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Spot the Difference

Michael Bird recently blogged about using a regula fidei (Rule of Faith) in church.

He quoted Tertullian's regula fidei from the early second century AD:

[T]he Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. (Prescriptions Against Heresies).

Michael Bird then attempts a "faithful restatement... in our own contemporary language."

God the Father, the maker of the universe, who, through Word and Spirit, made all things out of nothing, planned all things for the demonstration of his love and the satisfaction of his glory. He created Adam and Eve in his own image and after their rebellion, He also revealed himself as the Lord in diverse ways to the patriarchs, to Israel, and in the prophets, to call to himself a people worthy of his name, among and for the nations. When the time had fully come, He sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the Law, a Son of David, enfleshed as a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, and who came forth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was baptized and in the power of the Holy Spirit he preached the hope of Israel and the kingdom of God, he proclaimed good news to the poor, did many miraculous deeds, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Then, having made purification for sins, he ascended into the heavens, where he sat down at the right hand of the Father, from where he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and after the great resurrection, he shall take his people into the paradise of the new creation, and condemn the wicked to everlasting fate. The church now works in the mission of God, in dependence upon the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing testimony to Jesus Christ, to preach good news and to show mercy, until the day when God will be all in all.

Did you spot the difference?  What is being said about the Old Testament in these two statements?  We go from language of "the Son" being "seen" and "heard" to language of the Father merely "revealing himself as the Lord" in diverse ways.

I'm not even sure the switch of Person was a deliberate decision.  (I've asked).  I wonder whether the modern theologian is simply blind to what the early church held self-evident: that the Son is the eternal Word through Whom the Father always acts and reveals.

I'm not saying it's rank revisionism, but I am saying it's a revealing shift and one we should try to undo.

The Son is not the best Word - He's the Word.  He's not the clearest Image - He's the Image.  He's not the Seal of a series of improving revelations.  He is the Revelation of God.

Let us indeed get back to such a rule of faith!


18 thoughts on “Spot the Difference

  1. John B

    Bird's version of the rule of faith seems true to the Nicene Creed, which describes boundaries that are looser than those set forth by Tertullian. This of course does not dispute Tertullian. It is only to say that the universal church didn't regard his views as creedal. As for the use of modern restatements of the Creed, I'd rather not go there, as it was the introduction of the little phrase "and the Son" that split the church in two. Just reading the ancient Creed either before or after the sermon, or even the day after at Chick-fil-A, would be great.

  2. Ephrem Hagos

    The Holy Spirit will not stop shy of revealing Jesus Christ to be God Almighty and the Father, in person, a.k.a., "I Am Who I Am", whether as the one off self-sufficient fire in the middle of the bush or in the perpetually self-sufficient source of life in Christ's death on the cross!

  3. Paul

    Glen, as you say, there is almost a blind spot over this in the modern world. In modern culture there is a pervading assumption that anybody and everybody can 'connect to God' - whether through religion, mysticism, philosophy or personal choice. The Enlightenment background of 'theism' all feeds into this notion that 'god' is universally available and knowable. What has tended to happen is that many Christian theologians have retreated into a special 'zone' within theism, saying that although everybody can connect with and know 'god', only through Jesus can we 'savingly' know or connect with god. The ancient idea that the Most High God CANNOT and WILL NOT be known or 'connected with' is so far away from a post-Enlightenment mind. Mediation is deeply alien to certain kinds of modern theology - so Jesus is only seen as a mediator at all in a very narrowly defined role of 'saviour from sin'. When John exegetes Genesis 1 and picks out the mediation of Jesus in all creation as a foundational truth, it was basic and obvious to the ancient world but is almost bizarrely 'anachronistic' to certain modern theologies!

    In this revised rule Jesus only comes into the picture with the incarnation - as if He wasn't needed before - for the history of the ancient church, creation, revelation and the patriarchs. So common is this relegation of Jesus to a late arrival on the Biblical scene - and I'm thinking of some very famous gospel presentations here... maybe involving pictures... that I hardly notice it myself anymore. Thanks Glen for sounding the church bell and keeping us awake.

  4. Glen

    Yes indeed. If only there was a modern gospel presentation which made clear the mediation of Christ in salvation AND revelation... if only the pre-existence of Christ was clear from the outset... if only it presented His incarnate work as the fitting fulfilment of His eternal purposes...

    If only...



  5. Si Hollett

    John - Glen's not saying that Bird is a heretic, but that he - without realising it -changed what Tertullian's rule of faith was saying to match our modern erroneous assumptions.

    Ephraim - The Son is not The Father - this can been see by all the various times he talks to The Father, all the times where the Bible treats the two as separate people, etc, etc. Michael Bird is clear on that, just assigns various things to the Father that Tertullian, and more importantly the Bible, assign to the Son.

  6. John B

    Hi Si,

    Ouch! I never meant to suggest the dreaded "H-word", and worse, to suggest that anyone here is implying that it applies to someone else. By no means! It seems to me that the Creed is a formal statement of the rule of faith. As such, it says that which *must* be said, but certainly not all that *can* be said. The Creed has traditionally been recited in preparation for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, for the congregation to faithfully "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes", in accordance with Paul's instruction in 1 Corinthians 11.

    Tertullian's clear presentation of the Son as the revealer in the Old Testament, didn't make the cut at Nicaea a century later. With the early Fathers there was a great focus on the unity of God in distinction from the Gnostics. But this emphasis on oneness can sound a lot like modalism. Nicaea was a more comprehensive statement of the doctrine of God, and therefore made it crystal clear and beyond the possibility of any confusion, that " The Son is not The Father".

    FWIW, I like what Tertullian, along with other early Fathers, says on this, but, I'm also guided by Nicaea in not viewing it as creedal, which is to say an obstacle to communion.

  7. Glen

    Thanks John, yes I didn't think anyone was implying heresies (or that they were implying that I was implying heresies) :)

    Interesting that it wasn't the Son's OT activity that failed to make the cut at Nicea. No OT activity of any kind made the cut. But for my money, if you wanted to discern the general view of the fathers on theophanies, then Tertullian's was representative.

    I'm off camping for a few days!
    God bless

  8. Si Hollett

    John - got you now, but surely then, just as Tertullian adds more than needed, Bird does too. I agree with you that the Nicene Creed (or other Creed: Apostles, etc) is a better thing to use as a profession of faith by the laity.

    Discussion of whether Bird is Nicene or not, however, seems to me to be a red herring - no one said he wasn't - that was my point.

    My discussion of "The Father is not The Son" was aimed at Ephrem Hagos (who's name I didn't spell right - oops!) - who said that Jesus Christ was the Father in person - not at you, or Niceae or anything.

  9. John B

    Hi Si,

    Although I've usually thought of the Creed primarily in connection with the liturgy of the sacraments, I like Bird's point about using one of the creeds after the sermon, even at services when the Lord's Supper isn't celebrated. Reciting the Creed helps us to relate a sermon that is focused on a particular passage to the wider story of scripture.

    Without intending any misdirection, I do advocate for the use of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed as the universal touchstone and symbol of the faith (the gold standard of rules of faith!), and so do not incline to encourage substituting for it with either modern restatements or the statements of individual church Fathers.

    So, I think not so much a "red herring", but more just me getting started on my hobbyhorse!

    I understood your point about “The Father is not The Son”. I think the Creed guards against error in the direction of either Arianism or Sabellianism, and doubt that it can be improved upon. It's the only universal Creed that the church has got!

  10. Si Hollett

    I think we're in the same place, but wires are crossed.

    I read your first post as a discussion of Bird giving a perfectly fine rule of faith as it's Nicene compliant - not a post that said "just read the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed rather than a different one". You can see that Nicene-compliance (while clearly important in other discussions) is a red herring to the discussion of Bird unwittingly switching persons.

    If you understood my point about "the Father is not the Son", then I certainly didn't understand why you discussed of the Church Fathers' anti-gnostic "God is one" stance and Nicaea's more clear view - as that is rather a red herring. It's true (though Tertullian is rather clear in the quoted), but I can't follow where it fits in the discussion. You also say what you wanted to say in that second post much more clearly in your third (the most recent) post's last paragraph.

    I'm all for praise of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, but I just couldn't see how you had got on to discussing it, so struggled to understand the point of bringing it up. Twice. It's probably end-of-summer holidays brain's gone funny since term finished in June (and begins tomorrow with a 26 hours of lectures in 4 days insanity period that will be the buckets of cold water that wake the brain up. Or hopefully anyway!)

  11. John B

    Hi Si,

    Wires are definetly crossed here.

    You are correct that my reaction to Bird's post was different than Glen's. Bird stated the value of reciting the rule of faith after the sermon. Amen to that. He then went on to say that he cited Tertullian for the purpose of showing that the rule of faith is variable and without precise formulation, so it's OK if we restate it.

    I strongly dissent from Bird's second point, but I believe that most Protestants in the church *today* agree with him. So given that most Protestants believe that the rule of faith can and even should be restated, I thought that Bird's restatement was a good one. But I tried to be clear in my brief initial comment that I didn't favor restating the Creed. However, I think that I was unclear in that first comment that in my view the Creed and the rule of faith are one, and my omission has resulted in the confusion between us.

    Your criticism is valid in that my comment was focused on my reaction to Bird's post, which was on a different track from the issue that Glen raised. I would happily apologize if you think my comment was out of order, but in all sincerity, I just don't find comment threads to be so regimented as you seem to suggest that this one should have been. There are no "red herrings" here, in the sense of any attempt at dishonest misdirection, I assure you. But I do apologize for any breach of etiquette or protocol on my part, which was purely unintentional.

    As we're discussing the rule of faith, my view is that the Nicene Creed is not just one among many, only a particularly praiseworthy one. Rather, I'd say that it is the unique symbol of faith. And therefore, in any discussion of the rule of faith the Creed is pertinent.

    Si, I'm praying for God's blessings on your studies as you begin the new term.

  12. Michael Baldwin

    Hmph :)
    "The Son is not the best Word – He’s the Word. He’s not the clearest Image – He’s the Image."
    Simple but mind-blowing stuff! For some reason i've always restated (and rather misinterpreted) Colossians 1 in my mind as being "We see the clearest image of God in Christ".
    How about this? Christ *is* the image of the invisible God, both in the OT and the NT, and we see this eternal image of God most clearly in the incarnation?
    Would it be accurate to say that I was misidentifying Col 1's 'image' description with Christ's incarnation, rather than with Christ's eternal and unchanging nature as being the 'Image' & 'Word'

  13. Glen

    Hi Michael - yeah everyone seems to make that tiny translation in their thinking these days. "The" becomes "The best".

    Within Colossians 1, it's obvious that it's the eternal Son who is the Image - the One who created all things. Just as with John 1 (and 2 Cor 4), the immediate context of Image (/Word) language is *creation*!

  14. Si Hollett

    John B - you weren't out of order, or breaching etiquette, and I certainly didn't mean red herring as a deliberate action. I raised these points as I simply couldn't understand what your point was and wanted to find out - which is the case now you have clarified for me. Thank you for doing that and dealing with my inability to grasp the point. Thanks also for praying for my studies - certainly something needed as wrestle with stuff coming out of left field (or in the case of this week, left-wing!) - speaking of which:

    Glen, if Christ is _the_ image, what does mankind being made in the image of God mean then? In Christ? in the likeness of the Son? in the likeness of the Father? And there's the issue that there's both male (Adam) and female (Eve) parts to the idol of God - what does that mean, which persons are they imaging?

    I've just done a word study of 'image' in the ESV, and (while 90% of the time it's talking about pagan idols) and it's all rather muddled. Seth's 'after the image' of Adam, but that God made man in his image comes up again (for one last time in the OT) in Gen 9:6, where God says it. Then Paul says 'For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.' (note woman not the image of man, nor image of God for some reason), also talks about us being remade in the Son's image and that Christ is the image of God.

    I have some ideas on these questions, but nothing concrete. I can sum it up as "Christ is the Image and we image that Image", but I can't make it stick in the face of the 1Cor 11:7 verse and how male and female relate in relation to how the Father and Son relate in 1Cor 11:3, which the JWs twist so badly. I'd be much happier without 1Cor 11 in the Bible, and I'm sure a lot of people would (especially guys with long hair), but it is, and thus I must deal with what it says.

    I should not that I did spend some time learning critical thinking, so I'm probably over-thinking and prodding holes in everything, like an irritating student theologian!

  15. Michael Baldwin

    Having second thoughts about this...the whole idea of the Son being the Eternal Word is certainly true but I wonder if we need to err on the side of caution when diminishing the idea of the law being but a shadow of what came in the Incarnate Word. Today I've been going back over that debate between Goldsworthy and Blackham and have to say what GG said was also (along with what I'm reading at this blog) striking a chord with what I've been reading in scripture. To be honest the whole thing about the nature of faith being fundamentally in relationship with Christ makes me lean towards Blackham's view, but other scriptures and the reality of progressive revelation prods me towards GG's. I don't think it's fair to say either of those considerations are not the real issues because, IMO, in order to defend one position you need to dispel the motivation for the other one without ignoring it.
    Some problems I have with the covenant continuity thing...
    Isn't the law powerless to do what Christ did in the NT? Isn't there at least *some* kind of significant discontinuity between Old and New Convenant? Doesn't scripture say we're no longer under the law of Moses but under the law of Christ?
    Crucially, if Christ is just as clearly the Word in the Old as the New why don't we get any of the OT saints praying in Jesus' name? I'm confuuuused- !

  16. Glen

    Hi Michael,
    If you ask me, the essence of the debate was distilled by the first question asked from the floor. A young student named Mike Reeves asked "What is faith?" and I think the respective answers were instructive. Of course there's a *kind* of progress, Paul wouldn't deny it (though he and others would also point to the even clearer reality of 'regressive reception'). The issue is, what is the Object of faith - and faith in shadows is not the same as faith in the reality. I fundamentally disagree with GG's answer on this point (and I think so do the majority of fathers, reformers and puritans).

    Remember not to confuse OT with 'law'. Galatians 3 (not to mention Romans 4 and John 8) wants us to get back to *Abraham*. For millennia, the God-human dynamic was not through law at all. The law was always a temporary shadow between Sinai and Golgotha. Look over Galatians 3 to radical discontinuity with Moses and radical continuity with Abraham.

    Where in the *New* Testament do we see saints praying in Jesus' name? Even after Jesus says to do it, it's rare at best. But that doesn't mean that every saint is not in fact relating to the Father through the Son and by the Spirit, nor that they would disagree with such language later applied to their spiritual experiences. But whether a believer encounters the Sent One calling Himself LORD and speaking the words of the Most High or whether (thousands of years later) they hear Jesus saying "I and the Father are one", we're seeing the irreducibly trinitarian shape of God's being and action.

  17. Paul

    The heart of this debate has always been about the conscious object of saving faith. The only reason that issues of 'progressive revelation' ever became part of this was because of the disturbing claim that most of the Old Testament had not yet progressed to a level of conscious faith in the promised Christ. The creeds and confessions all hold Christ up as the object of saving faith and some explicitly reject views of the Old Testament that see the Old Testament in terms of 'earthly promises'. I remember in the months that followed the debate with Graeme, I asked this question several times in discussions: 'do you think that the object of faith for the Old Testament was essentially earthly promises?' and it shocked me how many simply said 'yes'. I usually followed up with a question to clarify what they were saying - 'do you think that the Old Testament saints believed in earthly promises rather than the Person of Christ, but that the LORD God accepted faith in earthly promises as equivalent to faith in Christ... whereas now He demands faith in the Person of Christ and not in earthly promises?' At the time of the debate all those who agreed with the first question also agreed with the second. From my background in the fathers, reformers and Puritans, I just couldn't understand how such a fundamental shift had happened. Maybe not so many would answer in that way now, but that was certainly what it was like then.

    One thing that I didn't realise at the time but has become much clearer over the past ten years is how the issue of language plays a vital role in the perception of this question. In my mind, then and now, I'm not especially interested what titles or terms anybody at any time uses to speak about Christ or the Trinity: so Jacob speaks about His faith in the Angel in Genesis 48:16; others might refer to the LORD of hosts or the Holy One of Israel or Immanuel or the Messenger of the Covenant... or all kinds of other terms and titles that are defined by context and usage. It was always the STRUCTURE of faith that was my concern and not the particular words used to articulate that. I say this because many times people would say things like 'I just can't see the language of Nicaea in the Pentateuch... I just can't see the patriarchs praying in the Name of Jesus ... I just can't see how the language of Father, Son and Spirit is used in Joshua etc etc.' For a long time I couldn't really grasp why this was such a problem for people: the particular expression of the Trinitarian faith that we find at Nicaea is obviously in very different cultural and linguistic terms to that expressed by Moses: the divine titles of the Hebrew Scriptures are almost completely ignored by Nicaea [which is a real shame]. BUT, whether we use Hebrew or Greek or English or any other terms and titles to articulate the reality of Jesus as the Promised Messiah, the Cosmic Word, the Eternal Son, the Angel of the LORD, the Holy One, the Alpha & Omega... the key point is that at the beginning, centre and end of it all we are trusting Jesus... not words about Jesus or systems that contain Him... but trusting Jesus Himself. The devil KNOWS all about Him; the Pharisees could articulate systems that expressed the truth of the Messiah; today there are amazing theological systems that speak about Jesus... but trusting any of these systems is not the issue. Always the question comes back to this: do I trust Jesus? Do we follow Him as a church family? Do we LOVE Him and trust Him? Is He the centre and soul of our lives... does the very mention of His Name quicken our hearts? When we speak about Him, do our eyes fill with tears... or is it in the end just words and promises about somebody or something?

    Do we KNOW Him or do we just know ABOUT Him? In saying this I'm not interested an unexpressed existential encounter [!!] because the real, living Jesus is expressed and defined in real human words in clear categories of truth. BUT the excitement of preaching and reading the Bible is not that we hear 'true things' but that we hear HIM!

    I have met Christians from all kinds of Church traditions and nations - whether Greek Orthodox; Ethiopic; Catholic, Pentecostal; Chinese house church; Methodist; Anglican and other kinds of groups. There is this wonderful moment when those who love Jesus speak about Him... about HIM. We recognise His name among all the other words we are trying to say... and we look at each other... and we know: it is all about Jesus. I remember holding the arms of an Asian brother and the only word we could seem to share is the word Jesus - but it was enough. We both love Him: He is the Living God and the true Human; the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe; the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world; the Bridegroom who is coming for His Bride. Some may be called 'Christian' but I just can't seem to connect with them ... but it is not because of all the linguistic or cultural barriers.

    So... maybe with Abraham, Enoch, Moses, David [ and Joshua?!] we might not share the name 'Jesus' in quite that way [ I'm not sure]... but that One: the Angel of the LORD; the Word of the LORD; the Captain of the Host; The Seed of the woman, Abraham and David; David's Lord; The King and Man at God's right hand; the Holy One of Israel... He is what united the Church in every age. Yes, after Moses the Church had a time of detailed presentations of Him through the Law... yet that Law was never the object of trust for the saints! The prophets thundered against those who ever put their trust in mere words and ceremonies; or genetics or temple. Christ - the Messenger of the Covenant - He is the object of all our trust... He is the one we all love and trust, however we speak about Him - whether we look forward or backward to His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.... yet we all stand together looking forward to His Return. We all live in tents in that sense, looking forward to His Coming... walking with Him as we declare - "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

  18. John B

    The promised Christ is the object of faith always in both the OT and the NT. John the Baptist summoned *believers* to be washed in the Jordan River. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." There is complete continuity of his person between the old and new covenants. OTOH, there is complete discontinuity between the old and new creations. In the Incarnation the new creation is inaugurated, and the old is passing away. John was the forerunner of the new era of the Spirit, and called those with faith in Christ to repentance and renewal at the turning point of history, when the Lord himself came down from heaven. Same Jesus; new creation; and believers, like unbelievers, in themselves unworthy of them.

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