Faith of the Founders 2

Defining Christian Orthodoxy

Before we can objectively examine Holmes’ book we have to become familiar with his terminology and definitions.

The first definition I’d like to deal with is “Christian orthodoxy” in colonial American times.

One of the strengths of book, The Faith of the Founders are the chapters on the religious landscape of the colonies.

The first observation is to understand that the majority of churches were Protestant of one stripe or the other. Catholic Churches and Jewish Synagogues were few and far between. The majority of Protestant groups as well as the Catholics were considered “orthodox” although there was much prejudice regarding Catholics because the prevailing “orthodox” church was the Church of England (Anglican, later in America Anglican became Episcopal) which did not accept papal authority. The Calvinist Churches were also anti-Catholic.

Colonial era church, Williamsburg, VA

Today “Orthodox” usually means Eastern Rite Christian Churches such as “Greek Orthodox” or “Russian Orthodox.” But in a more general sense “orthodoxy” means “non-heretical” and that’s what it meant in colonial times.

Non-heretical meant and means no significant deviation from early church historic creeds .

A creed was a written statement the defined orthodox beliefs and excluded heretical teachings. The most basic example is the Apostle’s Creed, but a more important example for our purposes would be the Athanasian Creed.

This creed is attributed to Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria who was the strongest defender of the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. It defines the doctrines of the Trinity and the nature of Christ in very concise language.

The creed was written to counteract a heretical group known as the Arians. It’s beyond the scope of this article to reconstruct the arguments so suffice it to say the Arians rejected the Athanasian view of the Trinity (and that Christ was not co-equal with the Father). Hence the necessity of a written creed so Christians would not fall into error.

(For anyone wishing to understand this important doctrine I would encourage you to follow the series my pastor preached on the subject. The Doctrine of the Trinity was important in colonial times and is important now. Here’s a link to the first sermon in the series from Sermon Audio.)

Creeds are not popular today, even among evangelicals and this often results in a watered down orthodoxy that tolerates heretical groups as orthodox Christians.

Athanasius. His enemies, which were numerous, called him the black dwarf. He was short and from Alexandria.

For example, Governor Romney is a Mormon (LDS). Mormons will argue they are Christians but by orthodox standards they are not.

This is not the place to get into detail so one example of a non-orthodox statement will suffice:

The trinity is three separate Gods: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. “That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of divine dealings with man,” (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 35.). Teachings of Mormonism

An “orthodox” statement on the Trinity would be similar to this:

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons (Greek: ὑποστάσεις):[1] the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial (Greek: ὁμοούσιοι). Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being (Greek: οὐσία).[2] The Trinity is considered to be a mystery of Christian faith.[3] wiki/trinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

In colonial times both Protestant and Catholic Churches would use a similar statement to define Trinitarian orthodoxy.

I’ve belabored this point because it would be a key factor in determining who held orthodox Christian views in colonial times and who held deistic views. In other words if you could find documentation where a founder denied the trinity as defined above you could conclude they were not orthodox Christians. By the same test if someone denied the deity of Jesus Christ it would provide more evidence that the person was not an orthodox Christian.

(Just for the record I find President Obama’s Christian orthodoxy highly questionable as well. As I implied earlier the early creeds and later confessions of faith were established to say “we believe this and not something else” whatever that may be. Creeds and Confessions of Faith were useful in determining early heretical teachings from orthodox teaching. Today it is not popular to call a group heretical and so much of “the church” flounders about in a theological haze. President Obama has clearly been influenced by what is called Black Liberation Theology when he spent 20 years under the teaching of Jeremiah Wright, someone he has called his friend, pastor and counselor. The theology has a strong connection to Marxism and in my opinion represents a significant departure from gospel orthodoxy.)

To be continued…defining deism.


11 comments on “Faith of the Founders 2

  1. My own personal understanding – which all christians, orthodox and unorthodox, have and must come to, though guided by reliable doctrine and the direct input to be had from daily Bible reading? – of the trinity accords to the orthodox statement cited above. I had an interesting discussion with a sincere Jehovah’s Witness recently about the trinity and several other departures from orthodoxy which that branch of the christian faith has taken. We continue to have these discussions on this and other subjects, such as creationism, while respecting each other’s version of the faith, not trying to out-do each other but find common ground. I feel this is healthy? Is it time for christians around the world to unite? There has always been a call to unity and brotherly/sisterly love for one another and it is only doctrine and interpretation which divides us? Dialogue seems to be the essential element but without compromising fundamental beliefs this can be difficult, even painful? I have found RC dogma to be particularly ‘incontravertible’ yet recognised that this stemmed from a love of God’s truth and a desire to adhere to his teaching given whilst He was in the flesh, and conform to his way from one generation to the next. You could spend a life time studying one gospel and months one parable, and still not have come to a full understanding? Yet there are certain articles of faith which are indeed incontravertible? As for Obama, the impression created by the media over here is that he is sincerely committed to much needed social reform – Jesus may have said that you will always have the poor with you, that doesn’t mean we don’t do everything in our power to improve their lot? Maybe unity is the way forward but would that mean creating a new orthodoxy? Unity in the face of ‘hostile science’ (not all scientists are hostile and science itself surely ought to be neutral) is essential in this modern world we live in and should a ‘battle’ need to be fought with a discipline which can study and measure creation but not the creator, who it can never fully understand or explain since, for one thing, God is outside of His work as well as existing in intimate relationship to it, and ‘evidenced’ in it in a way which only faith can hold, we would do well to present a united front?.

    • Wow Steve, thanks for the comments. You’ve raised many questions here as indicated by the use of all those question marks. There is a movement within Christianity to adopt the theology of the lowest common denominator where the goal is unity. Yet, even that is doomed to failure because of at least two things; 1) who gets to determine the lowest common denominator? Do we simply accept everyone’s orthodoxy and end up with Pilate, who famously said, “what is truth?” I do not doubt your JW friend’s sincerity and it’s great that you are able to talk but it’s difficult to see how common ground can be found when the JW version of the gospel is based on works not to mention attacking the deity of our Savior. For what it’s worth my brother in my opinion, Jesus is the place to find common ground because he is the gospel and it’s chief messenger. A failure to accept that or explore the main issue would probably mean endless bunny trails on secondary issues. I think it’s great to have a JW as a friend, outstanding actually, but the bottom line is what Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

      The other issue is that which is as you say “incontrovertible.” As a former Catholic I am familiar with Catholic dogma and how by and large they tend to stick to their guns. The RC has historically resisted reformation which of course was the issue in the 16th Century. But at the end of the day conservative Protestants would press with Catholics their understanding of the gospel. This would indeed be the number 1 incontrovertible issue.

      As for our President….hmmmmm., I read an excellent little book by a British theologian who teaches church history at Westminster in Philadelphia. His observations on British social justice and how it evolved were fascinating and as I understand him originally came out of the political left (your liberal party I suppose). Yet he says the political left in your country bears little resemblance to the brave people like Wilberforce who understood true social justice. His name is Carl Trueman and the book is titled Republicrat because he’s an American now and a keen observer of our mess. So the question is what makes Pres. BO unorthodox? Let me say this briefly, helping the poor is different than enabling the poor to stay poor and dependent upon the government, that is the tax payer. On occasions the President and other progressives will make much of defending those who can’t defend themselves but think nothing of destroying life in the womb. Genuine social justice is part of the gospel, but it is not the gospel itself and being selective on “Jesus” quotes does not make one an orthodox Christian. Honestly, in my opinion, Pres. BO has more in common with universalism than orthodox Christianity.

      I debated even putting those comments into the post but felt I needed to because I made reference to Gov. Romney’s Mormonism. I guess what is interesting about it is that the label of “Christian” means vastly different things to different people. In colonial times some of our founders held strong deistic views, yet when challenged, would say they are Christian. But more on that in my next post. As always, good talking with you Steve.

  2. Hi again Bruce, I am very much in agreement with you about not compromising on the divinity of Christ and one thing that is diffcult with our JW friend (he happens to be our window cleaner and we have interesting door-step conversations) is that some of the things which he obviously sincerely holds to in faith are pretty skewed from a more orthodox point of view, while other things are very much common ground. Hope you didn’t mind if I went on a bit (started writing a small novel there this time haha) but as usual its fascinating to see how things appear to each other across the water. I see your point about Pilate but don’t know enough about BO really so trust your more informed instincts. Also look forward to your next post brother, Steve.

    • Hi Stephen,
      I do not mind at all and greatly appreciate your commentary and input. It also is very interesting to me to see how my European friends see things. One the unexpected pleasures I’ve received from blogging is making connections with fellow Americans in different areas but also with people from around the world! It’s one of the best things I enjoy about blogging. Anyway, I appreciate your feedback and perspectives very much.

      I also find it interesting how (it seems) most Europeans think that Pres.BO is all that. At least half of us Americans believe he is literally destroying our country. Worst President ever and that includes Carter so that’s saying something.

      On the other hand and you may find this amusing but most informed Americans rather liked your Tony Blair, even American conservatives. Cameron on the other hand, who is a Tory I believe seems harder to figure. I say bring back Mrs. Thatcher! 🙂

  3. Bringing back Mrs Thatcher with a view to encouraging social conscience and what I consider to be the realisation of christian ideals in the political sphere would be a bit like bringing back Attila the Hun in order to spread a message of peace and goodwill throughout the Roman Empire. It is my personal perception that in the view of the majority over here she destroyed communities, encouraged the pursuit of selfish ambition with no regard for others, thus eroding much that had been achieved in terms of promoting social conscience, she crippled the unions, the only chance the working man had of getting a fair deal in the work place, with the result that well established basic employment rights have been walked all over by employers/managers who don’t care about that sort of thing since, and believe me, I have been treated like the dirt on their shoes by several managers who I had the misfortune to work with, and who were themselves little more than semi-competent power-trippers. We are in danger of a slip back into the feudal age over here largely thanks to Mrs Thatcher and the fact that the manufacturing industry we once had – not to mention the society which she decided did not exist any more – was destroyed systematically by her policies. The principle of mutual respect in the work-place is enshrined in our common law by the way, though you wouldn’t know it.

    The more enlightened see a return to nationalised industries as the best way forward. The recent banking scandals and those involving nest-feathering politicians of a similar ilk had their roots in the attitudes Mrs Thatcher encouraged. Like most Tories she believed that it is all about money and you know what Jesus said about it: you can’t serve two masters. You have to see it all in the light of an out-dated class system which de-humanised those who were only born less fortunate financially, not actually an inferior species to be treated like cattle (and squandered in WW1 because of the treat them like cattle attitude), a view of fellow human beings which the class system was designed to perpetuate, to justify the massive social injustices perpetrated by those who only claimed superiority, and who were actually often inferior in character (not to mention degenerate if you want to get into the old-fashioned breeding argument).

    Jesus was not found in Palaces wearing fine raiment and he spent his time with the poor, the under-privileged, certainly didn’t preach a gospel of financial imperatives and materialism… and that’s why I didn’t like Mrs Thatcher…(!)

    I consider myself a-political now. I have no faith in politicans. More sympathy with some than others – Nye Bevan is my idea of a good politician. I am like a religious (though I could never be one, not being worthy of such a calling) in that I no longer even put my faith in the unions which I did for a time believe in. In case you suspect I am a Marxist/Communist, I am not, though nor do I feel any other system can feel particularly smug about itself. I suppose I have rejected the world and its ways altogether. I share our JW friend’s position, strangely enough, in that the only true allegiance I feel now is to God. Like many people in this country I feel that until the game is played according to the same fair set of rules by all, there is little to inspire great loyalty or to encourage faith in those who claim to represent us but who really only want to maintain the unbalanced- in- their- favour staus quo?

    Tony Blair was very sincere I believe and had a lot to put right before he could start to implement social policy. He made the mistake of dissociating from the unions and changed the nature of the party forever. He was PM through a diffcult time and I understand why he had to support The USA in the gulf which is what he will be remembered for – I have heard tell that Bush put him under pressure with threats to undermine our trade but I don’t mean that – it would be hard to imagine the USA taking 9/11 on the chin and smiling. I was actually in full agreement with the idea of giving the terror back to the terrorists which George Bush embraced… at the time… this much further on, having seen so much human suffering, I am not so sure… I guess that makes me human. It is a sensitive issue and I hope not to offend by being honest. The idea of ‘winning’ in Afghanistan for eg. was naive from the first, if by win you mean conquer militarily. And let’s face it the regime will re-assert itself the minute we leave, or another as autocratic and backward will replace it.

    Well you certainly got a reaction this time! And in case you think I am the only one who feels that way about the great Mrs T, try watching the film Brassed Off if you haven;t seen it yet – the speech at the end by the late Pete Postlethwaite, God rest him, says it all for me.

    • Wow, I guess I had that coming since I kind of knew better, not Thatcher per se, but have realized that British liberalism\conservatism is a bit different in it’s evolution than here in the States. My heads up came through this book, Republocrat-Confessions of a Liberal Conservative by Carl Trueman.

      As I mentioned before Carl is a Brit professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. In Republocrat he says he will annoy both sides and does to some extent! His folks were union working class in GB and he grew up with the same sentiments you expressed. He notes that at one time the labor movement was more faith oriented than now and now it (in Britain) bears little resemblance to their once lofty ideals-too many Marxists I guess. He discusses the national health issue as well. That’s a big deal here. Anyway, Trueman opened my eyes to some things esp in regards to GB. So, I am sorry I set you off brother with the Thatcher bit. I based my opinion on her not really knowing much except that she was friends with our Ronald Reagan, a man I do admire. I also like the fact she would not back down with the whole Falklands thing. I’ve always admired British grit when the chips are down. I am a fan of the British! (not so much the queen ;-), all that King George 3rd stuff I suppose)

      I highly recommend Trueman and think you’d find him interesting. He comments on the American political scene at Reformation 21 and I am always blessed by his insights.

      My views on economic systems are relatively simple. I do agree with much of what you said regarding trusting any politicians but I think it is quite biblical to not spend more than you take in. I think Proverbs defines economic slavery very well: The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7 ESV)

      Wisdom states that the wealthy rule over the poor (statement of fact, not a judgment of good or bad)but if a person borrows he becomes a slave to the one who lends (usually someone or something wealthier).

      This plays out in a micro kind of way and in a macro kind of way. ( I do personal financial counseling and apply biblical principles.)

      As I observe the EU I see a big fat mess. I know that GB is considering dumping the EU and I get why, but more importantly there seems to be a great many EU countries dependent on the strength of the German economy. Greece, Spain, Italy and I think Ireland are close to disaster and as I understand things highly resistant to any kind of austerity measures. (and that is the issue with our public sector unions. With the private sector unions not so much)

      There is no lecture here friend, merely observations from across the pond. My country is headed in the same direction as some of those train wreck EU countries. Pres. BO rightly chastised Bush for our national debt and yet he has added to it by 5-6 trillion. I have a hard time getting my mind around that! The EU apparently has the Germans whose patience is running thin but we have the chi-coms bailing us out!!!! Yikes, being slaves to the chi-coms!!!!

      Economic systems regardless of socialism or capitalism are always tainted by sin and the effects of the fall. IMO, the best one will be the one that emphasizes equal opportunity and emphasizes personal responsibility. The trend in my country anyway is one toward government dependence and that robs people of liberty making them slaves of the state whether they grasp that or not and whether they go willingly or not.

      Many of us think our country is on an unsustainable slide toward a EU type disaster like Greece. blessings my friend.

  4. Hope I didn’t give the impression I had taken umbrage Bruce, certainly not the case, but the subject of Mrs T does have some very negative associations for me as you may have gathered! Didn’t mean to vent my spleen on your blog. Thanks for taking the time to reply in such a considered manner and it’s good to know that there are people out there with the ability to get to grips with the world and its ways in the manner you do. Hope it came across clearly that 9/11 really reminded me what a strong bond we have with the USA. In the same way that you are an Anglophile I have slowly become an Americanophile, though I was reading the Avengers comic book featuring Captain America in my teens and was very pleased with the movie, hence the new look to my own blog (will I ever grow up and there I was preaching non-materialism and now I am getting hooked on comic books again). The USA are typically the good guys doing a thankless job in my book! On a lighter note have just been reading a great light hearted read on wargames, written tongue in cheek but with some very shrewd insights by a guy called Wally Simon of the Potomac Wargamers Review, entitled Secrets of Wargame Design. It makes for very good light reading when you need a break from the mainstream. Blessings, good health and peace Brother, Steve.

    • Well my first comments about Mrs. T. were ill-considered and I should have known better. Clearly I hit a nerve and am sorry about that brother.

      I read an article some time ago by Brit historians where they made the case that the US is a successor state to the British Empire. I thought it was a pretty good analogy as far as it went. The Empire certainly had it’s faults as do we as a nation. We’re never too far from the effects of the fall. But on the other hand there was something to be said for the introduction of Anglo-Saxon civilization which included at the time, the light of Christianity. Britain served for quite some time as the world’s policeman and while certainly some of that was self serving, it also kept the world from Napoleon, from the Czar as well as the various despots messing about inside and outside of Britain’s far-flung colonies.

      It’s interesting to me that Britain and the US ceased to be bitter rivals and became good allies during the first war. I’m not real sure our German friends got a fair shake in all that but certainly the Anglo-Saxon ties fed an alliance that endures to this day. I personally lament the decline of Britain and have nothing but admiration for “the mother country” even if you behaved badly during our revolution 😉 On the other hand we behaved rather badly during the war of 1812 as did you, but we were probably worse wanting Canada and all that. Suffice it to say I don’t think we have a better friend than Britain although Australia comes to mind as a close second. Who will stand against the barbarism of Islam if not us?

      Captain America heh? I grew up thinking we won the war all by ourselves plus the help of John Wayne and Capt. America! Britain’s sacrifice in two wars has dispelled such notions so when I watch a movie like that I put it in the category of fun and fantasy and tend to see it in symbolic terms. No doubt I over think entertainment but I find it interesting that you get into those American cultural trends. I like it too and enjoyed Thor (somewhat) but really liked Iron Man mostly because I thought the actor was pretty good at playing an ego-centric boor that had to really work at being the good guy! Perhaps that defines my country, a rather ego-centric boor, working hard to be the good guy in lots of thankless jobs. I’ll have to think about it some more.

      Thanks for the book recommend! Sounds like something I’d enjoy. I’ve got quite the stack right now. I’m mid stream in Stonewall Jackson’s bio and just got a title about the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg. I have a particular interest in the Wisconsin Regiments that fought in our Civil War. And this is not to mention the 6 other volumes lying about including some titles on my iPad Kindle app. I am a book-a-holic and need help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! blessings friend, Bruce

    • Oh yeah’ loved what old Winston said about Americans, something like, “Americans always get around to doing the right thing after having exhausted all other options.” Hahahahahaha

  5. However true or otherwise that statement might have been at certain times, the ability not to take yourself seriously is one I have always admired and he who never made a mistake never did anything etc (think that might be attributable to one of your Presidents?)!

    Being the world Police was never going to be easy but thank God we have them and as is the case with both our nations, largely stemming from the same anglo-saxon roots, mine in decline in world power terms, yours now experiencing mature growth I think, its easy to notice the darker aspects and overlook the light in each case, maybe?

    I like Iron Man too and think that Robert Downey JR, who has always been a good actor, has proven pretty heroic coming back from the struggles he had with this and that and turning his life around. His protrayal of Tony Stark is just right. His Sherlock Holmes is the best ever and will be hard to top, I would say the same for Jude Law as Watson. Can’t wait for Iron Man three and the next Avengers movie! I understand Hank and Jan Pym will also be getting their own movie soon!

    Time for my regular daily exercise now my friend, so will log off – can’t quite get the hang of the sound-bite blogging comment! Peace brother.

    • I enjoyed the Holmes and Watson dynamic duo although I liked volume 1 better than volume 2. I first got to see Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates and thought it great.

      As to the world police role, I may not like it but do see it in terms of God’s providential care and in some ways a means of common grace. God limited the surge of Islam at Vienna in 1675 and it appears he uses the US now in a similar role. I would not make too much of the analogy but do believe The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
      he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

      Have a blessed day!

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