Rev. Mark Dankof
The LMS-USA Indianapolis Conference
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
23 April 96
Before my brief paper on Creeds as Confessions in Liturgy is read this morning, I would like to engage in covering two (2) housekeeping items. First, I offer my profound apologies to Pastor Spears and the entire national convention of the LMS-USA for my physical absence from Indianapolis. This was necessitated by several recent tragedies in my wifes family, the completion of our emergency duties as temporary house parents of a pro-life maternity home here in Kerrville, Texas where I serve on the Board of Directors, and the fact that it was my misfortune to be clobbered by influenza beginning April 10 and intensifying April 15-17. My prayer is that I will see all of you soon, and that downstream, God will give me another opportunity to be in a Lutheran pulpit again.
Second, I would like our convention to formally acknowledge the recent departure from this life of Dr. Arthur Braun, pastor emeritus of Calvary Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and former Bishop of the Minnesota District of the old American Lutheran Church. He died on Good Friday, April 5, at the age of 86. Dr. Braun was a gallant, sometimes lonely voice, in calling his church back to its Biblical and creedal heritage. Despite his best efforts, he was pained, in the waning years of his life, to witness not only the eventual formulation of the ELCA under circumstances hostile to evangelical orthodoxy, but the failure of two (2) other attempts to create a mainstream, confessional Lutheran church in America. His vision was for a church which would avoid both universalism and apostasy on the left, as well as some of the more sectarian and isolationist offerings at the starboard end of the American Lutheran spectrum. Copies of his obituary, a 1985 speech made in Waterloo, Iowa, and editorials from the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Christian News are available if anyone at todays conference would like them, both for edification as well as for ongoing historical documentation on one of the orthodox Lutheran churchs giants. Art Braun fought the good fight unto the end, even in the conscious understanding that for all involved in the corporate fight for the soul of our denomination, time and history are not on our side, even as eternity and Jesus Christ firmly stand with us. Let us observe a moment of silence in Dr. Brauns memory--
Thank you. Now it is time to move on to the question of Creeds as Confessions in Liturgy in the life of the contemporary church. What is the significance of these various forms? What is the key history behind their development? Does their utilization today undermine or enhance the doctrine of Sola Scriptura? Is their present day employment a bone thrown to the memory of archaic times, persons, and seasons, relevant only to esoteric academicians and long discarded history textbooks? Or do they retain a legitimate, practical usage as a key line of defense in the maintenance of God honoring worship rooted in the history of the church catholic, as well as in the retention of an orthodox apology against newly repristinated ancient heresies and frontal assaults?
If we assume the legitimacy of the Sola Scriptura today, and assume a commitment to the Lutheran Confessions as the normative explication of what the Bible teaches, an appropriate launching point for answering some of these raised questions may lie in what occurs first in the Book of Concord of 1580, namely the listing of the Three Ecumenical Creeds, or Three Chief Symbols of the Church as the foundational basis of all the Confessions which follow. This is important for several reasons. b First, the Confessions wanted to reiterate that their articles of faith were neither recent nor heretical, but were undergirded by the theological and historical foundations of the early Church. Second, it is noteworthy that the controversies of the second, third, and fourth centuries were consistently deemed applicable to the struggles of the Reformers in the sixteenth century. Third, if historical and theological struggles and issues of centuries two, three, and four continued to be relevant in the sixteenth, one might suspect the possibility of a prima facie relevance of those developments to a church under renewed attack from similar, in some cases identical forces, as we approach the beginning of the twenty first century. The writer of Ecclesiastes states that There is nothing new under the sun -- this may well be his verdict on Biblical theologys constantly recast conflict with false doctrine -- fought time and again within the confines and context of redemptive history.
Among many heretical movements of significance to the early church were Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism, Monarchianism, and Arianism.
Out of orthodoxys clash with these came an increasingly systematized Christian theological rebuttal and the formulation of affirmative creedal statements. These statements may be seen not only as the voice of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church staking out its position in challenges past -- but as the bequeathed legacy to todays church, which must turn, paradoxically, to the past, to understand the ideological lineage and connections of ancient enemies to modern antagonists, as well to recover its own historical memory as the key to the reestablishment of a previously possessed Biblical identity, obscured by compromise with doctrinal relativism and repristinated apostasy.
The battle with Gnosticism is particularly instructive in application to todays crisis of clarity and faith. Christianity had borrowed four (4) concepts from Judaism for its battle with this new threat. These were monotheism, the personhood of God, verbal revelation, and the idea of Gods intervention in real, time/space history. Gnosticism, an ancient forerunner of the modern existentialism of Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), came to the appointed conflict with a variety of advocates and ideas, common threads which included the rejection of the Jewish Old Testament as fraudulent, the utilization of magic and the occult as a replacement for Christ in the connection of the physical and spiritual realms, the belief in docetism (Christ only seemed to have a human body/identity), the belief in the antithesis of the physical and spiritual realms, extreme asceticism, and every conceivable form of philosophical speculation outside of Gods written revelation. Irenaeus (125-202) and Tertullian (160-230) would be key players in the struggle with Gnosticism (and later Marcionism). Key Gnostic figures in the relevant period include Saturninus of Syria, Basilides of Egypt (who posited a sexual union of Dynamis and Sophia in the creation of 365 aeons between an unknowable Father and humanity -- this places last years Goddess Sophia conference of the ELCA, PCUSA, and UMC in context!!!), and Valentinus of Rome (who posited Christ as the offspring of Sophia and as the last of 30 special aeons between God and humanity. Christ was a docetic Christ, and saves only by His enlightenment of souls!!!).
Marcions heresies only served to intensify the challenges to orthodoxy. As a contemporary of Valentinus, he posited the existence of two (2) gods. One was the good, ultimate Father; the other was the alien God who was also the malignant God of the Jews. Marcion forced Christians to draw up their first New Testament canon as a result of his acceptance of only Pauls writings and a portion of Luke. He simultaneously denied carte blanche, the validity of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures. posing a radical dichotomy between that era and that of the New Testament. Christ was once again, a docetic Christ of the unknown God; a different God from the Demiurge who created the material world and physical bodies. His de facto rejection of the reality of the Incarnation led him to a denial of the doctrine of the second coining of Christ; he also served as a precursor of Sabellian modalism, with his idea that Christ was only a mode of the Fathers existence, and that He did not really suffer and die.
Montanus, active during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-61), further exposed the theological vulnerability of a Church bereft of a fixed canon and sufficiently detailed creedal statements integrated into the daily liturgical life of the Church Catholic. Like Marcion, Montanus had an aversion to Judaism, as well as the notion of a fixed revelation and canon. Emphasizing only the writings of John, he called the church from worldliness to the embrace of an extreme asceticism (including the dissolution and abolition of the institution of marriage), advocated an imminent chiliasm (the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth during a literal 1000 year reign of Christ in Jerusalem), articulated an understanding of the priesthood of all believers which opposed any ecclesiastical authority or hierarchy, opposed the use of art or fixed creeds of any kind in the Church, and most importantly, along with female prophetesses Priscilla and Maximilla, utilized glossolalia, dreams, and visions to proclaim himself the Paracletes personal vehicle of progressive revelation to those seeking the will and mind of the Spirit. Montanism served not only as a further impetus for the development of canon and creeds in the Churchs battle with heresy, but as a current warning to late twentieth century Lutherans as well -- that those who emphasize the normative character of the Spirits supernatural revelation outside of Scripture, who call for the cessation of the use of confessional creeds and liturgy in corporate worship, and who stress a combination of individual subjectivism and authoritarianism in revelation and congregational leadership as being of the Spirit, are leading the sheep into a schismatic, sectarian Sheol, out of which there can be no escape, save in Word and Sacrament, and in the Creeds and Confessions of the ancient and Reformational Church.
The fourth major threat to Biblical orthodoxy which would add to the pressure for creedal formulation and adherence, was Monarchianism. It arose as a movement designed to emphasize the oneness of God vis a vis the duality and plurality of gods espoused by both Marcion and the Gnostics. Its desire for monotheistic expression was admirable -- its theological confusion about Jesus Christ was concurrently catastrophic, and along with the heresies of Gnosticism and Arianism, would mandate the orthodox creeds of the First Ecumenical Council of Nikko (325), the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), and the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451). By 451, it can be argued that the foundational Trinitarian and Christological truths based on Scripture were properly explicated, and available for the Reformations rediscovery in the sixteenth century, as well as for the rediscovery of the modem Church mired in the ruins of relativism and existentialism. It can also be argued that these intellectual theological rediscoveries take on their best practical and spiritual significance for the Church, when employed again and again as creedal confessions in corporate worship and apologetic defense of the Faith.
There were two (2) types of Monarchianism. The first was Dynamic Monarchianism or adoptionism. Its falsehoods would reappear later in history in the theology and Christology of modem liberals like Friedrich Schliermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack, and John A.T. Robinson. In this view, Christ is adopted as Gods Son, but is not essentially God. Christ then becomes a moralistic example of Gods will and desires for humanity, with pithy sayings and concerns for the poor. He ceases to be the Christ of Nikko who is homoousion (of the same essence) with the Father, and the Lamb of God in the context of propitiation and substitutionary atonement. The adoptionistic Christ of Theodotus the Tanner (late second century) and Paul of Samosata (200-75), only a supernaturally endowed mere human, preserves the unity of God by sacrificing the deity of Christ. The rejection of this apostasy by Nikko and Chalcedon must be renewed again by todays one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, employing confessing creeds in corporate worship against the recycled militant adoptionism of twentieth century liberalism -- the prevalent Christology of a dying, modem world.
The second type of Monarchianism was Modalistic Monarchianism or modalism, first advocated by Praxeus. It equated Christ and the Father as being the same. Instead of sacrificing the deity of Christ as adoptionism did, it jettisoned the Personhood of both Christ and the Holy Spirit. In denying that Christ was a distinct Person vis a vis the Father, but only a mode or aspect of the Father Himself, modalism abandoned the doctrine of the diversity of Persons within the Godhead, losing the concept of Christ as Advocate before God the Father (I John 2:1). If Christ, not being a distinct Person, cannot really represent us before the Father, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is removed from legitimacy as the key ingredient in redemptive history. Modalism also produces a docetic Christ, since Christ as only a mode of the Father, could only appear to be a man.
Its confusion of Persons with Essence in regard to Christs oneness with the Father (John 10:30; 14:9), needed to be clarified by Nicaea and Constantinople to preserve Christs Personhood, Advocacy, and Atonement, at the same time that modalisms rejection of Christ as lesser aeon(Gnosticism) and supernaturally endowed mere human (adoptionism), were affirmed by orthodoxy.
The fifth and final ancient threat to confessional orthodoxy that will be considered here, was Arianism in the fourth century. It revealed the insufficiency of the Apostles Creed in completely explaining the relationship of the Son to the Father. Arianism, more powerful in the East than the West, denied that Christ is eternally begotten, and claimed that He is first begotten of the Father. In this view, Christ is a semi divine being created. not begotten by the Father and having an origin in time, or at least a definite beginning before the creation of the material world.
Arius came out of the rigorist, monastic movement in Egypt, and spent much time in Alexandria, home of a theological school that stressed the deity of Christ. Unfortunately, Arius was profoundly influenced by Lucian of Antioch, who followed Paul of Samosata in emphasizing the exclusive humanity and human will of Jesus. Arius coopted Lucians view of the logos as an intermediate, created, spiritual being between God and humanity, and argued that the Iogos was higher than any other created being, but still a creature Himself and different in essence from the Father. Arius taught of a "tine when the Logos was not, equated begettingwith creating, stated that the Logos had a body but not a soul, and that the Son was not worthy of divine worship as is the Father, but is merely the ktisma teleion (Perfect Creature) through whom all other things were made.
Arianism insisted that Christ did not possess deity by nature, but developed it by virtue of His constant and growing moral unity with God. He is our Savior only in the sense that He presents us with divine truth and furnishes a perfect example of commitment to the good. If the created Logos develops into deity, Arius opens the door to the possibility of other created, contingent beings partaking of divinity through evolution toward moral perfection and conformity to divine truth. Here lies the seeds of a Christology and anthropology consistent with humanism, Mormonism, the New Age movement, the works righteousness of medieval Roman Catholicism, and some of the extreme ascetic tendencies in aberrant charismatic/Pentecostal movements.
Arianisin was rejected by Nicaea (325) and even more roundly so at Constantinople (381). Especially between 361-8 1, the Son, and derivatively, the Holy Spirit, were deemed to be of the same essence as the Father, but also as distinct Persons, avoiding the twin dangers of tritheism and modalism. Oneness of nature/essence and the distinct, yet equal existence of Persons had been articulated together as a packaged foundation of orthodox Trinitarianism and Christology.
This package, and the history surrounding its development, would serve the Church to the present moment in time.
Names like Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Ambrose of Milan, and Augustine, all contributed to the orthodox derivation from Scripture of One Essence, Subsisting in Three Persons." The Athanasian Creed (450??), the Western worlds greatest statement on the Trinity, would put it this way:
This is the catholic (universal) faith, that we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the substance.
Ecumenical creeds and canonical Scripture thus became mandated as components in the liturgical forms employed in the worship life and apologetic defense of the Faith inherent in the ministry of the ancient Church catholic and militant. Failure to employ them today 1) elevates individuality and subjectivism above the historic experience of the Church catholic in time, as well as Scripture itself 2) presupposes an irrelevancy in that which is time tested through the centuries 3) assumes that Greek, Hebrew, and Latin express theological truth only in the context of their immediate culture and era of usage 4) insinuates that theological truth is not immutable but evolutionary in nature and 5) holds as orthodox the naive belief that ancient Christological and Trinitarian controversies will not reappear as renewed threats to the faith delivered once unto the saints (Jude). These dangerous five (5) assumptions mirror the Ancient Five (5) of Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism, Monarchianism, and Arianism, as cancers growing within the shrinking remnant Church today. A truly Lutheran and catholic worship life centered in Christ, Scripture, history, objectivism, and apologetics, is our first, last, best, and only line of defense in the waning days and twilight of the Church Age, before the dawning of the Blessed Eschaton itself.