Monday, May 30, 2011

A response to Greg West

This blog is a response to Greg West and his critique of my blog post (posted 19/05/2011).

I thank Greg for his time in replying. I also thank him for taking the interest in our small ministry of faithful believers.

I have responded to show misunderstandings he seems to have in my 'argument' and motives. Below is my response. Where Greg is quoted it appears as bold italics. When a part of my original article is quoted it is in italics.

Both articles can be read by following these links.

What do Mormons have against the apostles' creed? (original)

What do Mormons have against the apostles' creed? (Greg West's reply)

Firstly, Greg tries to summarise what he sees as the main points/argument from my article. However, he fails in certain respects. He does so by assuming my motives.

His first point in my supposed argument is to talk about the age of the creed. This is true, but it is not part of the main argument. I do not try and link its age to any part of the argument. I am merely giving a history to people who might think that “apostles' creed” means that it is from the apostles. The history is a kind of context setter, not part of the argument. I do not aim to say it is old therefore it should be obeyed, or any other fallacy appealing to age, 'authority', etc. etc. Reading the history part of the article introduces us to its origin and various uses in the early church which gave rise to its continued use in Christianity.

His summary point 2 : “The individual components of the creed are scriptural” is correct. They are scriptural. His summary point 3 is also correct. However, he later uses them contrary to their original purpose in my article.

However, point four is where the summary of the argument breaks down. My end analysis is to seek what can or cannot be an abomination in the apostles' creed. This I sought to show by two examples, firstly that the items were scriptural and secondly that creedal type statements exist in Mormonism. Hence I end with a question why is it such an abomination in Mormonism: “What is the basic problem with affirming the apostles' creed? What is so abominable? Perhaps a Mormon can shed some light.” He seems to assume my motive and then make a case on that. Had I rested a case on the scriptural elements being an abomination then I wouldn't have ended with a question but a statement.

His point 5 is just pointless. He writes:

“The author then seeks to portray the 13 Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a creed and wonders why it does not qualify as a creed.”

I do not wonder why it does not qualify as a creed for I say it does qualify as a creed. Also I state that an affirmation of “I believe” in any respect qualifies as a creedal statement.

Moving on, Greg then says he was going to write a long treatise to examine each point of the apostles' creed, but then changed his mind. A Jude moment indeed. Just as with Jude, we long to know what he would have written; yet we have to settle for this. Maybe he will write his article on the apostles' creed one day, and I'm sure it will be interesting if he does.

Let us examine Greg's response now. This reply does not deal with every point or word Greg wrote. Therefore, there will be parts in this response that do not flow one to the other. It is advised you read both my original post and Greg's response first.

“What challenges their unbelief is the First Vision. We don't need to parse the various iterations of the several creeds. That's not the point. We need to take every single person to the border of the Sacred Grove and invite them in.”

This I agree with in parts. I don't know anyone who evangelises by going: “Hey, let's examine the creeds of Christendom.” The foundation is God's word and his truth revealed in history. However, in saying, “What challenges their unbelief is the First Vision.” Okay, so you want to challenge my unbelief with the first vision. I ask, which one? The first one published? A version which takes all contradictory elements and harmonised them? The one which was used most often in the early church? The now “official” first vision which comes later than many versions? It seems if you want to challenge unbelief you should come with something concrete and that inspires faith and trust to be placed in it.

“If a latter-day saint was to agree and say, "Yes, I believe in the same things as those in the Apostles' Creed," would sectarian Christians accept us as fellow believers? Not at all.”

True. However, Greg, perhaps consider this. You use hymns of Christendom and apply your own definition to the terms. Why has Mormonism never taken the apostles' creed and done the same? It seems that when something is so in line with scripture and such a good summary of the basics that you could also take it up and apply your own definitions to it. This is what I sought an answer for in my original article. Why is it such an abomination and not used in Mormonism. We'll look further at this idea of heretical/unorthodox and orthodox both affirming the creed in a minute.

“The argument would then pivot to some other set of tenets like modern revelation, adding to the Bible, salvation by grace, or the priesthood of all believers. The author of the article is trying to set up a rhetorical trap. That trap has two parts, shown in arguments 3 and 4 above. “

Not at all. This “rhetorical trap” is the making of the author and not me. He assumes that scriptural parts and abomination must equal a catch-22. Believe it and be scriptural or reject it and be un-scriptural. As he said, we argue over definitions and other fundamentals, such as when authoritative-doctrinal revelation stopped, the authority structure of the church, etc. I have no doubt a Mormon could say the apostles' creed and have assent to it all, much as they can the bible, with their own definitions added.

It was suggested that, if there's nothing wrong with the Apostles' Creed and you can agree with it, then aren't you in opposition to the words of Jesus to the Prophet Joseph? If there isn't anything bad in the creed, then how can it be an abomination?”

Another assumption here on the part of Greg. Why would I suggest that if you don't agree to the apostles' creed, while accepting the fact one could say it with their own definitions behind it, mean that I suddenly set up a ‘believe scripture or believe Smith’ scenario? I seek to find what is an abomination about the creeds, as I mentioned in my introduction to this article. We both agree it is not the scriptural element of the creed.

The most essential doctrine to be accepted in this dispensation is the First Vision. It is the defining line between saint and sinner. Many people believe in Jesus Christ, but they are not part of his earthly kingdom. The ruse in the argument is to separate you from the Sacred Grove.”

Again, if it is so fundamental, why all the confusion and changing of the first vision?

He then goes off into a party broadcast for Mormonism, centring around the importance of the Sacred grove.

Greg goes on to say that the Articles of Faith cannot be a creed, as they are not a test of orthodoxy. However, he misses the point that nor was the apostles' creed to start with, but a summary of what they believed... oops just like the 13 articles! He seems to suggest that a creed has to be a test of orthodoxy – a later use for the creed - and this arbitrary definition makes sure his use of creedal statements is excluded from being defined as a creed!

However, his point is rather shallow. I am willing to bet that if someone didn't affirm one of the articles in the church then immediately they'd be judged to be unorthodox or erring! In fact, the whole world is 'heretical', of Satan, anti-Christs etc. because we do not believe, for example, the book of Mormon to be the word of God, nor Smith to be a true prophet.

Greg's use of “creed” seems to limit something to being a “creed” only when it is used to judge. A creedal statement is a set of beliefs. You cannot get round that definition. He quotes from the Catholic encyclopaedia to suggest that it has always been seen as an ex-cathedra statement. How can it be an ex-cathedra statement when it has changed, was found in different forms, and was employed for different uses? It is subordinate to scripture and a good summary of the faith. It is only later Catholics that want to make it out as some kind of infallible statement. Most branches of Reformed Christianity exclude many parts that do not have a sound basis in scripture. It is only infallible where the parts are scriptural. That means the creed isn't infallible, but the Scripture behind it is. Its authority is scripture itself; not its age, not who might have said it; nor what what some pope might think of it, nor the commentary some doctor of the church wrote on it; but scripture. However, it seems that the Articles of Faith are infalliable, even without scriptural support, just because Smith uttered them.

Christians in the Reformed tradition also don't use it as a nuanced test of orthodoxy. Roman Catholics say it, as does the Eastern orthodox etc. I suspect even a JW would have no problems saying it. However, we'd have problems with some of the things they believe, and vice-versa. As if that isn't enough, if someone was to come and say that they don't believe in God the Father or the resurrection of Christ, then it has become by default a test of orthodoxy, only in the fact that being derived from scripture, it shows that that someone has erred from scripture. It says nothing about how we view God the Father or how we view the resurrection. This deals with definitions and interpretations – something which goes beyond the actual basic words of the creed. (For example the homoosious clause in the creed of Nicea, and the initial working of the Nicene creed at the council, which Arians were willing to sign, even though it was meant to be “orthodox”.)

Yet he wants to claim it is used as an “us” and “them” thing. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Is it wrong to show someone they are actually erring and not in the faith? However, as I alluded to above, it is not by the creed that we’d show someone was wrong, but by scripture (or at the least, the creed as a framework for showing the biblical definitions and support). If, for example, the famous Bishop who denies the resurrection of Christ came to me, I’d show him from scripture that he is wrong. If a Mormon knocked on my door, I’d show them, among other things, from scripture that they are wrong. And I suspect you’d try to do vice-versa.

But if we were to do a quick 20 second summary of what I believed, I'd have no problems whipping off the apostles’ creed.

Perhaps the one precept that most significantly makes the Articles of Faith different from sectarian creeds is that they recognize that God can, does, and will continue to reveal his will in modern times. The heavens are not sealed to his Church.”

He tries to say that by using a creed it means God cannot speak today. This is false. I see nowhere where a creed says God cannot speak today. It is saying this is what we believe, and this is what the biblical truth is. This only seems to be a problem in Mormonism, where God likes to change what kind of being he is, his nature and the gospel plan he wants to hold to.

A creed cannot be used as reason for belief or non-belief in whether God speaks today or not (which all reformed-Christians would believe.) It merely means we do not believe that God changes his being, gospel, or plan of salvation. Hence we can take the bible and summarise it, and hold to the true faith and gospel which scripture tells us to guard and hold to.

It makes defending the faith possible, and to recognise error and strange doctrine. It doesn’t say God cannot speak. It says that all we need to be saved and live a godly life is found within the Bible.

Since this particular creed deals with historical facts and promises of God, which by definition do not change, how can it be wrong to use a creed to list them; and how does this suddenly mean that we do not believe God speaks today? We are not cessasionists when it comes to God speaking. We are cessasionists when it comes to revelation of doctrine and gospel plans. A huge difference.

“The articles of faith point to our belief in modern as well as ancient scripture, the anticipation and presence of spiritual gifts in the Church, and the reality of the future return of the lost tribes and the return of the Savior.”

And if one did not believe these things in the church, how would you show them to be following incorrect precepts? Surely it is by the Mormon scriptures. This is where your use of the creed fails. If someone doesn't believe a part of it, I don't say “Well, it's in the creed, believe it.” I say, “Well, consider these scriptures.” In the same way I don't suppose that you would say; “Well it is in the articles of faith, believe it”, without scriptural support. Nor would a Christian who understands both the importance of God's word and the use creeds.

However, you seem to suggest that by saying the 13 articles contain one type of belief – e.g. “spiritual gifts” and not another, that suddenly you’ve made it not a creed. This simply is fallacious.

No, the Articles of Faith are not a creed. They are not the basis of what is heretical or orthodox.”

Again, debatable. There are definitely things within that if you don't believe, regardless of interpretation, you'd be considered unorthodox. In the same way as I said above saying the creed doesn't make you orthodox (Reformed, Catholic, Eastern-Orthodox, etc.), it cannot be used as a blank test of orthodoxy on its own (if it could then later creeds and constant referral to scripture in the early church to combat heresy wouldn't have been needed). It can, however, show quite quickly, through key concepts, whether someone is or isn't a believer (e.g. lack of belief in the resurrection). Therefore, even as a test of orthodoxy, there is nothing wrong at all, as long as biblical definitions are supplied to the words.

I am willing to bet if someone didn’t believe in the future return of Christ, belief in the Book of Mormon as the word of God, return of the tribes of Israel, you’d be on to them pretty sharpish as schismatic, if not heretical, and in need of recovering.

Nice try, Joshua. Better luck next time. As for me and my house, we will stand in the Sacred Grove with the living, speaking God who called the creeds an abomination in his sight.”

So we reach the end and Greg has made a lot of assumptions and didn't deal with the question. He makes some desperate attempt to define “creed” as a test of orthodoxy alone and say something about a few person's uses of it a millennium later to show that it is an abomination. Hardly. It is no more an abomination than saying the words from the bible itself. While Christians would agree that its use for killing someone is wrong, it hardly makes the creed an abomination. It makes particular limited historical uses abominable.

If it is due to a test of faith, or someone misusing it, it hardly makes it an abomination. It is no more an abomination than people misusing the law makes the law an abomination. A test of faith is hardly wrong either. We are commanded to hold to the faith and defend it. As has been said above, this is something the creed cannot do by itself. However, in defence of the faith, using a summary of the Bible's teaching isn't wrong. If someone doesn't believe in the resurrection of Christ, his return, God the Father, etc. why wouldn't we want to say they are heretical and in need of the truth?

Why would God say it is an abomination? There is no good reason presented by Greg as to why it should be. I presented two elements which aren't what “abomination” is referring to – scriptural elements and creedal statements (they are used in Mormonism). Greg tried to make out that it locks us in to a belief that God doesn't speak today, which is incorrect. Had the creed said “and God doesn't speak today” then perhaps it would be a logical argument. Another reason was some misused it in history. This just doesn't cut it.

You stand in the Sacred grove. And when you go back to the original “first vision” account, which logically should be the correct and true one if Smith were truly a prophet, then come back. Until then, the rest of the world will just make the reasonable conclusion that Smith didn't see anything because the event never happened.

Greg tries to say this is the part Satan attacks most. Well, no. All it takes is for someone to read the standard works of the church which deal with the first vision, then to do a bit of playing historian. What is seen is that statements in Mormonism’s own history do not add up. That is not Satan. That is something fundamentally wrong with the reliability of Smith's claims. It isn't like it is “anti-Mormons” coming up with these alternative accounts. They are Smith himself, or other Mormons!

As for me and my house, we will stand with the Living God, through his Son Jesus Christ the Lord; being strengthened by the Spirit of God for service, through his authoritative word the Bible. This is the one who never changes, who knows what kind of being he is; and who has revealed his gospel 2,000 years ago - which has changed countless people over the millennia, long before Mormonism showed up, and still does: including me. Praise the Lord that he still speaks, and did so to me, changing me from my life of sin to the power of new life in Christ, and a life of sins forgiven and assurance of eternity with him.

I thank Greg for this chance to show the steadfastness of Christianity's beginnings compared to Moromonism's, and that our fundamental rock, Christ in the scriptures, is never changing and secure. I also thank him for the reminder that Mormon history is inconsistent on matters where it counts, even, in his own words “the most essential doctrine to be accepted in this dispensation” - the first vision (Hmmm… perhaps it should be the death and resurrection which provide forgiveness of sins! Or is it Smith who does the saving nowadays?).

Who'd have thought a post about the apostles' creed could lead to such an opportunity? Praise the Lord for his wonderful grace to share the gospel far and wide.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep looking to the risen Lord Jesus and his victory acheived 2,000 years ago through the death and resurrection, which is for all ages, not just 1830 onwards.

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