Much has been written and discussed pertaining to the first four ecumenical creeds of the church (The Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedon) as they relate to the development of godly social order. In this article, I intend to cultivate the notion of creedal orthodoxy in a breadth much wider than the parts and mechanistic nature of specific societal structures, concentrating instead on the vital impact that fidelity to orthodoxy holds in the development of culture.
What are the chief differences between the ideas of culture and society? Society is comprised of organized patterns, relationships and interactions within its particular institutions. Those institutions would include but are not limited to economics, science, education, politics, family structure and religion. Each of these institutions has its own composition, disciplines and manners. A Christian social theory seeks to reconstruct those same structures under and according to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, whereas the idea of culture denotes a particular state of growth and enlightenment in a given civilization and thus is a far larger and overarching nomenclature. Taken from its Latin root of cultura or cultus, culture is composed of an act or acts of adoration and worship. Thus a nation’s culture will ultimately reflect the god it worships.
The Biblical ideal or sum of God’s will is the transformation of the world, every part of it, into a place of cultus or worship and adoration for Christ. Thus the idea of Christian civilization or culture is larger than any specific societal discipline or institution. Our subject focuses on the two dominant cultural themes which over time have battled for supremacy within the church. When faithfulness to creedal orthodoxy is in ascendancy the idea of “Christ the originator and transformer of culture” reigns supreme and when orthodoxy is at a low ebb “Christ as separate and against culture” becomes the dominant theme.
The Creeds and the Transformation of Culture
What do the ecumenical creeds actually confirm? The Apostles Creed establishes God as the Father-Creator-God, his transcendence and immanence being authenticated, and is a refutation of all dualistic and Gnostic thought. In other words the Apostles Creed elevates Christianity above and against paganism. The Nicene Creed establishes the same themes as the Apostles, as well as portraying Christ in his divinity with all of the same attributes as God the Father. Thus no Gnostic-dualistic wedge can be driven between the Father and Son, or the Old and New Testaments. The Athanasian Creed thoroughly defines and defends the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and expresses Christ as both fully God and fully man, diminished in neither aspect. This is also the main theme of the Chalcedon Creed which also depicts the full plenipotentiary authority vested in Christ.
With the foundational truths of creedal orthodoxy established, we may deduce that Christ is now Lord of heaven, Lord of earth. Lord of the visible and the invisible, and Lord of the living and the dead. Thus all human claims of divinity in any of its institutions are thrown down by the affirmation of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy depicts all human power and institutions stemming from the authority of the exalted Christ. The Creeds also establish the supremacy of the Faith catholic, and of the authority of the church in time and history.
Moreover, six concrete principles derived from orthodox thinking characterize Christ as the author and transformer of culture. These six principles comprise a Biblical world view sufficient to enforce Christ’s Crown and Covenant over all men and all nations and to establish Christian culture coextensive with the whole of the world.
Six Orthodox Principles Depicting Christ the Transformer of Culture:
1. The elect are a people older than the created world. The saints are to have a sense of heritage, destiny and purpose. They are not disconnected from the catholic Faith but are part of an advancing continuum which will end in Christian civilization. 2. The world was created for God’s own pleasure and for our benefit, or as the great hymn declares, “This is my Father’s World”; it does not belong to Satan nor the unregenerate. 3. The world is carried on for the sake of the elect and for God’s purposes to be manifest in time and history. 4. The world is to be subject to the elect or godly dominion. Culture is to have its genesis and order from the orthodox expression of Christianity. 5. History is clear and transparent. The beginning, course and end of history is known to us through our common Faith and is not a mystery, nor is controlled by man. 6. Finally, we shall take part in the judgment of the world and enjoy eternal bliss.
Heterodoxy: Radicalism and the Rejection of the Cultural Mandate
The rejection of creedal orthodoxy eventually leads to the perversion and eventual rejection of culture. This so-called “radical Christianity” is always marked by mystical expressions and Spiritism which lead to an abandonment of Scripture and Christ’s enthronement as man’s supreme authority and instead emphasize “spirit” and “private conscience” as a mercurial standard of godliness. This pietistic-dualistic anthem privatizes and internalizes the Faith and is a denial of Christ’s earthly cultural mandate. The following are three examples of such thinking.
- Gnostic Dualism and Manichaeanism
All Gnostic thought sees great divisions between the spiritual which in the Gnostic’s mind is “good,” and the material which is “evil.” The Creator God who gave the Law is perceived as evil, and Christ (his eternal Sonship and physical nature being denied or minimized) is perceived as “spirit” and thus good. All religion is contorted inward and is “spiritual” while the material world and all things concerning it become evil. Touching man, the Manichaean sees him as both spiritual and physical. The material-physical aspect of man is of course evil. Thus notions of material possessions and wealth, marital sexual relations, procreation, children, and the concept of family itself are viewed as less spiritual or altogether evil. Thus monastic, self-abasing acts of ritual to sully, mock and destroy the flesh are perceived as a means to release man’s “spirit” which is “god” dwelling in him. Gnostic dualism is a denial of all four of the ecumenical creeds in that God’s transcendence, Christ’s incarnation and the mission and purpose of the church along with the kingdom of God, are all undermined or rejected. However, many churchman, while being affected by such perversity, often make a pretense of fidelity to orthodoxy.
Montanism (named after Montanus, a second-century heretic) is an ancient heresy which stresses so-called “extrabiblical revelation” reveling in the “spiritual” and denying the concrete ethical requirements of the Creator God of Scripture. Montanism is a natural consequence of dualistic thinking. In these ranks “spiritual,” extrabibical revelation leads to antinomianism or the rejection of God’s law.
While Montanism as an official movement no longer exists, its presuppositions are alive and well throughout American Evangelicalism. Ethics are based on revelatory whims and thus are subjective and quite arbitrary. In extreme, behavior among these arrogant religionists runs a course from free-will licentiousness, to guilt-manipulating legalism, both outside the emancipating, inscripturated will of God. Again, the scope and depth of the ecumenical creeds are either ignored or rejected in favor of “new, superior revelation.” God is seen as volatile and unpredictable, frequently changing and “evolving” and thus any fixed, immutable creedal foundation is depicted as obsolescent. Those holding to these positions are at minimum imperious and see themselves as an “elite,” at war with culture and all things material.
Modalism is a virulent frontal assault against orthodoxy and specifically repudiates the Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedon creeds. Modalism is a denial of the orthodox depiction of the Holy Trinity. To the Modalist, God changes modes of existence from the Father, to the Son and finally to the Spirit and thus the distinctions and eternal nature of the Persons are denied. The belief here is that God is evolutionary, manifesting himself as the harsh material, law-based Father in the Old Testament; followed by the loving, grace-filled Son, and finally as the unpredictable Spirit. No real, concrete, immutable standard of ethics is possible with Modalists, for their understanding of God emphasizes ethical transition and is thus blasphemous. From a cultural perspective the Modalist displaces God’s law with moral relativism and thus is in league with humanistic situational ethics. Modalism has been on the increase especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches; however, many fundamentalist groups have also marked a rise in antitrinitarianism. Again, Modalists have no concrete base from which to transform culture. Their world view is akin to the Montanists and thus is at war with the material world and culture.
The Defense and Promulgation of Orthodoxy is the Great Means to Cultural Transformation
It is no coincidence that modern American Christianity which is inherently anti-creedal is also anti-cultural. It is also no coincidence that our culture’s hatred for absolutes and authority has permeated the church. Fidelity to creedal orthodoxy leads to Christian civilization and culture. Heterodoxy hates, abandons and eviscerates culture. The apostate is at war with Christian culture for he is at war with God. Apostates are revolutionaries bent on destroying the image of God in man, the church and culture. Thus, the codification of evil throughout our land is directly linked to the destruction of orthodoxy within the church.
A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness. The modern cry, “less creed and more liberty,” is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish and means less unity, less morality and more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy—it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creeds and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.