Monday, June 26, 2006

No. 13: Creeds

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I have been thinking about the Christian creeds. The two primary Christian creeds are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.

A creed is a confession of faith. It is the proclamation of a core set of beliefs that we are seeking to live by. While theology addresses the large scope of the knowledge of God—and that in great detail—the Christian creeds have reduced the many truths of Scripture into essential, foundational statements of faith. The English word "creed" comes from the Latin, credo, which simply means "I believe."

When Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter gave a short, yet profound response: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (Matt. 16:15-16 NASB). At this moment in Peter’s life and understanding, these words reflected his core belief about the person and nature of Jesus Christ. This statement was Peter’s creed.

The Apostles’ Creed: The earliest trace of the Apostles’ Creed is found in the writings of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome sometime in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD. Among the many words found in his writings is the statement that Christ was born "of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died and was raised from the dead."

The Nicene Creed: Formulated at the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325 AD, the Nicene Creed is the most widely used of all the Christian Creeds. It is the only creed created by an ecumenical council. The Nicene Creed preceded the canonization of the New Testament.

The creeds emerged early in Church history as a defense against false teachers and their apostate teachings. And they capture in concise but profound terms, the essence of our faith.

Not long ago I attended a baseball game at RFK Stadium between the Nationals and the Phillies. Before the game began, all stood, removed their hats, and turned reverently toward the flag above the centerfield bleachers. We listened as a chorale from North Dakota sang our National Anthem. I got to thinking about our nation's unifying songs and our pledge: "Oh say, can you see ..."; "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies ..."; "God bless America, land that I love ..."; "I pledge allegiance, to the flag ..."

Even as Americans are united in our common citizenship through public songs and declarations, so the Christian creeds unite believers in our common Christian faith. I was raised in a traditional, liturgical church. Our Sunday services included public responsive liturgical readings, public collective confessions of sin, recitation of the creeds, and praying the Lord's prayer in unison.

In most of our evangelical churches today, we no longer practice these traditional forms of worship. Beginning in the early 19th century, as Americans headed west to pursue freedom and individuality, churches also began to diverge into multiple forms of expression. We lost some of the rich traditions that have bound us together for many centuries.

The Christian creeds unify us, binding us together in a common confession of our faith. “I believe …”


The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried;
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in The Holy Spirit;
The Holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

No. 12: Theology

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I have been thinking about theology. It is a word that scares some Christians, but it is also a word that excites others. Although not super popular in modern evangelicalism, theology was once known as the “queen of the sciences.”

Though rarely thought of as such, theology is technically, a science. The suffix “ology” is a Greek word meaning “science of” or sometimes “study of.” Technically the suffix “ology” denotes a “branch of study” in a particular field. From that Greek origin we have derived such words as biology, geology, archaeology, zoology, and many others. Theology is thus literally “the science (or study) of God.”

Paul admonished Timothy to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (I Timothy 2:15 KJV) Theology helps us to do just what Paul said. In the Greek, the word “dividing” in its transliterated form is Orthotomeo, which literally means to cut straight, to handle aright, to teach the truth directly and correctly.

In the study of biology, scientists divide life into categories and sub-categories: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Through categorization, organisms—both plant and animal—are examined and studied and better understood.

Likewise, theologians have divided the study of God into several sub-branches of their field of “science.” The most common among them are:

  • Theology Proper: the study of God
  • Anthropology: the study of man
  • Soteriology: the study of redemption
  • Eschatology: the study of things to come
  • Ecclesiology: the study of the church

By dividing and categorizing the truths of Scripture in this way, theologians enable us to better understand God, His creation, and our place as fallen, yet redeemed sinners. Theology helps us to know God more fully.

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5 NIV)

On the downside, the temptation of theologians and the study of theology, is to limit our relationship with God to merely a cerebral one. Theology is not meant to be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. In this case, the end is a fuller, deeper, richer understanding of, and relationship with the God we love and serve.



“… the means by which God gives us understanding to the things concerning Himself and our relationship to Him. In a broader sense, theology is Christ living out His life in our lives through His Spirit that we may know God as He knows God, and be One with the Father, as He and the Father are One. Theology properly understood is not just mental knowledge of the Bible. God is a living God, and His word is living. We know His word through a relationship with Him and a daily hunger and feeding on His word.”

The above definition is courtesy of: The Apologia Project

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Monday, June 12, 2006

No. 11: Doctrine

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I have been thinking about doctrine. It is a word that has fallen out of favor with many American Christians in the past generation.

I recall a number of times in my early years as a believer hearing someone say, “We don’t need doctrine. We just need Jesus.” I have probably said it myself.

Now, ask yourself two simple questions. 1) “Who is Jesus?” 2) Why do we need Him?” To answer these questions correctly, one needs doctrine. I will address this point further in just a moment, but first, a bit of history.

Doctrine has more than one meaning. No doubt, you have heard of the Monroe Doctrine. In a policy set in place in 1823 by our fifth U.S. president, James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine declares that future colonization of the Americas by the European nations would no longer be tolerated by the United States. In return, Monroe promised that the U.S. would not engage itself in any European wars.

Perhaps you have also heard of the Bush Doctrine. In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, President Bush declared in an address to the United States Congress on September 20, 2002, that the U.S. would "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,"

In both cases, a statement by a U.S. President established the nation’s future course. In these cases the idea of doctrine involves a nation’s foreign policy.

Christian doctrine is similar to foreign policy doctrine in that it establishes something of permanence, often marking a moment in time as a reference point. But Christian doctrine also adds a layer of meaning.

“Who is Jesus?” Without doctrine, Jesus is but a mere figure of history, a good teacher, a prophet, perhaps, and someone whose ideas are probably worth considering. We might even agree that He suffered a crucifixion. But so what?

Doctrine establishes not only the facts of Jesus’ life, it also affirms the significance of those facts. Christ’s life and teachings and death are meaningless unless we believe His claim that no one can come to the Father, except through Him (John 14:4); that He has power to forgive sins (Luke 5:20,21, 24); that He is one with the Father, and that seeing Him is the equivalent of seeing the Father (John 10:9-10); and that He would rise up from the dead (John 19:17).

To believe these things, and the many other claims that Christ made about Himself, one also must believe that Christ is more than just a mortal man. He is God incarnate.

“Why do we need Him?” Man’s fallen state is clear and obvious. Our individual and collective dysfuntionalities evidence our corrupted, human state. Broken families, crimes, and wars demonstrate the gap between what we are, and what we are meant to be. We are lost. Countless human remedies to our collective lostness have failed us time and again.

The doctrine of Christ adds the layer of meaning to the facts of His existence. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)
But if Christ were not God, His suffering and death would not have the power to take away our sins.

Without doctrine, clinging to Jesus would mean very little.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

No. 10: Orthodoxy

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I have been thinking about orthodoxy. Yes, it is a big, “five-dollar” word. But it is a word that every Christian should be both familiar with and comfortable using.

The word “orthodoxy” is built from two Greek words: ortho, which means right or correct, and doxa, which means thought or teaching. Taken together, these two Greek words simply mean “right thinking,” or perhaps more specifically, “correct teaching.”

Before I get too far down the pike with this exploration of orthodoxy, I should note that I purposefully use a small “o” when discussing the word. This is done so as not to confuse the reader with the Orthodox Church, which is one of many expressions of the Christian faith in the world, and some say, the most ancient, although my Roman Catholic friends would no doubt contend with that last statement.

Small “o” orthodoxy speaks of the core beliefs of our historical Christian faith. It is most often associated with the statements of faith found in the classical Christian creeds, particularly the Apostles Creed.

Christian orthodoxy is our first line of defense against false teachings and false teachers. Scripture warns us that throughout our lives, we will encounter our share of them.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." 2 Peter 2:1-3

We even find warnings about false teachers in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 13:1-18 and 18:14-22).

The benefit of Christian orthodoxy is that we are not left to struggle with our own, self-derived definition of God. This is because God has chosen to reveal and define Himself to us. He has not left us to guess who He is. (See No. 9)

Visit a college campus and ask the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” How many different answers do you think you will hear? There are many Jesus’ today. To some He is the healer and the burden-bearer. To others He is a teacher, a philosopher, or maybe a really good example. To others still He is the liberator or the revolutionary.

Maybe we see Jesus simply as One who loves us unconditionally. That way we can continue to live in sin and still feel good about ourselves. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Him because He did not conform to their expectations.

Orthodoxy, or “right thinking” about the person and work of Jesus Christ, is essential for all who claim to be Christian. Without Christian orthodoxy at the center or core of our belief system, we are cheated of genuine relationship with the King of the universe, and we end up settling for a self-derived, faux-Christian spirituality.

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