It occurred to me that whenever I first visit a site focused on sexual ethics, I want to know its author’s theological perspective so I can read what is written through the appropriate lens, and that first-time visitors to STRENGTH OF HIS MIGHT could want the same. Thus, I offer this brief outline of my beliefs, what might be called a “doctrinal statement.”
If you are really only looking for my positions on human sexuality,
see My Position on Sexual Ethics.
A “Creedal” Believer
I gladly identify as a “creedal” believer, by which I mean that, although only the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments we call the Bible are God’s authoritative, inspired Word, various statements authored throughout history by Church councils (the “ecumenical” creeds) have accurately captured and summarized the Bible’s central teachings. Here are the four historic creeds that I consider true in every detail, and any deviation from which could rightly be considered unorthodox.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all ages,
God of God,
Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made;
of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.
He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
I affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
And I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and life in the world to come. Amen.
Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith.
Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.
Now this is the catholic faith:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divine Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet they are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being.
So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
So likewise, the Father is almighty,
the Son is almighty,
the Holy Spirit is almighty.
Yet there are not three almighty beings;
there is but one almighty being.
Thus the Father is God,
the Son is God,
the Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there are not three gods;
there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord,
the Son is Lord,
the Holy Spirit is Lord.
Yet there are not three lords;
there is but one Lord.
Just as Christian truth compels us
to confess each person individually
as both God and Lord,
so catholic religion forbids us
to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten from anyone.
The Son was neither made nor created;
he was begotten from the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit was neither made nor created nor begotten;
he proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Accordingly there is one Father, not three fathers;
there is one Son, not three sons;
there is one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
In this trinity none is before or after,
none is greater or smaller;
in their entirety the three persons
are coeternal and coequal with each other.
So in everything, as was said earlier,
we must worship their trinity in their unity
and their unity in their trinity.
Anyone then who will be saved
must think thus about the trinity.
Furthermore it is necessary for eternal salvation
that one also believe rightly the incarnation
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now this is the true faith:
That we believe and confess
that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
is both God and man, equally.
He is God of the essence of the Father,
begotten before time;
and he is man from the essence of his mother,
born in time;
completely God, completely human,
with a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father as regards his divinity,
less than the Father as regards his humanity.
Although he is God and man,
yet Christ is not two, but one.
He is one, however,
not by his divinity being turned into flesh,
but by God’s taking humanity to himself.
He is one,
certainly not by confusion of substance,
but by unity of his person.
For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh,
so too the one Christ is both God and man.
He suffered for our salvation;
he descended to the dead;
he arose on the third day;
he ascended to heaven;
he sits at the right hand of the Father, God almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people will arise bodily
and shall give an account of their own deeds.
Those who have believed in him will enter eternal life,
and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.
Following the holy fathers, we with one consent teach all to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man; of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead; coessential with us according to the manhood; in all things like us, except without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the properties of each nature being preserved, and both concurring in one person and one hypostasis, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the self-same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord, Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the holy fathers has handed down to us.
As a Christ-follower of the Reformed variety, I further ascribe to most distinctives represented in these confessions and catechisms, although deviation from these documents need not mean that one has deviated from (small-O) orthodox Christian faith but simply from the distinctives of my biblical hermeneutic. I have placed these in something of a personal order of priority:
- The Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger & Shorter Catechisms
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- The Belgic Confession
- The Canons of Dort
- The Scots Confession
- The Second Helvetic Confession
- The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion
- The London Baptist Confession of Faith
It seems appropriate here to mention the method by which I strive to discern God’s truth—on whatever matter I happen to be studying. The approach I’ve adopted for my personal faith journey is commonly referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley:
Note the following from the graphical representation of the Quadrilateral above:
- Scripture, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments breathed out by God to his prophets and apostles, stands at the pinnacle because it is the only source of his revealed truth.
- Tradition and experience both are crucial elements in all Christian believers’ faith journey, whether they realize it or not. There are many truths to be gleaned from tradition and experience that are not contained in Scripture. Unlike Scripture, however, which is entirely true and completely reliable, tradition and experience are fallible.
- Reason encompasses the other three elements of the Quadrilateral because it is through our God-given ability of intelligent consideration that we process Scripture, tradition, and experience.
You will note that I have not yet noted my position on sexual ethics; this may strike you as curious for a blogpost on a site devoted to such. But I’ve done so intentionally, not because sexual ethics are unimportant (they are of highest importance!) but rather to communicate that there are Christian doctrines of even greater centrality to the faith. It’s far too easy in our hyper-politicized moment to forget that.
I borrow my statement of marriage, sexuality, and gender from The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender:
- According to God’s design and intent, sex difference (male and female) is an intrinsic part of what marriage is. While same-sex marriage is legal in some countries, it does not represent a historical, Christian view of marriage.
- All sex outside of marriage is sin.
- The Fall has corrupted God’s original intent for human sexuality in all persons; therefore, all people—straight or non-straight—experience corruption in their sexuality.
- Simply experiencing attraction to the same sex (or being gay) is not in itself a morally culpable sin.
- God desires all males and females to express their gender in accordance with their biological sex.
- All forms of abuse, slander, dehumanization, or oppression toward fellow humans is an affront against God’s sacred image, which has been stamped upon all people.
Another statement on sexuality with which I am in agreement is the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality. I highly recommend this resource!
This places me firmly in the camp of what is commonly labeled “Side B.” See my Definition of Terms page for more on this.
My Theological Heritage
For those of you interested to know my church background, I have called congregations of various denominations “home” throughout my life. I grew up in independent Baptist churches that proudly self-labeled as fundamentalist. I went away to an evangelical Christian college considerably more progressive than that, but where the institution’s Wesleyan Holiness heritage permeated the air. During my college years and immediately thereafter, I attended Baptist, independent/nondenominational Bible, United Methodist, and Wesleyan churches. Following a geographical move and discovery of the Reformed tradition, I became a Presbyterian of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) variety. This is still the denomination with which I most identify, although I’ve decided after another geographical move to a city with only a single PCA church to attend a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Updated 23 March 2018: Added the section on “theological decision-making.”
Updated 11 August 2018: Provided direct link to my statement on sexual ethics.
1. I debated with myself over this word, ultimately settling on unorthodox, not heresy, as the term that best captures my meaning.↩