What do we believe?
This past summer this little church has been visited by children and youth from all across the globe, and also by many people that would not call themselves Baptists or even Protestants. We’ve had Orthodox and Catholic friends here, and perhaps a few that are associated with no church and no religion at all.
What binds us together, in terms of belief? The Bible. The Bible represents God’s love towards us and His expectations and plans for men and women. The Bible can be clearly understood if the one that picks it up wants to read it and is looking for truth. But the problem is that it’s also very true that mankind’s sinful heart will always tend to distort what God is clearly saying in the Bible and in nature. This is why the early church, and even the modern scholars, comes together to create Creeds, by-laws and dogmatic writings for Christians. It was is necessary and possible for Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, to write down a clear and easier to understand meaning of what it is to be a Christian. Those on our by-laws committee have done just that over the past few months.
The only book in our Bible that looks at the early development of the church is the book of Acts. If read that book, you’ll note that Peter, the first head of the church, the first Pope, had to establish some policies, standards and rules for the conduct of the members of the church as well as establish the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Read Acts and you can see how Peter called the leaders of the church together and carefully explained, reasoned and spoke as the Holy Spirit lead him, about those things essential for the church. Paul elaborated on these things too, of course, but it was church councils that came together and make specific statements on what was, and was not true, about Jesus Christ, the nature of mankind, how a man is saved, the role of the Holy Spirit and so on.
But the church was growing fast and these councils did not end with the book of Acts; for centuries those devoted to the Christian faith continued to meet to confront heresy, remind the believers of who Jesus really was, and to establish the orthodox faith we now call Christianity.
From these councils, creeds were developed that have come our present day understanding of the Trinity, the church, heaven and hell, salvation eternal rewards and the role of the Holy Spirit.
So again, in the early church leaders saw their role as formulating universally applicable statements of true doctrine for all Christians so that false doctrines could be readily identified. They did not set upon to establish a new religion, but to be clear that those that were following what was called “the way”, were not distorting or hiding the truth. The councils and creeds are all about stating and clarifying truth……because truth, then as now, is always under attack.
You might not realize it, but during the first century of the church, copies of the Scriptures were hard to come by and scarce. No copy machines or off-setting typing devises. So the truth of Scripture was encapsulated into short memorable sayings known as creeds. There are traces of these credal statements found in the New Testament scripture. Examples are found in , 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 1 Timothy 1:15, 2 Timothy 2:11, and Titus 3:4-7. The word creed comes from the Latin, credo which means “I believe.” A Creed is therefore a statement of belief.
So before we had the New Testament, we had creeds. Again, they were statements of belief, and there are four ancient creeds of the church: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed, and The Chalcedon (pronounced Kalsedon) Creed. These Creeds have been universally accepted by all branches of Christianity: Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. The most ancient creed was probably the Church is the Apostles’ Creed. It was purported to be the work of the original apostles. It is by far the most commonly used of the four ancient creeds of the Church.
As a church, it’s important for us to understand and agreed upon the main points of the faith—the essential matters—-and to admit that there can be some areas where we choose to disagree but still remain in fellowship… and orthodox in our beliefs. That’s the point of our devotion today. What are the main points of our faith and what part of our theology is essential in order to call ourselves Christians and honor the truth about Jesus Christ.
So here then, is a basic rendering of what we as Christians, and all Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians hold to be true:
“We believe in one God, who is the Father almighty, and who is maker of heaven and earth, and everything that exists—visible and invisible.
We also believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God begotten from the Father before all ages and before time. He has always existed.
Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead His kingdom will never end.
And we also believe in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke to mankind through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, which is the invisible family of fellow believers in Jesus Christ. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.
Friends, I just read, in essence, the Nicene Creed, with a few words of explanation added. This is the creed to which Christians world-wide hold.
The Nicene Creed grew out of what became known as the Arian controversy. Arius, a North African priest, began promoting the view that Christ was not eternal. This is the same belief Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses maintain—in error. About 311-12, Arius was excommunicated for this and other beliefs. Yet, his views gained popularity. In AD 325 Arius was condemned in a church council meeting in Antioch. Emperor Constantine then convened the first legal church council meeting to resolve the conflict. This was the council of Nicaea (in modern Turkey). Present during this council meeting was Athanasius, who was to become the greatest apologetic voice against Arius. From that council meeting emerged the creed I just read.
The Church’s next struggle came when some folks admitted that Jesus Christ was God, but taught and believed that He was not also man. While some held that at the point of His birth He lost all His deity and became man. Others believed that he never became truly human in the first place. So, in AD 451 another council came together to talk about the nature of Christ: That counsel, called the Chalcedon (Kalsedon) Council. The Chalcedon Council recognized that Christ was both God and Man but was only one Person. (Theologians refer to this as the Hypostatic Union of Christ). They admitted that this was a mystery which they were unable to fully explain. But quite frankly life is full of things many of us do not fully grasp, yet we still accept them as real.
Therefore, the early church determined, with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.
These creeds and confessions still serve a valuable purpose for the believer today—these things are important to us. While the many denominations of the Christian Church may give the initial impression that the Church is divided, these ancient Creeds remind us that we have far more in common than what divides us. But did you note that the creeds never mention the Bible? The Bible is not mentioned in the creeds because it did not exist at this point. Only the Old Testament was used.
But as we accept these truths about Christianity, I would also like to remind you of what Christians hold to be true about the role of Holy Spirit. Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). It is His Holy Spirit that encourages and exhorts us during the day. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the hearts of believers (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 12:13). Jesus gave the Spirit as a “compensation” for His absence, to perform the functions toward us which He would have done if He had remained personally with us. By One man, Jesus leaving, the Holy Spirit is able to indwell billions that profess Jesus is Lord.
Among the functions of the Holy Spirit is that He is the revealer of truth. The Spirit’s presence within us enables us to understand and interpret God’s Word. Jesus told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He reveals to our minds the whole counsel of God as it relates to worship, doctrine, and Christian living. He is the ultimate guide, going before, leading the way, removing obstructions, opening the understanding, and making all things plain and clear. He leads in the way we should go in all spiritual things. Without such a guide, we would be apt to fall into error. A crucial part of the truth He reveals is that Jesus is who He said He is (John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit convinces us of Christ’s deity and incarnation, His being the Messiah, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, His exaltation at the right hand of God, and His role as the judge of all. He gives glory to Christ in all things (John 16:14).
The Holy Spirit gives us our gifts and produces fruit in our lives. When He indwells us, He begins the work of harvesting His fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are not works of our flesh….t they are products of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
The knowledge that the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in our lives, that He performs all these miraculous functions, that He dwells with us forever, and that He will never leave or forsake us is cause for great joy and comfort. Thank God for this precious gift—the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives!
Now you’ve heard what a Christian believes, as well as the mark, or proof, as evidenced by the seal of the Holy Spirit, that Christ is within us. The next most important consideration is this: What do you believe….. and is there is proof that Christ resides with you. Are you sealed?
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