A statement of faith (in men)

We’ve been looking at the flaws and fallacies of Bible-based Christianity, and I want to continue with a slight variation of that theme by looking at the idea of a “Statement of Faith” as the defining doctrinal standard for a ministry or church. More traditional denominations often refer to such statements as their “creed,” though it has become fashionable among Protestants to avoid that term on the grounds that it sounds too much like some kind of Catholic extra-biblical dogma. Protestant statements of faith, however, are no less extra-biblical, and are essentially the same thing: a loyalty oath promising to defend what uninspired men think the true definition of Christianity ought to be.

Since we’re in the neighborhood anyway, let’s look at the Statement of Faith found at the Christian Apologetics Ministries web site. It’s a fairly typical conservative Protestant statement, with a few quirks, and it does a good job of demonstrating some of the many ways Christians put their faith in men, under the guise of putting their faith in God.

We believe that the Scriptures consist of the Old and New Testaments and that they are inspired and they are in their original autographs without error.

Right off the bat, we’re supposed to put our faith in a whole bunch of men: the men who wrote the Bible, the men who assembled it, the men who canonized it, etc, etc. Men tell us that the Bible is inspired and is without error, and we are expected to believe them even though what they say is not consistent with what we find in real life. For example, the Bible tells us that Nebuchadnezzar was supposed to destroy Tyre, and raze it down to bare rock, and that was to be the end of Tyre: it would never again be rebuilt.

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar … with horsemen and a great army. He will … set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and … demolish your towers with his weapons. … they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.

The writer of this prophecy made two mistakes: first of all, Tyre was still intact when Nebuchadnezzar lifted his seige and went home, bribed and happy–it was Alexander the Great who came up with the strategy of demolishing the mainland portion of the city and using the rubble to build a causeway out to the island citadel so that the seige engines could be used against the walls. Secondly, Tyre was rebuilt, and became a bustling seaport once again, as even the New Testament tells us.

But never mind the mistakes, we’re supposed to put our faith in the men who tell us that there are no mistakes. And even that is not sufficient. The CAM statement of faith tells us that there are still more men we need to put our faith in.

 We believe that the Scriptures are best understood in light of the three ecumenical creeds- the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

Here we confront once again the critical flaw in Bible-based Christianity: the Bible has to be understood before it can be the authority for any given doctrine or practice, and the act of understanding the Bible requires the act of interpreting the Bible–and different men have different interpretations. Not only that, but God fails to show up in the real world to endorse any of these different interpretations, so we have no objective way of distinguishing a “right” interpretation from a “wrong” one. Each Bible student has no choice but to follow whatever interpretation seems right in his or her own eyes.

The doctrinal, practical, and moral confusion that results from this approach is hardly surprising, and is as old as the Bible itself. The three creeds mentioned above were born as a response to just such confusion, and represent an extrabiblical, human attempt to fill the gap left by God’s failure to show up in real life to give us an infallible interpretation of what the Bible is supposed to mean. (Of course, if He were willing and able to do that, we wouldn’t need a Bible in the first place, but that’s another matter.)

We’re supposed to put our faith in the men who wrote the Bible, but that’s not sufficient due to interpretational problems. So we’re supposed to also put our faith in the men who wrote the so-called “Apostles Creed.” This, too, however, is open to interpretation, and fails to cover all the ground, so we must also put our faith in the men who wrote the Nicene Creed, which is also insufficient, hence the need to put our faith in the men who wrote the Athanasian Creed. And it that enough? If it were, then CAM would not have found it necessary to add yet another Statement of Faith to the list: their own.

We believe that the church fathers’ can be helpful in understanding our faith, but we believe that the Scriptures themselves are the highest and last authority for Christians on matters of faith and action, and are the primary way that God chooses to reveal himself to us today.

Except we don’t see God revealing Himself. What we see is that everybody follows whatever interpretation is right in their own eyes. The sole function of the Bible is to offer authority by proxy: decide what you think is right and true, find a passage in the Bible that you can interpret as being in agreement somehow with what you are saying, and poof, your opinions now have the weight and authority of God’s Word.

This clause does have the distinction of cautioning against putting your faith in men. But it’s a biased distinction. We’re supposed to put our faith in the church fathers unless they say something that CAM disagrees with. We’re supposed to have more trust in CAM than in the church fathers, on the grounds that God reveals Himself through the Bible. But is that a reasonable distinction? If the church fathers were not able to profit from “God revealing Himself through His Word,” then why should anyone suppose that CAM has fared any better? The Statement of Faith is urging us to trust in men again: i.e. in our own (or their own) personal interpretation of Scripture.

We’ll skip over a couple minor points and look at just one last clause.

We believe that the Scriptures ought to be interpreted as they were intended to be interpreted. If literal, then interpret it literally. If metaphorically, then interpret it metaphorically. We believe that Genesis 1-11 was intended to be interpreted as real events. Consequently, we are believers in a 6 day creation not too long ago (ie, Young Earth Creationism).

Once again, we are enjoined to put our faith in men, this time in the men who decide for us how the Scriptures were intended to be interpreted. More significantly, we are told not to believe our own eyes, but to take men’s word for it even when they flatly contradict what we can see in the real world today.

Seeing, as you know, is a process that takes time, due to limitations on the speed of light. If you’re seeing something close by, then there may be a gap of only a few fractions of a nanosecond between the time a thing happens and the time the sight of it arrives at your eye. Across larger distances, however, the size of that gap increases. If you look at the sun (through proper safety filters, of course!), you won’t be seeing what is happening on the sun right now, you’ll be seeing what was happening on the sun nine minutes in the past.

In short, when you start to look across astronomical scales of distance, you aren’t just seeing things that are distant in space, you’re seeing the distant past as well. You’re not seeing a reproduction or artist’s conception or computer 3D animation, you are seeing the actual events of the past, just like you see real life all around you in the present. Take a pair of binoculars out on a dark, clear night, and you can easily see millions of years into the past–a good telescope can make that into billions and even trillions of years. You, yes you, can give eyewitness testimony to the fact that divine creation is not what was going on in the universe 6,000 years ago. Don’t just take my word for it. You can see it for yourself with your own eyes.

Christians can, of course, retort that we shouldn’t trust eyewitness testimony because God has the power to tamper with the evidence and create visual hoaxes. But if that’s the case, then the eyewitness testimonies of the New Testament are equally worthless, and the more so since they are not consistent with what we find in the real world, whereas the things we see in the sky are perfectly consistent both with themselves and with what we know about how the laws of nature work. Astronomy, not the Gospel, is what passes the self-consistency test, and that’s the defining test for what’s truth and what isn’t.

I don’t want to single out CAM, because their Statement of Faith is not significantly different from any of the other Statements of Faith that are out there, except as regards technical points of doctrine. They all boil down to being loyalty oaths and statements of faith in men, even when the things men say are not consistent with themselves or with what we find in the real world. To insist on believing such things despite these kinds of inconsistencies is not truly faith, but merely gullibility. If they were honest, therefore, they ought to call them Statements of Gullibility.

3 Responses to “A statement of faith (in men)”

  1. airor Says:

    A couple problems with your numbers on this one. IANAC (cosmologist), so please check my figures yourself. First off, the farthest directly observable distance some fraction of a parsec (3+ light years). The further distances use a ‘cosmic distance ladder’ to infer greater distances indirectly and could be disputed. Second, you mention ‘even trillions of years’, but that would be wrong because our observable universe is only 13+ billion light years in radius. After that distance, the relative speed of objects due to the uniform expansion of space exceeds the speed of light. Coincidently, 13-14 billion light years is also the age of our universe, so we wouldn’t be able so see anything beyond that anyway.

    If someone does deny the cosmic distance ladder, you could always mention galaxies. Our galaxy is on the order of 1000 light years across. Even if we were way off, we can see OTHER galaxies.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I stand corrected—it is indeed billions and not trillions of light years to the most distant visible object.

    Farthest Known Galaxy Discovered

    By the way, judging from this discussion, there’s a visible star in the constellation Cassiopeia that is about 16,000 light years away, so even naked-eye astronomy can tell you God was not creating the universe 6,000 years ago. Not unless He’s tampered with the evidence anyway.

  3. airor Says:

    You’re right, I should have my google privileges revoked. The milky way galaxy is 1,000 light years thick, not across. It is on the order of 100,000 light years across.

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