Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Without A Creed:

Pages 79-81 of James H. Hutson's fine book of quotations list the Founding Fathers' view of creeds. Every quote he reproduces is negative towards the traditional orthodox creeds. And that includes those from Benjamin Rush and John Jay who are closer to orthodox Christian than are the "key Founders."

This is, my readers know, one reason I see Peter Lillback's case for George Washington's "orthodoxy" seriously flawed. Because Lillback can't prove GW's Trinitarianism from his own words he has to look at GW's church's creeds and confessions, to which GW at times took oaths. Yet, those creeds and confessions were tainted with Toryism which we know GW rejected. The larger reality is many Founders, including many who were more identifiably "orthodox Christians," couldn't care one whit about their church's creeds and confessions.

Now, like some of today's evangelicals, they could be orthodox without a creed on the basis that "the Bible teaches this." I don't need no stinkin' creed to prove the Trinity, etc.; it's in the Bible. That line of thought ignores the centrality that creeds played in establishing and maintaining orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

And "orthodox without a creed" also permits "Christian Americanists" to glean from particular churches' teachings that which they value -- what they see as "biblical" -- and discard the rest. For instance, evangelicals generally don't value the residual Roman Catholic rituals contained in the creeds of the Anglican Church.

That's fine if you can prove with their own words that such a Founder believed in orthodox doctrine from their reading of Sola Scriptura. Or perhaps a Founder explained exactly what it was about their church's creed(s) that they valued, what they thought should be changed.

But, at this level of scrutiny, we lose the ability to use creeds and official doctrines of churches as "shorthand" for what a Founder believed. Without relying on official Anglican doctrine, there is no case for GW's orthodoxy. George Washington mentioned the words "Jesus Christ" only ONCE in all of his 20,000 pages of officially recorded words. And that was in a public address written by an aid.

Or what about John Jay, who is generally conceded as one of the more traditional Christian Founding Fathers? He too was a lifelong Anglican-Episcopalian.

But on the matter of creeds he wrote:

"In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds, but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible."

But such Sola Scriptura without creeds led Jay to doubt the Trinity. From the same letter to Samuel Miller, Feb. 18, 1822, Jay writes:

"It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

Bible minus creeds may lead some folks to orthodox Trinitarianism. But, without question, such risks a quasi-Quakerism where one becomes wishy-washy on orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

(The Quakers distinguished themselves as "Bible believing Christians" who had no creed; they also, during the Founding era, were wishy-washy on the Trinity and did NOT hold it central to their form of Christianity.)

John Jay is exhibit A.

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