Friday, September 27, 2013

The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.
The Apostles' Creed comes from one of the earliest known baptismal confessions.  Adopted by the church in Rome, its use spread quickly throughout the empire.  Although creeds didn't take on their regulative character until the fourth century, it is thought that this formulation accurately expresses the essence of the apostolic teaching.

The beauty of this creed appears in is simple statement of foundational Christian beliefs.  It begins with the assertion of God as the all-powerful creator.  This statement implies the existence of duties that all creatures owe to their creator.  We also perceive our failure to fulfill those duties.

The solution to our failure is Jesus Christ, the divine Son, and God.  The creed affirms the virgin birth, the supernatural incarnation restating Jesus' divine nature.  The death, burial, resurrection, and ascension focus our attention on Christ's past work of redemption.  Although unstated, His activity forms the basis of the latter assertion of God's forgiveness of our sin, or the forgiveness of our failure to fulfill our creature duties toward the creator.

The conclusion of this section on Christ focuses on His present and future work of redemption.  He now sits at the right hand of the Father.  This signals Jesus' present reign and intercession.  He rules over the world, though in ways that are not apparent.  He acts as our advocate before the Father.  The Father hears us just as He hears His Son sitting next to Him.

The final section draws our attention to our present benefits from Christ's work.  His Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, indwells us.  The church, the assembly of God's people who believe just like us, surrounds us.  We live together with this new people group.

In Christ, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Eph.1:7)  This present reality of our acceptance before God assures us of our future.  This means the redemption of the body in our resurrection and the continuation of life forever.

As breathtaking as this creed seems in its simplicity and thoroughness, it is not without controversy.  Two points require clarification.  The first is a simple vocabulary definition.  When the creed states, "the holy catholic church," it is not making a denominational statement.  It does not support the Roman church.  It simply affirms that our local communion of saints operates within a global church.  We are not the only people of God, but worship the same redeemer as all those around the globe that Christ's blood has washed clean.

The second controversy delves deeper.  We must understand the phrase, "He descended into hell."  Among Christians, the original supposition interpreted this phrase to mean that Christ entered hell or the realm of the dead.  The interpretation that Christ entered into the realm of the dead does not bear much weight because it would simply restate the fact that Jesus died (affirmed in the previous phrase) which would be redundant.  The reformed view understands this phrase as Christ suffered hell or the punishment our sins deserved on the cross.  Both this and the previous interpretation focus on the suffering of Christ for our sin by taking our hell for us.  In this way, they both have been acceptable interpretations within the Christian church.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses.  The former takes the words of the creed seriously, but has scant Biblical support.  The latter has better Biblical support, but interrupts the chronology of the creed.  I prefer the latter, but cannot condemn the former simply because little is said about Christ's activity during His days in the grave.

The Apostles' Creed takes us back to Christianity 101.  It harkens back to the simplicity of a church in its infancy.  With the necessity and depth of a church that has plumbed the depths of God's revelation of Himself, how pleasant it is to come up for air regularly.  We need to step back and see the big picture as we continue our deep studies.  The Apostles' Creed is no anthem for anti-intellectualism, but a reign on scholastic obscurantism.  It reminds every Christian struggling to know God and live in Christ, how it all began, what we have now, and where we are going.

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