More than a couple observers of the Reformed and evangelical worlds have noted the rise and danger of the superstar pastor. Yesterday, however, in conversation with a colleague another came to mind: implicit faith.
Implicit faith (fides implicita) is the medieval (and Romanist) doctrine that the Christian believes whatever the (Roman) church believes even if one does not know it personally.
Thomas (Aquinas) wrote:
Therefore, as regards the primary points or articles of faith, man is bound to believe them, just as he is bound to have faith; but as to other points of faith, man is not bound to believe them explicitly, but only implicitly, or to be ready to believe them, in so far as he is prepared to believe whatever is contained in the Divine Scriptures. Then alone is he bound to believe such things explicitly, when it is clear to him that they are contained in the doctrine of faith (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae 2.5).
Today, the Roman Catechism does not speak explicitly (no pun intended) of implicit faith but the notion seems to be contained in this summary in §182: “We believe all “that which is contained in the word of God, written or handed down, and which the Church proposes for belief as divinely revealed.” “[W]ritten” and “which the Church proposes” seems to imply that Romanists believe whatever the church holds even if they do not know what that is (credulitas). Of course, it’s nearly impossible for one to know completely what Rome believes. You’re not really meant to know all that it believes because that changes. Rome also uses the expression “implicit faith” to account for those outside the church (Vatican II) but that is for another post.
The connection with superstar pastors is this: when evangelicals make the transition to the Reformed confession it is not uncommon for them to go through a period of implicit faith. On this question, however, the difference between Rome and the Reformed is that we are not (or should not be) content with implicit faith. I mean to say that when Christians begin consciously to adopt the Reformed faith it is usually through the influence of some visible teaching figure. People begin to see that the theology, piety, and practice they’ve accepted hitherto is inadequate. When they see the doctrines of free acceptance with God through faith alone in Christ alone, his sovereignty in salvation, covenant theology, Christian liberty, orderly and reverent worship, Word and sacrament ministry as a means of grace and the other doctrines and practices that distinguish the Reformed confession from broad evangelicalism they only see a part of the elephant, as it were.
The temptation is to say to one’s self, “Well, I don’t have to know everything because so and so knows it and I trust him.” Now, it is true that there is much that one need not know. It’s not really material whether you understand the logical order of the decrees (infra v supra). I doubt that it matters if you know the length of the creation days or which Bible translation is the perfect English translation (it doesn’t exist). I doubt that you need be an expert in eschatology to be Reformed. There are any number of things that you need not know but, to paraphrase Luther’s Leipzig Disputation (1519) superstars and coalitions do err.
What must you know and believe explicitly, i.e., embrace intelligently and heartily because Scriptures teaches it:
All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us in sum (Heidelberg Catechism, A:22).
The articles are the 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed, which we confess as a summary of the faith and explain in the catechism. So, the list of things that a Christian must read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, to borrow a phrase, is not unending but neither is it nothing. We believe these things not, in the first instance, because they are taught by the church but rather because they are taught by Scripture. The church confesses them because Scripture teaches them. We confess the faith with the church and in the church and even under the ministerial authority of the church as she confesses God’s Word.
That’s a beauty of confessing the faith together. There are great mysteries in the Christian faith: one person, two natures; one God in three persons etc but what the true church actually believes is not a mystery and it’s not a matter of implicit faith. We confess our faith and believe explicitly and that is all that we are bound to believe as a matter of discipline and that’s a source of great freedom.
No personality is the arbiter of our faith and practice. Indeed, in Reformed churches personalities tend to fade into the background. God’s Word is in the foreground. Ministers come and go. The Word stands. The ministry stands. We should give thanks for those gifted, articulate persons whom God has used to strengthen our faith but our confidence rests not on this famous person or that but on the Word incarnate and written.