Published November 10, 2015
"What We Believe" (Part 1)
"Are you a believer?" "Yes, I certainly am." "What do you believe?"
Survey after survey has found that many professing Christians really don't know what they believe. They perhaps have some basics right, but it's not enough for them to be effective in sharing their faith or answering questions nonbelievers might have.
It is essential that Christians know what they believe especially in this day when Christians are being literally killed for calling themselves Christians. If you're going to die for something, you'd better know what it is.
Knowing what to believe as a Christian has been an issue since the very first Christians. Back then it was, of course, all very new. They didn't yet have what we know as the New Testament. It hadn't been written yet! So the early Christians developed "creeds" concise statements of the fundamentals of the faith.
"Creed" comes from the Latin "credo," which means, simply, "I believe." If you're going to be a believer, you have to know what you believe! Some of the early creeds were actually referenced by, or incorporated into, what we now know as the New Testament. Early creeds can be found woven into the sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts, men whose earlier teaching could have, in fact, helped inspire the earlier creeds.
One popular creed, still recited today in many churches, has come to be called the "Apostles' Creed." Actually, it wasn't created by the Apostles. Nobody knows who wrote it. But it probably developed over the first few hundred years of the church, coming into popular acceptance in the fourth century.
Let's look at what this creed says, remembering that the creed itself is not Scripture, but points to Scripture.
Perhaps the most important two words in the Apostles' Creed are the first two words: "I Believe..." This is a statement of what we believe as Christians in the form of a personal affirmation.
So, what do we believe? "...in God the Father Almighty..." That's pretty obvious. Belief in God is absolutely fundamental for a Christian. But remember that James 2:19 tells us that even though "you believe that there is one God. You do well..." he goes on to remind us that "even the demons believe and tremble." Believing God exists is not enough even the devil knows that.
Then God is referred to as "maker of heaven and earth." Interestingly, when we acknowledge this, we acknowledge the Trinity (which is further acknowledged later in the Creed). When we say that God made the heaven and earth, we have to remember that Jesus, according to John, was the agent of creation. John 1:1 tells us that the Word, Jesus, "was with God and was God." And John 1:3 tells us, "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made." This is affirmed in Colossians 1:16: "All things were created through Him and for Him."
Now the Creed gets more specific about Christ: "And in Jesus Christ His only Son..." That's pretty clear. John 3:16 calls Jesus God's "only begotten Son." And Simon Peter confesses, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:16).
Then the Creed calls Jesus, "Our Lord." That was difficult to say during Roman times when people were required to acknowledge Cesar as Lord. Calling Christ "Lord" could get you killed. (In some places, it still does.) The dictionary says "Lord" is someone who has authority. Is Christ truly the "Lord" of your life? To be Lord of your life, you must give Him control of your life. Not just a part of your life, not just when it's convenient, but always!
Next, the Creed says Christ was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary..." The angel assured a confused Joseph, "do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit... And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus..." (Matt 1:20,21).
Interestingly, the Creed now jumps all the way from Christ's birth to Passion Week. It says that Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate..." Matthew 27 gives us the account of how Jesus was hauled before the Roman governor and quizzed. Then Pilate ordered Jesus scourged a cruel, skin-ripping whipping and then delivered to be crucified, as the crowd demanded.
And that's the Creed's next declaration: Christ "was crucified." There is absolutely no doubt that this is fundamental to Christian belief. To this day, the Cross, in fact, is the universal symbol of Christianity. Paul said his primary teaching was "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2) and he affirmed how Christ "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross..." (Phil. 2:8).
Then the Creed says Christ was "dead, and buried..." He was taken down from the cross and placed in Joseph's tomb (Matt. 27:60).
Next week, we'll continue our look at the Apostles' Creed, starting with one of the most controversial lines in it.
Note: One common rendering of the Apostles' Creed can be found online.
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