Doctrine

When We Don't Agree

Read Part 1.

The insistence that all things are essential (for the purpose of God’s glory) should not be mistaken for an insistence that the believer is responsible for the agreement or disagreement of others. When Paul mandates in 1 Corinthians 1:10 that believers should agree (or literally, speak the same thing) and that there be no divisions (schisms) among them, he is not suggesting that believers should try to control the thinking of others, but that believers should conform their thinking to the wisdom of God (1 Cor 2:5). In so doing, believers will become more likeminded and will better reflect the unity that is already theirs in Christ (Eph 4:1-3).

Where there is disagreement among believers, it seems there is one basic cause: fleshliness (1 Cor 1:11, 3:1-4). In James 4:1, James echoes Paul’s observation: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” There it is in a nutshell. Where we have conflict, it is because I, or you, or both of us are walking in the flesh rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in us (see Gal 5:16-26).

But where there are disagreements among believers due to fleshliness, the prescriptions are worth noting. The “fleshly” believer is called to conform his thinking to God’s wisdom (1 Cor 2:11-13, 16) and to bear his own burden (not causing burden to others, e.g., Gal 6:5), but it is not the “spiritual” believer’s responsibility to enforce that. Rather, the “spiritual” believer is to bear patiently with the burdens of the weak, and to maintain humility (Gal 6:1-3). Both parties are cautioned not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6). In matters beyond what is written believers have freedom (even freedom to differ in opinions). So while all things are essential to the glory of God, there are areas in which He has not revealed details, and we do well to avoid dogmatism in these areas.

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On Having No Creed but the Bible

Image of The Creedal Imperative
by Carl R. Trueman
Crossway 2012
Paperback 208

I just finished reading a marvelous little tome by Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, and cannot help but exclaim its merits. It is, in a word, an apologetic for the discipline of systematic theology, but more than this, an apologetic for publicly chronicled and shared systematic theology, subscription to which serves as the standard of ecclesiastical fellowship.

Carl Trueman is, of course, a Presbyterian, and he and I do not subscribe to the selfsame doctrinal standards. This does not detract, however, from his argument, because the creedal imperative for which he argues is not one of specific content, but one of principle. Trueman naturally favors his own creedal/confessional standards, but argues that even a flawed confession can be superior to none at all. To that end Trueman magnanimously appends to his work a bibliography of confessions and polity manuals from several ecclesiastical traditions.

That creeds are sometimes treated as independent, a priori sources of authority is an unfortunate reality. But this reality does not detract from their value as a posteriori summaries of biblical teaching. Indeed, Trueman argues, the development of such summaries is a matter both of (1) biblical propriety and (2) ecclesiastical necessity.

After spending a chapter detailing and dismantling the cultural case against creeds, Trueman establishes in his second chapter the philosophical and biblical foundation for creeds. It is here that Trueman makes his most preposterous claim, viz., that creeds and confessions are biblical, so it is well worth slowing down to summarize (and applaud) his argument:

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“Don’t Elevate Doctrine above the Holy Spirit.”

Driscoll vs. Calvin, Doctrine vs. the Spirit
“He proposes that ‘cessationism…[is ] a clever way of saying, we don’t need him [the Holy Spirit ] like we used to.’ One of the repercussions of cessationism, he says, is that ‘Christianity goes from a relationship we enjoy to a belief system we adhere to.’”

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