The Creed: What We Believe
I BELIEVE in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I BELIEVE in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I BELIEVE in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, and forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Today begins a four-week exploration of the Apostles’ Creed. We’re going to look at this bold statement of the Christian faith line-by-line because it’s important for us to know what we believe and to stay committed to it. Two generations ago, English writer Dorothy Sayers wrote in Creed or Chaos, “It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously…and it is fatal to image that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it.” When she wrote these words, Sayers was standing witness to the erosion of religious practice in her own country. Sound familiar? Her call to action is certainly relevant to our own situation in America today.
We cannot assume that “everybody knows well what Christianity is.” Even in the church, many people are paying lip service to the key points of Christian dogma (I’m going to explain that word in a moment), but they aren’t thinking about what those words mean or driving those beliefs down into their hearts.
Christian theologians typically use three broad categories to talk about Christian teaching. First is dogma, the things we believe that are primary in importance. These things are covered in the Creed: God as Creator, Jesus as Savior, the Spirit as the third person of the God-head; the hope of the saints in forgiveness, community, resurrection, and life eternal. The Creed focuses on dogma. Second is doctrine, which are the things we believe that are secondary in importance. Doctrinal matters are usually biblical, but because interpretation and perspective varies, our beliefs can diverge. Some familiar doctrinal variants are baptism by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring; communion as a time of remembrance or a time of spiritually feeding on Christ or both; and the return of Christ pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation. (My dad has simple confession: “I believe that Jesus is coming before the tribulation. Unless he doesn’t. Then I believe he is coming in the middle of the tribulation. Unless he doesn’t. Then I’ll know he’s coming at the end.”) It is good to have thoughtful views and to chat about these things over a cup of coffee. Our views will flavour our ministry. But we need to keep these things in perspective because they are lesser in importance than dogma.
The final category is adiaphora, which literally means “indifferent matters.” Plenty of Christians have taken items from this category and elevated them to the level of doctrine or dogma. What Christians eat or drink, how they can or can’t participate in culture, how they should educate their children, whether or not trick-or-treating or playing cards or some other activity is sinful. Some people spend a lot of energy on this stuff! Scripture may not be specific about these matters, but it is pretty clear on how they should be handled: come to a thoughtful opinion, don’t be arrogant or judgmental about it, and be very careful that your freedom does not lead you or others astray (1 Cor. 8). Or as we often say at Calvary, “In the essentials unity; in the non-essentials liberty; in all things charity” (Augustine, d. 430 AD).
The Creed series is all about the essentials. And the essentials, our dogma, matters. We must not simply change what we believe because the culture has changed. We must be, as I have said before, rooted and relevant. Rooted means that we are committed to Scripture and all that Scripture teaches. Relevant means we are communicating the unchanging gospel in ways that resonate with a changing world. It’s like the work going on at Wrigley Field. The Cubs organization is making significant changes to update the building and make it more fitting for the 21st century baseball fan, but they aren’t changing the game. The bases are still 90 feet apart, and the rules are still 3-strikes-and-you’re-out. Relevant and rooted. Do you know why they’re making the changes? Baseball is so awesome, and they want people to come and enjoy the game! We’ve got an even more awesome reason to stay rooted and be relevant. We’re taking the unchanging Word of God to a changing world!