherly Christian love,

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