Middle East Resources

Creeds, Confessions, and Missions in the Twenty-First Century  

Bassam Michael Madany  

Nowadays, the Church is found throughout the entire oecumene (world), and its membership includes people from every race and culture. Early in the twentieth century, a great controversy arose between Modernism and Fundamentalism. Modernists, in their attempt at “Rethinking Missions” ended up with another gospel. Fundamentalists reacted by emphasizing certain basic truths of the Christian faith, without manifesting a proper concern for the heritage of the Church as summarized in the Ecumenical Creeds and the Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation. 

This lack of interest in the historical documents may be attributed to the rise and spread of Dispensational hermeneutics. Back in the early fifties, Dispensationalism had become the semi-official dogma of several Evangelicals. I came to the United States in 1950 and studied at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the seminary library, I read an article in the “Sunday School Times” by a British author who claimed that the birth of the State of Israel in May 1948, was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. 

In 1952, a fellow seminarian informed me of a course on Dispensationalism offered at the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, by Dr. John Gerstner. I attended the lectures and was fascinated by Dr. Gerstner’s teaching and thankful for his lucid manner of expounding the subject. Years later, I had the privilege of visiting him at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he was teaching a summer course. By then, Dr, Gerstner had published his book, “Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” 

Recently, I read a book review of the book by Dr. Stanford E. Murrell, Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, 705 Frederick Court Apollo, Pa 15613. The following are pertinent excerpts:

“After fifty plus years of learning and teaching about the Christian faith, Dr. Gerstner came to believe it was time for him to formally challenge the errors of Dispensationalism in a detailed manner. “Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” is an endeavor to examine the main points of the departure of Dispensationalism from historic Christianity. In his work, Dr. Gerstner does not engage in personal attacks, but reveals the theological areas of concern while offering correction and instruction in righteousness. The tone of the work is vigorous but gracious
Premillennialism was never any part of the creeds of the universal church. It did not find a place in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. The Council of Constantinople, when speaking of Christ’s kingdom affirmed that ‘of whose kingdom there shall be no end.’ The Athanasian Creed states: ‘at whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works, and they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire’ (Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom) 
Dr. Gerstner’s approached the subject from a Historical Theological point of view. 
http://www.sounddoctrine.net/stanford/Wrongly%20Dividing.pdf

To study the subject from a hermeneutical point of view, I visited Dr. Oswald T. Allis at his home in Wayne, Pennsylvania, in 1952. He had written a book on this subject, “Prophecy and the Church.” The following paragraph summaries its main points:    
 
“Should the interpretation of the Prophetical Books of the Old Testament in accordance with the time-tested belief of the Church, that the kingdom prophecies of the Old Testament Church have their fulfillment in large measure in the New Testament Church? Or should one follow the relatively new and decidedly revolutionary teaching of Dispensationalism and declare that these prophecies ‘skip over’ the Church age and will be literally fulfilled in a Jewish kingdom age which will follow it? These were the alternatives between which the author found himself obliged to choose. His decision and the reason for it are set forth in Prophecy and the Church.

To summarize:                                                                                                                     

If the Church is to maintain its spiritual vitality in our time, she must reclaim its heritage beginning with the Apostolic age. The Second Century yielded the New Testament canon, which together with the Old Testament, became the authoritative standard of the Church. The Post-Apostolic era was the age of the Church Fathers who confronted their pagan environment with the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When doctrinal disputes arose about the fundamentals of the faith, Church Councils met at Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451), and issued the Ecumenical Creeds that defined orthodox Christianity for all time.