Elizabeth Erazo, a Protestant well on her way into becoming either Orthodox or (if she can brave it) Catholic, made a great point about Creedal Protestantism:
It’s a curious thing — a lot of well-informed Protestants will talk very much about how historical context is vital to properly understanding the Bible. This is so true, but why don’t we apply it to other things — the Nicene Creed for example? What did the original authors, in 325, as well as those who added to it in 381, mean when they said “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” or “one baptism for the remission of sins”? We can’t go back and read it through the lens of the Reformation, because it hadn’t happened. [To do] that is sloppy theology & history. We must read it through the lens of the original authors.
I’ve seen the point expressed before, but rarely so succinctly. When we say (and pray) the Creed, we’re making a declaration of faith before God and our fellow Christians. If we’re doing that while holding internal reservations, we’re being dishonest. We’re saying one thing and meaning another.
For the Creed to mean anything, it has to have an objective meaning. Let me use an example from contract law. Imagine that you own a blue barn. You show a buyer around, and he draws up a contract saying that you’ll sell “the blue barn” for $50,000. Years later, you build another, much smaller blue barn. You can’t say, “now, when I refer to ‘the blue barn,’ I mean the small one.” Even if you wish the phrase meant the small blue barn, that’s not what it meant to the author of the contract, and it’s not what was meant when the contract was formed. If the contract means anything, it has to mean something outside of your own head.
Likewise, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed were drawn up by men well before our time. We can’t just re-imagine what we’d like the Creed to mean. We either believe the faith expressed by the early Church, or we don’t. If we don’t, we shouldn’t declare that we do, or we’re liars. Or put more positively, if we want to be Creedal Christians, we should strive to learn what the Fathers meant by things like “one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” and “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
The Fathers aren’t quiet on these topics, either. St. Optatus of Milevis, for example, one of the great forgotten fourth century Fathers, spells out what Baptism is, and what the Catholic Church is: you can find those answers in parts A & C, respectively, here. That’s just one example — you can find innumerable statements by the Fathers on regenerative Baptism and on the visible Church.
What you’ll quickly discover is that either the Roman Catholic Church is right about Baptism and the Church, or the Creeds are wrong. You can’t honestly have it both ways. And if you would, offer up a few prayers today for Ms. Erazo and her journey home.
P.S. Speaking of journeys home, regular commenter Brent Stubbs is on The Journey Home tonight at 8 Eastern. Check him out!