Friday, April 1, 2011

Christian Assertion(less)ness

"No Creed but the Bible."  Isn't it ironic, don't you think? (yea, a little too ironic).  Maybe you've heard it from your Baptist friend or some other well intended Christian.  Make no mistake, that is a creed, a confession.  Plain and simple.  But It is ridiculous in the logical sense of the word.  The statement, "No creed but the Bible" is in and of itself a creed apart from the Bible.  Come to think of it, anything a Christian says in the Name of Jesus, on the basis of the Scripture is a confession, a creed - an answer to Jesus' question to the disciples: "Who do you say that I am?"  What this creed really amounts to is nothing more than prideful piety wrapped in theological post-modernism.  It's a license to interpret Christianity in whatever subjective manner the interpreter sees fit.  How seamlessly this mantra is woven into the very fabric of the current "truth-is-relative-just-follow-whatever-is-true-for-you," spirit of the age.  For a brief, yet skillful, treatment of this kind of thinking take a "commercial break" and check out the following video:

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.  Creeds, such as the Big Three (Nicene, Apostles' and Athanasian) are a rule, a standard, a confession.  The creeds - along with confessions, catechism, or the Book of Concord even - are one of the vital ways the Church continues to answer the question our Lord asked the disciples. They serve to declare and defend the faith in and outside of the Church.  Because even the Big Three are continually under assault.  "What does this mean?" is a valid question in any age.   

Creeds are confessions and confessions are assertions, something that is inherently part of the Christian faith.  Assertions are good, necessary even.  The Church needs assertions - and don't tell the post-modernists, but they are all over the Scriptures; Philippians 2 isn't the only creed in the Bible.  Take the assertion out of Christianity and what do you have left?  Assertion-less Christianity?  Or as Michael Horton argues (and quite well, I might add) - a Christless Christianity?  This is why arguing - in the best sense of the word - with a fellow Christian can often feel like pinning pot-luck Jello to the wall; it's a waste of good food.  It's not so much that Christianity is becoming theologically heretical and liberal (although in many cases it is) but that it is becoming theological vacuous, irrelevant, meaningless according to the definition of the logical positivists (i.e. Blue meets Tuesday because fish are mainly quiet in December).  In many cases there is no need to parody the church, her members are doing a fine job of it on their own; somethings you just can't make up (i.e. pole dancing for Jesus.  Coming soon to a seeker-sensitive service near you)!

Assertions aren't always the problem.  Everyone makes them - Christian and non-Christian alike (more on the materialist later).  Take Baptism for example, 1 Peter 3 says, "Baptism, which corresponds to this (the saving of 8 people through water in the flood) now saves you."  Assertion.  "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit."  Assertions.  So, you say to your dear fried, "See, Baptism saves you and forgives you."  "No it doesn't, cries the Anabaptist, "there's another Baptism you need, a 'spirit' baptism, not a water baptism."  Assertion.  But is it true?  Is that what the Scriptures teach?  In this case the assertion results from a belief that Baptism can not be a regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 2) because there is must be an activity of the will involved in salvation.  In other words, the assertion is the symptom of a deeper theological problem.  The same could be said for Original Sin as tinder instead of concupiscence or total depravity.  Or that on the night when Jesus was betrayed He took bread and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, "This represents my body" vs. Hoc est corpus meum (This is my body, for those of you who don't sprechen sie Latin).  Both are assertions.  Both cannot be true; they are either both false or one is true and the other is not.  Both are confessions, creeds.  Which is true?  Who do you say that I am?  A representative Jesus, or a real, truly objective body and blood present for you in my Word and Sacraments, Jesus?

Luther faced a similar problem in his day - and not just with Zwingli (the proponent of the previously mentioned false assertion on the Lord's Supper).  Erasmus of Rotterdam apparently found little satisfaction in assertions (see Luther's "Bondage of the Will" the first section of the introduction).  To which Luther - in his own delightful rhetoric - responded:

"To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart; indeed one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all...Let me say here that by assertion I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and preserving it unvanquished.
 ...Away, now, with Sceptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as very Stoics!  Take the Apostle Paul - how often does he call for that full assurance which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction.  In Romans 10 he calls it confession - with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  Christ says, 'whoever confessethundogmatic temper to any other?

...In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace; you would be happy for anyone whose life, reputation, welfare or influence was at stake to emulate him who said 'if they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I; and you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrine as no better than the views of human philosophers...
...Leave us free to make assertions, and to find in assertions our satisfaction and delight; and you may applaud your Sceptics and Academics - till Christ calls you too!  The Holy Spirit is no sceptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions [dare we say, creeds!] - surer and more certain than sense and life itself." - Luther, Bondage of the Will, Packer edition, p. 67-70.

The problem isn't always the assertion - it's what's behind it.  Assertions - or even lack there of - are the symptoms of a problem.  Is the assertion really objectively true?  Can it be verified or falsified for that matter?  Can we trust the given assertion?  Assertion(less) Christianity is no Christianity at all. Thankfully, Jesus is the God-man in human flesh.  He is Assertion incarnate, lived, crucified, died, buried, risen, ascended, sits at the right hand of God.  And therefore, we can trust His promises, when He declares, proclaims - asserts - that: "I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die...for I hold the key to Death and Hades and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

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