Today’s Reading: “I believe in God, The Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day, He rose again. He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will 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. Amen.”
In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity. St. Augustine
In the work we do at The Contemplative Activist, my wife, Sandy, and I come alongside a broad network of people representing a variety of denominational backgrounds. As a bridge-builder, working in agreement with the oneness Jesus prays for (see Session 16), we believe that it’s always important to stay open and cordial to those in our midst who might hold to different doctrinal practices in their Christian faith. Thus, in our coaching and spiritual direction sessions, we will never insist that you conform to or agree with any particular practices of Christianity that are foreign to you or are vastly different from your particular system of belief.
Since A.D. 390, The Apostles Creed has served as a powerful reference point for most Christians when it comes to identifying the core beliefs of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. And yet some would say that The Creed, while helpful in pointing out a set of core beliefs, isn’t comprehensive when it comes to setting in stone all the key truths necessary in defining true Christian orthodoxy.
For example, nowhere in The Creed does it mention the high authority that traditional Christianity places on the Bible. I suppose, indirectly, when The Creed mentions the “holy catholic church,” one might suggest that the importance of God’s Word is included there. Yet for many, the absence of a statement that addresses the primary way by which God speaks to His people is a missing piece in any Christian creed.
As it is with so many documents that attempt to be comprehensive, there will always be something missing from someone’s perspective. If one comes from a Catholic tradition, there will be certain things you’d want to include in a written creed, yet if a Protestant believer had his or her way, the wording might be totally different. Today, with all the different flavors of Christianity, it would be nearly impossible to have one small document that satisfies all. Which brings me to the final point I want to make as we close this blog series on The Apostles Creed.
When it comes to addressing this on-going desire to have a statement of what Christians believe, I like the way our good friend, Pastor Steve Sjogren, addresses the many doctrinal differences found within the larger Body of Christ by separating them into three broad categories:
‘Essentials’ are a very small circle of vital, life-giving Kingdom-basics, rock-bottom biblical truths, that we bridge-builders must never compromise on as we work hard to stretch our lives and faith toward others from a variety of backgrounds. ‘Traditions’ compose a much larger circle of beliefs. Generally, ‘Traditions’ are the many practices we Christians have determined are important as we live out our faith in Christ. It’s in this circle we find the rich diversity that makes up the denominational differences found in the larger church of Jesus Christ. Finally, ‘Opinions’ are just that. And since they compose the largest circle of thought by far, ‘Opinions’ will be abundant at every turn in church life. Unfortunately, the church becomes quite divided and often, weakened, when we confuse ‘Traditions’ with ‘Essentials’. Worse yet, Christians often take ‘Opinions’ and allow them to divide us from other brothers and sisters in Christ, leaving us to go it alone in our faith journey in life.
As I see it, The Apostles Creed has served us well for nearly 1,700 years, giving us the core ‘essentials’ of the Christian faith. and will do so until the day Jesus splits the sky, ushering in a new age where what you and I say we believe will no longer be debated, but will be clearly visible in and through the Risen Christ!
In the meantime, as we close this blog series on The Creed, allow me to add in, what I call, five ‘essentials’ as the base from which our ministry, The Contemplative Activist, has chosen to operate. Please note that I’m not attempting here to replace, in any way, The Apostles Creed, but simply giving you five ‘essentials’ in the form of five basic questions, which if left unanswered, will leave all of us floating in a world of doctrinal confusion and uncertainty…
Essential #1: Who is God? We believe that there is one God and Creator, eternally existing in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Deuteronomy 6: 3-4
Essential #2: What about the Bible? We believe that the Bible is God’s inspired and authoritative written revelation to us, containing His Kingdom Message of hope, love, and redemption to a lost and dying world. 2nd Timothy 3: 16-17
Essential #3: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, death on the cross to provide for our redemption, bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven, present-day ministry of intercession for us, and His second coming to earth in power and glory. Acts 4: 10-12
Essential #4: Who is the Holy Spirit? We believe in the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, that He performs the miracle of new birth, and indwells, equips and empowers us to walk with God, accomplishing the works of His Kingdom through our humble service to Him. John 14: 16-17
Essential #5: What does all this mean for us? We believe that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, but because of our sin and selfishness, our lives become separated from Him and alienated from each other. It’s through abiding faith, trusting in Jesus of Nazareth alone for our redemption, where God’s grace and forgiveness can truly be found, and our lives restored and reconciled with both our Creator and His creation. Ephesians 2: 4-9
So, there you have it. Along with The Apostles Creed, we offer these five ‘essentials’ which hopefully can form a solid base on which many in the Body of Christ can gather around. It’s our belief here that by laying out these basics, we can build a rock-solid foundation on which our Jesus-centered ministry will never stray. And by holding to these Kingdom-truths while embracing the rich diversity of ‘traditions’ and ‘opinions’ in our midst, we believe that all of us can better discover the powerful ‘unity’ Jesus prayed for:
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, so they might be one heart and mind with Us. Then the world might believe that You, in fact, sent Me. The same glory You gave Me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as We are—I in them and You in Me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that You’ve sent Me and loved them in the same way You’ve loved Me. John 17: 21-23 MsgB
My prayer: Jesus, it’s very apparent that Your Church has found itself, at numerous times throughout history, very divided. Our present day is no different. Our squabbling over ‘traditions’ and ‘opinions’ has weakened the faith, confusing many inside the church while alienating the very people we desire to reach through Your love. Holy Spirit, transform us from the inside out, making us one, just as the Father and Son are one. May our diversity no longer divide us. May our Oneness with You be evident to all. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What practical steps might I take to reduce friction with other believers over issues of ‘traditions’ and ‘opinions?’ How might I unite with others around a basic set of ‘essentials’ so that Jesus’ prayer for oneness might be answered in my circle of influence?
So, what are you experiencing today as we are Contemplating The Creed?
Over a seven-week period, you and I have taken a deeper look at The Apostles Creed. Thank you for joining us! In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Creed home page for ease of use.
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