Monday, May 7, 2012
This last Saturday, I received in the mail the latest issue (June, 2012) of R.C. Sproul's (Ligonier Ministries) Tabletalk magazine. Given the content of my March 2 and 27, 2012 threads, I found the following to be of interest:
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Protestant movement began, various ecclesiastical groups created confessions, creedal statements that set forth the doctrines these groups embraced. In the main, these documents reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical councils of the first several centuries. (R.C. Sproul, "The Church Is One", Tabletalk, June, 2012, pp. 4, 5.)
Though not explicit, I suspect, "that body of doctrine", mentioned above, pertains primarily to theology proper, and christology. With this in mind, have the Protestant confessions of "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" truly and faithfully, "reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries"?
Before any assessment can be made concerning the above question, one must first identify what the "the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries" and Protestant confessions of "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" actually taught/teach concerning God and Jesus Christ. The content of the creeds produced at Nicea in 325 and Constantinople in 381 have been examined at length in the following threads:
The Nicene Creed vs. the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
When (and which), are councils and creeds infallible?
The original Nicene Creed and semantic confusion
In those threads, and subsequent ones that build upon them (e.g. THESE THREADS), I have placed an emphasis on what those creeds conveyed to the readers of the time in which they were composed, refusing to accommodate what those creeds actually said to subsequent developmental trajectories. I believe that the doctrine of God presented in those two creeds is accurately and faithfully summarized in the "5 propositions" that I presented in THIS THREAD.
With the above background in place, I would like to now examine whether or not the Protestant confessions of the "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" have been faithful to the two above creeds on the first and foremost article of faith promulgated in them: who/what is the "One God"?
The Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds both open with:
Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἔνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα - We believe in one God the Father almighty
Compare this with a few of the more esteemed Reformed creeds of the "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries":
Article I. THERE IS ONE ONLY GOD
We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, wise, and the overflowing fountain of all good. (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3.383, 384)
Westminster Confession of Faith
Chapter II - Of God and the Holy Trinity
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (Ibid., 3.606, 607)
The Second Helvetic Confession
Chapter III - OF GOD; THE UNITY AND THE TRINITY
We believe and teach that God is one in essence or nature, subsisting by himself, all-sufficient in himself, invisible, without body, infinite, eternal, the Creator of all things both visible and invisible, the chief good, living, quickening and preserving all things, almighty and supremely wise, gentle or merciful, just and true. (Ibid., 3.835)
The Baptist Confession of 1689
Chapter 2: Of God and of the Holy Trinity
1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1690 Baptist Confession of Faith, 1989, p. 53)
The opening article of faith, "There is but one God the Father", found in Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds has been completely abandoned, and instead, replaced by an essence/nature (referred to via the singular, personal pronoun, He).
Now, yet once again, I ask my readers: has this significant change in the Reformed creeds, truthfully and faithfully, "reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical of the first several centuries"?
IMO the most obvious and objective answer is a resounding NO.
Grace and peace,