Church creeds trump political creeds | WORLD
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Church creeds trump political creeds

Christians should look to the great confessions of the past to keep our priorities straight in the present

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Church creeds trump political creeds
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As America plunges into another election season, the question of the role of Christianity and Christians in the nation’s life is once again an urgent one. “Christian nationalism” is the current boogeyman of the left. As with “wokeism” for the right, it seems a somewhat slippery term. As Andrew Walker noted in a WORLD Opinions column, Christian nationalism is even being used as a catch-all for anyone holding to a variety of previously unexceptional positions. Its close relative, “theocracy,” is even being applied to those who allow their religious beliefs to shape their moral convictions.

No doubt there are real racists and nationalists who use Christian idioms to express their ideological commitments. Only time will tell whether these interlopers are sufficient in number to be an “existential threat” to democracy (as both they and their most vocal opponents like to think) or (as I suspect) they are merely self-important social media types of little or no real-world significance. What is more certain is that they will do damage to congregations and possibly denominations by distracting Christians and the church from the central tenets of the gospel. And our churches need to put in place means of addressing this.

This is where American evangelicalism needs once again to look to the great historic creeds and confessions of the Church. That documents last over time is not necessarily an indication that they are true, but it does suggest that the topics they address have significance beyond the time when they were initially composed. There is a reason why Christians still recite the Nicene Creed. It was written in the fourth century but it speaks of the identity of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is not something that was relevant in Constantinople in 381 and then rapidly faded into insignificance. It is a truth as vital today as it was then.

Confessions stand as clear refutations of the mythology that the Reiners of this world and those lackeys on their payroll seek to promote.

The same applies to the great confessions of the Reformation and its aftermath. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession, the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism and the Baptist Second London Confession still speak to Christians today because the doctrines they articulate and the emphases they contain are not reflections of the unique priorities of the 16th and 17th centuries. Rather, they reflect the overall priorities of the Bible and thus have survived as useful documents long after the disappearance of the specific political contexts that gave them birth.

At our moment in time, the calm priorities of historic Christianity could easily be lost by the Church. Individuals such as Rob Reiner and organs such as The Washington Post have a vested interest in smearing classical Christian doctrines and ethics with the Christian nationalism and theonomy labels, so that the vast majority of ordinary Christians can be judged guilty of the extreme politics of a few. It is useful therefore to be reassured that believing marriage is to be between one man and one woman is standard Christian fare and always has been. Confessions stand as clear refutations of the mythology that the Reiners of this world and those lackeys on their payroll seek to promote.

But historic confessions also help churches to resist the temptation that comes from within the Church at a polarized time such as this. When the cultural stakes seem so high, the immediate priorities of the present can lead the church away from her true priorities. And those priorities are the proclamation of Christ and his gospel in word and sacrament. Confessions highlight precisely those things.

Politics and elections are important. But they are not as important as the things of eternity. That is a lesson the church needs to continually take to heart, especially as a time when voices on the left and the right would prefer a more earthly focus. The Church must have Pauline priorities, focusing on the things above, the things that do not change. And the great creeds and confessions are a wonderful tool that help us to do that.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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