Editor’s Reflections -- By: William David Spencer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 25:4 (Autumn 2011)
Article: Editor’s Reflections
Author: William David Spencer

Editor’s Reflections

William David Spencer

One of the epiphanic moments of my faith came about in north Philadelphia at what had been Temple University’s theological school, redubbed Conwell School of Theology after Russell Conwell, the Civil War officer whose coming to Christian faith was profoundly influenced by a devout and devoted assistant, Johnny Ring. Johnny seemed a perfect candidate for the ministry when his life was abruptly cut off in “the war between brothers.” Severely wounded himself and left for dead for a night at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (Georgia), Conwell eventually embraced Johnny’s God.1 Years later, now a Baptist pastor, he was asked by a young deacon to teach him to preach and responded in the grand style, founding Temple College in Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” perhaps as much a tribute to the young believer Johnny Ring. Temple blossomed into the university with a theological seminary, the latter becoming independent and soon acquiring a new name, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, when Billy Graham brokered a merger with another seminary, Gordon Divinity School, which was also leaving its present campus.

The Philadelphia branch, only destined to run that one last year, 1969, was housed appropriately in the old Widener Mansion, the former Philadelphia Public Library. There, amid a new set of books, all Christian and profound, and a faculty that favored European and high-church professors, assembled by the wise Australian Anglican church historian and former cathedral dean Stuart Barton Babbage, I learned about the precious treasure bequeathed to Christian posterity in such statements as the Creed of Nicaea, the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, the Apostles’ Creed. I also learned, to my surprise, that such declarations as the Southern Baptist “Faith and Message” were also creeds, as was the statement of belief in my own independent Baptist birth church.

A creed, from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe,” was simply an affirmation of what an individual, or a church, or a group such as a parachurch organization, or a denomination believes are the central tenets of the faith that may not be changed. These are what are called the dogmatic declarations—the unifying principles that define the faith being espoused.

In evangelical Christianity, we have (hopefully) many areas in which we allow variety of conviction. We can vary in church structure; in what liquid elements (alcoholic or non) we use in the Lord’s Supper; in when we baptize, how much of the body we need to cover with water, and how many times we do it for each individual believer; in how formal our worship styles are; in what version(s) of the Bible we deem acc...

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