Much has been written and much consideration given 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 concepts 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 spheres have their own composition, disciplines, and manners. A Christian social theory seeks to reconstruct those same structures under and according to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
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 by an act or acts of adoration and worship. Consequently, a nation’s culture will ultimately reflect the god it worships.
Now, 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. Accordingly, the idea of Christian civilization or culture is larger than any specific societal discipline or institution.
My subject focuses on the two dominate 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 dominate theme.
The Creeds and the Transformation of Culture
What do the ecumenical creeds actually confirm? The Apostles’ Creed establishes God as the Father and Creator of all. It authenticates both His transcendence and immanence, and, therefore, 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 institution 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 (universal), 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 worldview sufficient to enforce Christ’s Crown and Covenant over all men and all nations, and to establish Christian culture coextensive over the whole world.
Six Orthodox Principles Depicting Christ the Transformer of Culture
- The elect are a people older than the created world. The saints are to have a sense of heritage, purpose, and destiny. They are not disconnected from the catholic faith, but are part of an advancing continuum which will end in Christian civilization worldwide.
- 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 to the unregenerate.
- The world is carried on for the sake of the elect and for God’s purposes to be manifest in time and history.
- The world is to be subject to the elect through the exercise of godly dominion.
- Culture is to have its genesis and order from the orthodox expression of Christianity.
- History is clear and transparent. The beginning, course, and end of history is known to us through our common faith; it is not a mystery, nor is it controlled by man.
- Finally, the elect shall take part in the judgment of the world and enjoy eternal bliss.
The Heterodox, Radicalism and the Rejection of the Cultural Mandate
The rejection of creedal orthodoxy gradually 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. Instead, it emphasizes “spirit” and “private conscience” as a mercurial, ever changing 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 their mind is “good,” and the material which is “evil.” The Creator God who gave the Law in the Old Testament 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 is viewed as less spiritual or altogether evil. Consequently, 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 them.
Gnostic dualism is a denial of all four of the ecumenical creeds in that God’s transcendence, Christ’s incarnation, the kingdom of God, and the mission and purpose of the church are all undermined or rejected. However, many churchmen while being affected by such perversity often make a pretense of fidelity to orthodoxy.
Montanism, (named after the second century heretic Montanus) is an ancient deviation 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 anti-nomianism, i.e., the rejection of God’s law.
While Montanism as an official movement no longer exists, its presuppositions are alive and well throughout American Evangelicalism where ethics are based on revelatory whims. Ethical standards, therefore, are subjective and quite arbitrary. In the 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;” 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, specifically repudiating 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. God manifests 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 because their understanding of God emphasizes ethical transition, and is therefore blasphemous. From a cultural perspective, the Modalist displaces God’s law with moral relativism and so 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 this antitrinitarianism. Again, Modalists have no concrete base from which to transform culture. Their worldview is akin to the Montanists, and thus are at war with the material world and culture.
Humanism, Liberalism, and Christian Orthodoxy
Humanism, replete with its own manifesto, is a full-orbed religion that aspires to the deification of man through statist, pagan, and occultic influences. In repudiating Christian orthodoxy, principally the notion of God’s transcendence, Humanism becomes an amply articulated anti-christian worldview. The humanistic notion of freedom elevates the state to the place of God, and positions it as the author and protector of liberty. Thus, from beginning to end, man is to be dependent on the state.
In operation, the kingdom of Humanism has touched every social institution in our nation, including the church. The power of Humanism, practically applied, could be termed “liberalism.” When found in the church, liberalism attacks the orthodox ideal so as to reinterpret God in man’s image. In civil polity, liberalism becomes an imperialistic collectivist juggernaut that endeavors to knit all societal structures, including the family and church, under its domain. We see this humanistic-collectivist belief principally in Genesis 13:1-9 with the building of the tower of Babel.
The world-life-view of Humanism can be depicted as a scientific-intellectual elite who has through time, reinvented God and ethics in man’s image; the antithesis of the biblical record. Thus, man as a god engineers a “superior secular culture,” ever evolving into a forced egalitarian cooperative society: theoretically resulting in an utopian ideal.
The progress of the state is akin to divinity itself, and, therefore, any religion that would impede such progress, or would attempt to decentralize its power is regarded as retrograde, fit for marginalization and eventual eradication. This was the anthem of the French Revolution and all other utopian social-political movements.
In comparison, Humanism and Christian orthodoxy viewed as life systems, are in constant struggle and combat, the results of which have profound effects on liberty and freedom. Christian orthodoxy agrees with the nature of the kingdom of God in that neutrality does not exist in any area of life. The primary notion being that all knowledge has its genesis and application in Scripture alone, and that any other man-centered idea, philosophy, political social theory, economics, educational theories, indeed man’s civilization itself, is at war with God. Therefore, the battle for liberty is between God’s order and man’s perceived autonomy, or put another way, between Christ and Caesar.
When autonomous man seeks liberty apart from God his tendency is first to revolution and anarchy. Hard on the heels of revolutionary chaos comes the political-social reordering of society, wherein anarchy is suppressed and messianic tyrannical statism is imposed. In such states virile expressions of the orthodox Faith are persecuted and the family becomes a factor of production. In other words, true liberty is abandoned in favor of a secular religion and its resultant brutality. Could this happen in America? Has the process already begun?
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 throws down Christian culture. The apostate is at war with Christian culture for they are at war with God. They are revolutionaries bent on destroying the image of God in man, the church and culture. Consequently, the codification of evil throughout our land is directly linked to the destruction of orthodoxy within the church. As B. H. Carrol observes:
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 it means 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.
Rev. Jeffrey A. Ziegler, is founder and president of Christian Endeavors and Reformation Bible Institute, co-founder and moderator of The Association of Free Reformed Churches and The Ohio Reconstructionist Society, a member of the National Reform Association Board of Directors, editor of the Revival Flame newsletter, and an ordained minister. He has lectured in over 600 churches and ministerial conferences in North America, Great Britain, and Germany. Jeff is also president of The Continental Group, a think tank for political activism. His articles have appeared in the Chalcedon Report, and The Christian Statesman. He can be reached at 35155 Beachpark Drive, Eastlake, Ohio 44095. E-mail: email@example.com.