Still Dissenting to the Descent

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I have greatly appreciated the interaction on this blog regarding the descent clause in the Apostles' Creed: "he descended into hell."  For the sake of late comers, this began with my post explaining how the church I serve omits this clause and why I have agreed with this omission.  Mark Jones expressed concerns with this approach and Eric Hutchinson offered some historical perspective to go with his overall ascent to the descent.  My original argument against the descent clause was: 1) the likely meaning of the clause in the Apostles' Creed is not what the Reformed tradition believes; 2) statements in so foundational a statement as the Apostles' Creed ought to be both abundantly clear and unquestionably biblical, neither of which can be said of this clause; and 3) it is poor pastoral practice to have our congregations confess something they don't understand and which they likely understand in a way that is untrue.

Mark Jones was gracious in more or less admitting these points.  Let me be gracious in saying that I share his primary concern.  Mark notes that the Reformed "have always strived for catholicity" and that this means "we should be very careful about excising phrases from the ecumenical creeds."  I heartily agree.  I would note, however, that the Apostles' Creed is not the result of any of the ecumenical councils of the early church, whose pronouncements (like the Nicaean Creed) we deem authoritative for all Christians.  Instead, the Apostles' Creed developed over time in the early church by a process that is largely unknown.  We have good reason to believe that the descent clause was added last, and quite late in the process (not earlier than the 4th century) and that as late as the 6th century it was widely omitted.  This is not to disparage the Apostles' Creed, which after all our congregation confesses regularly in worship services.  It is to point out, however, that the Apostles' Creed is not the work of a council to which we grant authority and that certain statements in it (i.e. this one) have a mixed pedigree.

I am perfectly content for others to confess the descent clause and, following Mark's logic, I even am happy to confess it myself when I am in other congregations.  I hope this discussion has proved to be an example of valid arguments on different sides resulting in increased light without generating unnecessary heat.  I have appreciated and enjoyed the dialogue very much.

Posted January 9, 2015 @ 2:15 PM by Rick Phillips

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