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Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Does It Matter What Christians Believe? A Response to Joel McDurmon

By: William Vincent

Joel McDurmon's article for reference: 

Does it matter what we believe? Can I, for instance, believe that Jesus is the brother of Satan? Can I believe that Jesus was the first creation of Jehovah? Can I believe Jesus was a great prophet, second only to Mohammed? Can I believe that Jesus was the greatest avatar of Krishna? These are, after all, variations of faith in Jesus. Is there a point at which what a person believes about Jesus matters to whether or not they can claim to be saved in the Christian sense? In a recent article entitled Full Preterism And Salvation By Creeds: A Brief Note, Joel McDurmon suggests that having some actual boundaries to Christian faith is uncalled for. That if we take such a notion seriously, doing as St. Paul suggests and call such teachings anathema, then we have gone too far. Joel writes “I am not the judge of people’s hearts, certainly not of people who in good faith are making and[sp] effort to understand the scriptures, yet profess faith in Christ and show fruit consistent with that profession.” Is he willing then to make room for the various views I listed above? Joel suggests that if we are to be consistent with our “creedalism” then we should pronounce anathema on those who vary from the statements of the Athanasian Creed. I would counter Joel and say that if he is going to be consistent with his lack of creedalism, that he should make room for ALL Christian heresies. If he is to be consistent, anyone who claims to believe anything about Jesus sincerely should be assured salvation and called a Christian without hesitation; unless their group rejects being called Christians I suppose.

I think, however, it is important to address the strawman that Joel has set up here. It is important because is seems to be the consistent strawman that all Full Preterist and Full Preterist sympathizers want to set up. This being some variation of the creeds vs scripture argument. Joel’s article (in part) is entitled salvation by creeds. This is clearly a strawman. The importance of the creeds, particularly those like the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed is that they bear witness to what was believed historically by Christians; to the point of death. These creeds are considered ecumenical because Christians of ALL times and places have wholeheartedly confessed them. Let’s really take time to consider this: is Joel ready to reconsider the teachings of Aruis? This, after all, was the point of both counsels of Nicea and the formation of the Athanasian Creed. If Joel is willing to allow FP a place, why not Aruis? If, however, it is too much to question the common affirmation of Christianity that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God”, then how can we go forward and deny that “he shall return in glory and judge the living and the dead”? How can we deny the “resurrection of the body” and still call what we believe the Christian faith? The ancient gnostic sects would certainly love to hear of this inclusion. Joel asked if anyone was brave enough to cry anathema, to that I respond not only those who teach these perversions but also to those who bid them “god’s speed”.

Joel says that these creeds do not offer exegetical support. This seems to show gross ignorance of the historical Christian faith and it’s defense against heresies. The Church Father’s wrote extensively in defense of the common faith, and did so with extensive appeal to scripture. With this said, it should also be noted that the defense of the Christian faith was with scripture and it’s common understanding among the faithful. These are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, as St. Vincent of Lerins argues effectively in his renown canon, it is in this context that the faith of scripture is faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next. Vincent writes “But here someone perhaps will ask, since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the [historical] Church's interpretation? For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and ecumenical interpretation.” [1] The appeal is not to creeds against scripture, but rather appealing to the proper understanding of scripture by the common witness of Christians in all times and all places. In other words, the Full Preterist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon and all other heretical views do not stand against simply the words of a creed, but against the common testimony and witness of all Christians, in all times and in all places. One might argue against the interpretation of some present-day exegete, but should one truly be in opposition to a faith held for two millennium by all those who we can call Christian?

Joel seems shocked that the Athanasian Creed says that one cannot be saved without confessing the faith outlined in it’s statements. That is a strong statement for sure. But I would like to know what particular confession of that creed that Joel thinks is negotiable. Can a person deny the Trinity and be saved? Can a person deny the Deity of Christ and be saved? Can a person embrace Tritheism and still be saved? Can a person deny the true incarnation of Christ? Can they deny the hypostatic union – that Christ was fully God and fully man? Are these points negotiable, or is it just the “eschatological” statements that Joel finds offensive? Would Joel affirm the salvation of the Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon? If not, why not? Should he not be consistent? Why should we even stop at confessing the above? Why not question whether or not a person needs to believe in Christ at all? Many Full Preterists have embraced just that. Just how much can a person deny about the Christian faith and still be assured salvation through Christ? I would like to hear Joel answer this question.

The creeds are NOT the source of Christian faith. Rather the common historical faith is the source of the creed. They are the summation and universally accepted witness to it. This point must be fully grasped. The creeds COULD NOT exist if the faith they outline was not universally accepted by the Church. In fact, I must press the point that St. Paul says “there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” But of course he is also the Apostle who writes of the resurrection and the Apostle who admonishes us to cry anathema to those who preach in contradiction to this very faith. In the end the heretics and their sympathizers are in opposition to the very Apostolic foundation that they want to twist. Anathema! 

1. Retrieved from

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