Why the Church Councils Got it Right

No creed but the Bible. You often hear this coming from the mouths of fundamentalists or ultraconservatives or even people who don’t really understand how creeds work and/or how church councils worked. Of course Scripture is the norming norm. Of course it is our ultimate foundation, but there are other things that help us shape our theology… the ecumenical councils, confessions of particular churches, even some theologians help us shape the way we read the bible and how we do theology. However, these things are always to be understood in light of scripture and as being helpful to read scripture.

Ah, but some people will want to object to using the creeds. They say that the creedal process was over politicized. That it was a political power struggle that led the church to affirm what it affirms today, so we can’t trust the creeds, we should only trust the Bible. Sorry friends, the ecumenical councils were political, I grant you that, but they were not merely political…. here is what Oliver Crisp (Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Seminary) has to say about this:

It is undeniable that the Christological controversies were hard and often bitterly fought, that some theologians were misunderstood or even misrepresented, and that politics played a significant role in the outcome. However, this fact alone says nothing one way about the truth value of the outcome. A decision can be reached for complex religious and political reasons and still be the right result. I suggest that God would not permit the church to come to a substantially mistaken account of the person of Christ and to encode this in a canonical decision in an ecumenical council, for what we thing about hte person of Christ touches the heart of Christian doctrine, and therefore the heart of the gospel. It is an impoverished doctrine of providence that claims otherwise. (Christology, 24)

So there you have it, those who claim we can’t trust the creeds because they were part of the political machinations of the early church are guilty of committing the genetic fallacy. And on top of that they have an impoverished view of God’s providence. Do you really think that God would have let us be wrong about such a key part of the Gospel for 2000 years? I sure hope not, and I certainly don’t think he would. Neither does Oliver Crisp.

So why did the Church Councils get the creeds right? God wouldn’t risk us getting them wrong. Its because the creeds are a core part of the gospel. If the creeds are wrong we risk getting the Gospel wrong, and God certainly wouldn’t take that risk….


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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