Chapter 5: Creedalism Vs. Experientialism
By Leif L.
The grand idea in the Second Great Awakening was to separate a living, experiential faith from a dead, intellectual creed. It was thought that belief should proceed from the experience of the person, and therefore the experience was primary and the creed secondary. A man should seek God, and when he has found him, then define him by how he has found him to be. This type of existentialism is the false root of this humanist system, and while claiming to create a more intimate and real faith, it actually puts man in the place of God.
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21 NKJV
We must realize that man is bound to error and deception, it is unavoidable for us to be misled by any means or avenue that we may utilize to search for God. It is only when He is accepted as revealed in his word that we can come to know him as he is, humbly realizing who we are. Knowing that we are sinful, that we hate the truth and will love every lie, we cast ourselves at the feet of our Ceator, trusting that he is the only one that can save us from the fallen condition we find ourselves trapped in. Should we approach God with the presupposition that it is our right to know and find him, we will be either disappointed or deceived.
The thinking that separates creed from faith is creating a false dichotomy. Living faith must be built upon a creed (I.e., a belief that exists outside of ourselves), upon a solid Biblical view of God, his character, and his will.
“But here [Hebrews 11:6] as elsewhere the Bible is found to be true to the plainest facts of the soul; whereas the modern separation between faith in a person and acceptance of a creed is found to be psychologically false. It is perfectly true, of course, that faith in a person is more than acceptance of a creed, but the Bible is quite right in holding that it always involves acceptance of a creed. Confidence in a person is more than intellectual assent to a series of propositions about the person, but it always involves those propositions, and becomes impossible the moment they are denied. It is quite impossible to trust a person about whom one assents to propositions that make the person untrustworthy, or fails to assent to propositions that make him trustworthy. Assent to certain propositions is not the whole of faith, but it is an absolutely necessary element in faith. So assent to certain propositions about God is not all of faith in God, but it is necessary to faith in God; and Christian faith, in particular, though it is more than assent to a creed, is absolutely impossible without assent to a creed. One cannot trust a God whom one holds with the mind to be either non-existent or untrustworthy.” – What Is Faith? By J. Gresham Machen, D.D., page 48
When we have seen and understood God through the revelation of his word, then we will be able and ready to trust this God. And upon the knowledge of the true character of God is built our relationship with him.
To create our own ideas about God based on what we think God should be like, however benevolent, kind, or agreeable a picture we may paint, is to be guilty of practicing idolatry. We as humans are guilty of anthropomorphizing God; we desire a God that is like us, indeed to conform Him to our image. To base a relationship with God on wrong theology, is to worship a false God.
When we can see, through the word, the grand leading of a Sovereign God in the affairs of mankind, we then have reason to believe in this God, and trust him with our life. But this most wonderful of all human experiences, relationships is necessarily preceded by a creed, by a proposition, by the revelation of Jesus Christ through the gospel.
And from and through this creed is borne the fruit of the gospel.
The Fruit of the Protestantism Supported by the Creeds
The fruit of the labour of the Protestant Reformers, and those who followed in their steps, can still be seen. These include the reformations in Germany by Luther, Switzerland by Calvin and Zwingli, Scotland by John Knox, England by Wycliffe and many more. The work of these men were secured by the creeds which they held, and their work of spreading the gospel of Christ has borne the test of time. Their reformations grew out from their doctrines, of the knowledge of the sinfulness of man and the awful coming wrath of God against sin, the holiness and justice of God, the grace of God through the atonement of Christ and the shedding of his blood, the victory of his resurrection, and so forth. All of these are Biblical doctrines, but acknowledged within the creeds. What changed the world was the preaching and teaching of these great truths, all of them great doctrines of the Christian faith, and in reference to which the gospel is proclaimed.
The list of the great men who held to these creeds could fill many pages. The list of men who denied or opposed these creeds are many, but their names fail to be included among the great spiritual leaders in the annals of Christian history, who laboured in the the gospel and spreading of the message of Jesus Christ.
This in itself is something that we should consider carefully and with much weight. For, if Christ commanded the gospel to be preached, and prophesied that it would be preached throughout the world for a witness, and promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church, and that the children of Abraham (through faith) would be as the sand of the sea and the stars of the sky, then we would do well to understand where this has been fulfilled, and see whether we are in union with that movement, or whether we fall outside.
The reason this is important, is because Jesus said we would know them by their fruits. If we examine the fruit of Evangelical Christianity through the ages, we see the fulfillment of the Saviour’s prophecies. However, if we look at the efforts of the various sectarian movements, we see schism, cultism, leading away from God and the Bible and to the teaching of a singular man or small group of people, who alone claim to have the truth.
The extremely legalistic schismatic factions of the “Messianic” movement is a case in point. Some of their leaders claim that all of Christianity is wrong, has always been wrong, and is the work of the enemy. Yet, their movement is not older than about 20-30 years; so how was the gospel preached for over 1900 years? Jesus promised that it indeed would be preached throughout the world.
This is not to say that there have not been (and still are) errors and even grave mistakes among true Christians over the ages. I don’t attempt to gloss over the many wrongs that have manifest themselves among Christians. However, each of these sectarian movements usually starts with the rejection of historic Christianity at some level. The logical end of their argument is that God has not been faithful in having his message proclaimed through the earth until the rise of their particular movement, thereby reducing salvation only to those who accept their particular “truth” during recent history. It implies that God was hiding the truth from his people.
These seem to be ignorant of the fact that it is through historic Christianity that the gospel has gone to the world; all of the great men of faith have been Evangelical Christians. One could name John Newton, William Wilberforce, John Bunyan, George Muller, George Whitfield, William Carey and a host of other godly men, who attribute all of their achievements to the Biblical doctrines which they held. Wilberforce spoke of the great Protestant doctrine of justification by faith as the motivation which spurred him to engage his entire life in then pursuit of the abolition of slavery in England. Martin Luther, though imperfect man and example in some ways, insisted that works have no place in the gospel. Yet, this man left behind a legacy, a fruit of the toil of his life, that few in people in modern history can match. It literally changed the entire course of world history as we know it.
And yet we see, in the early 19th century, a movement born that refused to build on what was handed to them through centuries of wisdom and experience, and instead, insisted on tearing down this edifice, in order to erect an entirely new building, on a completely different foundation than than had been established. So, we see at this time a multitude of sectarian movements and cult religions born, as a matter of fact, almost all sectarian religions trace their genesis to this point in the 19th century, a religious movement we call the “Second Great Awakening”.