LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

Home   About Us   Holiness Library   Bible Prophecy   Listen to Sermons  History of the Holiness Movement   Early English Bibles   Bible Studies   Links

 

 

 

 

I BELIEVE

 

 

I believe . . . (Mark 9:24).

 

The simple statement “I believe” is useful for the title of this book, but in the context of Mark chapter 9 it is moving and is expressive of a father’s deep, heartfelt conviction of the credibility of Jesus of Nazareth. The man’s son was possessed by a spirit that caused him to foam at the mouth and go into convulsions. Having heard of the miracles Jesus performed and being convinced that Jesus could, and would, cast the spirit out of his son, he came to Jesus to obtain that which he believed. His belief was not a “perfect” belief, for he admitted, “I believe; help my unbelief!” In spite of this weakness, his belief was well-founded and Jesus proved to be everything he believed Him to be.

This book has nothing to do with casting out spirits but it does have to do with what we, as Christians, believe. Believing in fables does not produce miracles and neither does it produce a genuine Christian faith. There are facts about God, about Christ, and about what Christ has done that are essential to the Christian faith because, without these facts, there is no Christian faith. From its earliest days, the Church has had to separate truth from fable to identify and preserve the faith in its purity for the following generations.

It is a fact: Christians believe something. Luke the Evangelist begins his gospel affirming this fact: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us . . .” (Luke 1:1). The stated purpose of his gospel is to set down a record of the things Christians believe and it is believing these things that makes one a Christian.

The New Testament was not written as a work of theology or as a set of doctrines; it is the record of facts. These facts are essential to the Christian faith and they must be believed for one to be a Christian. For example, one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God to be a Christian. This is plainly stated in 1 John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you, that you may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.” (ASV). Believing that Jesus is the Son of God is not just accepting a doctrine; it is accepting the fact that Jesus is who He claimed to be. Jesus was not just a man, but the Son of God, and believing in what He accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection results in eternal life. This is what it means to be a Christian.

 

What Is A Creed?

 

It might be helpful to understand what a creed is as the word “creed” may be  ambiguous to some people. Some churches use a creed in their worship or catechism, but the vast majority of evangelical churches tend to shy away from such a thing.

The English words “I believe” in Latin are the verb credere, meaning “to believe.” It is from this Latin word that our word “believe” is derived. The dictionary defines creed as an authoritative formulated statement of the chief articles of the Christian faith.

Alan Cairns in his Dictionary of Theological Terms gives the definition of creed as: “From the Latin credere, ‘to believe’; a statement of faith, not necessarily comprehensive or complete, but containing articles that cover matters that are fundamental and that have been called into dispute.” A creed does not have to be a systematized doctrinal dissertation; rather, it is an abbreviated statement about what is believed. In the evolution of creeds, the newer creeds were devised to combat heresies that had been brought into the church. As Christianity emerged from the Middle Ages into the Protestant Reformation, creeds or confessions of faith, were devised to differentiate the particular beliefs of the newly formed sects.

Philip Schaff in his The Creeds of Christendom writes, “They [meaning creeds] never precede faith, but suppose it. They emanate from the inner life of the Church, independently of external occasion. There would have been creeds even if there had been no doctrinal controversies.”[1] Inasmuch as the early Church did not have the New Testament and a great majority of Christians of the time were illiterate, creedal statements were devised as a means to instruct the early Christians in the essential beliefs of Christianity. It was the practice in the early church for new converts to be set aside from the main congregation and given specific instruction in the faith. It may be said they were taught the “doctrines,” but this teaching was primarily a rehearsal of the facts of the Christian faith. Schaff continues: “The word of God, apprehended by a living faith, which founded the Christian Church, was at first orally preached and transmitted by the apostles, then laid down in the New Testament Scriptures, as a pure and unerring record for all time to come. So the confession of faith, or the creed, was orally taught and transmitted to the catechumens, and professed by them at baptism . . . .”[2]

 

The First Creedal Statements Of The Church

 

The very first record of anything resembling a creedal statement is found in Matthew 16:16 where Jesus asked His disciples whom they believed Him to be. Peter responded with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It might be argued that this really is not a creed, but given Cairn’s definition of a creed, we find that it is in fact a creed. First, it is a statement of belief—credere—Peter believed Jesus to be the Son of the living God. Second, it is not a comprehensive or complete expression but it does cover the matter that was fundamental to the question. Cairn explains that a creed addresses some matters that have been called into dispute and it is obvious that the identity of Jesus was a matter of dispute with some saying He was John the Baptist, others saying He was Elijah, and others saying He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets. In the eyes of the Church, Peter’s statement settles the matter once-for-all. Peter’s statement of belief was succinct but certainly not comprehensive or complete as can be seen by comparing it with the doctrine of Christology expounded in fifty-five pages by Dr. John Miley in his Systematic Theology. And third, Peter’s statement covers all that is fundamentally important about Christ and is essential for being a Christian.

Dr. Schaff wrote that a confession of faith, or a creed, was used as a means of instruction for catechumens, or new Christians. This being true, it seems logical that the New Testament would contain a suggestion of a creedal statement that was in use at the time. The New Testament was not written in the form of a catechism or a collection of doctrinal statements. In the New Testament we find the epistles, which were written to specific churches or persons containing a great deal of instruction as well as exhortation to godly living; one would think it most likely that any form of a creedal statement used by the Christian Church at the time would be found in their pages.

A fragment of what appears to be a formal creedal statement appears in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” This statement contains three essential points of the Christian faith; first, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; second, He was buried; and, third, He rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures. It may be that the content of these verses was used in the instruction of converts because the Apostle Paul writes that he “received” it; he was taught these articles of faith by someone else. In turn, the Apostle “delivered” it to the church at Corinth, which certainly suggests that he used it to instruct the new Christians at Corinth while he was organizing the church in that city. Some Bible commentators believe these two verses are an extract from a larger creedal statement in use at the time. This may be true but there is no surviving record of a complete creedal statement. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that this excerpt strongly resembles parts of the Apostles’ Creed.

 

The Ecumenical Creeds

 

The term “Ecumenical Creeds” is largely meaningless to most evangelical Christians, especially among those that abhor creedal statements. The word ecumenical means general or universal, indicating that such creeds are usable by the Church-at-large. These particular creeds contain popular outlines of the fundamental articles of the Christian faith considered necessary for salvation. Toward the end of the Second Century, unique and contradictory definitions of the essential doctrines of Christianity began to appear, especially those concerning the nature of God. About a century later, the nature of Jesus Christ became the topic of doctrinal controversy. The Ecumenical Creeds were devised to counteract the heretical doctrines and to standardize the orthodox definitions of these doctrines. There are three recognized Ecumenical Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed

Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is the earliest and simplest of the Ecumenical Creeds. The actual date of this composition is unknown. While it is called the Apostles’ Creed, it was definitely not composed by any of the original twelve Apostles of Christ. The earliest form of this Creed is in Greek and dates from between 336 a.d. to 341 a.d. The first Latin text is dated 390 a.d. Changes were made to this Creed and its present form dates from the late Fifth or the early Sixth Century. The form of the Creed appearing in this book is the 390 a.d. Latin form and is used because it avoids some of the ambiguous or controversial terms introduced in the more modern form of the Creed.

The form of the Apostles’ Creed is a popular summary of the teaching of the Apostles and is representative of both the spirit and letter of the New Testament. Schaff speaks of the character and value of this Creed:

 

As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation—from God and the creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting. It is Trinitarian, and divided into three chief articles, expressing faith—in God the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth, in his only Son, our Lord and Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit (in Deum Patrem, in Jesum Christum, in Spiritum Sactum); the chief stress being laid on the second article, the supernatural birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. . . . It is by far the best popular summary of the Christian faith ever made within so brief a space.[3]

   

Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was devised during the First Ecumenical Council held at Nicea in 325 a.d. It was devised primarily to counteract the influence of the Arians, who promoted a heretical view of Jesus Christ. The Nicene Creed was not a uniform document, instead it emerged in three forms: the original Nicene, the Constantinopolitan, and the later Latin form. The different forms evolved out of the disputes between the Eastern and Western factions of the church. The Nicene Creed eventually morphed into the Creed of Chalcedon, which is considered to be inferior to the Nicene Creed in many respects.

Athanasian Creed. The Athanasian Creed appears in the Fifth Century; while it has been attributed to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, there is no record of who was the actual composer or even of how it came into being. Its principle purpose is to clarify the teaching of the Trinity and to expand on the doctrine of Christ. It differs from earlier creeds in that it specifically condemns as lost forever all that do not accept the Trinity and the Incarnation. This Creed became authoritative in the Latin Church, and during the Middle Ages it was generally used during the morning devotional exercise of the church.

 

Other Creeds

 

Fast-forwarding in history to the Protestant Reformation, we find confessions and catechisms devised for the purpose of differentiating the new churches brought into being and used to catechize people into the respective churches.

The various evangelical and non-denominational churches that have come into being since the Reformation each have their doctrinal statements, which express in their own words the doctrines to which they hold.

Even churches that claim to teach just the Bible follow some form of doctrinal pattern. The average Christian may not think of a doctrinal statement or doctrinal preaching as a creed, but it is a form of “I believe this . . .”—a credere!



[1] Ibid, p 5.

[2] In loco.

[3] Ibid, pp. 14, 15.