Apostle's Creed - I Believe in God
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 7 May 2017
Exodus 3: 13 - 15
Acts 17: 24 - 28
In the first century Christian life was a little different than it is now. The religion was new and not fully understood by those who practiced it. There was no Bible yet, only the ancient texts of the Hebrew people offered insight into the doctrine, all part of the Jewish faith. The Messiah of the Jewish faith, it turns out, not only offered salvation to the Israelites, but also to every man, woman, and child on the earth. It was good news, but difficult to understand in the totality of its meaning. What did this salvation bring? How was Jesus the Christ capable of achieving this for us? What were the properties of Jesus’ existence and His relationship to God? Just who is God and what is God’s purpose in doing all of this? I would imagine that the news being spread about salvation and redemption, and the abundance of God’s grace and mercy, was met with some appreciation and acceptance, but also with greater questions. So, if I am a Christian, what is it that I have to believe? Something we never ask ourselves now...yeah right.
Gnosticism and Marcionism
We have discussed our current division of Christianity into thousands of denominations. Each denomination is slightly different than the other in its doctrinal elements or philosophies. Generally, the differences have to deal with an interpretation of Scripture or practice of faith, and are unique to the individuality of those adhering to the denominational practice. For example, in some denominations of Christianity it is unacceptable to drink alcohol, while in others it is not given a second thought. These are modes of practice comprising the understandings of those in a particular practicing population of a specified Christian church. We could spend hours naming the nuances and differences between many denominations just with the knowledge and exposure to those denominations by the folks in this room.
Some of the questions that plagued the Christian church’s differences concerned the nature of Jesus and the understanding of God’s principle of salvation. These were not modes of religious practice, but instead tenets of the faith; answering the question what does it mean to be Christian. Let me explain with an example, as Christianity grew a segment of the Christian population came to believe in Gnosticism which had to deal with the mystic knowledge gained through the experience of Christ. According to Gnosticism, greatly simplified here, was that Christ had delivered a secret knowledge to His disciples. It was a revelation from God and only those having contact with Christ or those who have had contact with Christ would gain access to this knowledge. The problem was that in this understanding of attaining personal enlightenment through secret knowledge the role of Christ was minimized and the elevation of the person was maximized. The salvation principle was changed and not supported by the teachings of the early church. It was what we would call heretical.
A second version of this crept up in the 2nd century and was championed by a man named Marcion. Marcionism claimed that there were two Gods, a lesser one that was bad and present throughout the Old Testament and the new, nicer God, that sent Jesus to earth. In this presentation of the religion Jesus was not fully incarnate, or made human, so it strayed from the understanding of Jesus’ mortality that we have today.
Because of the possibility of these unaccepted and implausible understandings of the Gospel the church had to do something to create a standard. Something that would allow everyone to be on the same page. Thus, parts of a creed were written by a Christian Philosospher named Irenaeus as early as 190 AD, but it wasn’t officially established as the Apostle’s Creed until much later (200 years later) through a letter written to Pope Siricius. The purpose of the creed was to establish the baseline, the foundation, the common understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.
“I Believe in God, Creator of Heaven and Earth”
First line builds the foundation
Something you hold true
Movie Memento where a man has amnesia and tries to solve a crime, problem is that every day he wakes up forgetting what he knew the previous day
Things that can change are written on post its, part truths are written on his body with pen, but facts - hard truths are tattooed on his body
Our beliefs are tattooed on our bodies
One God, the God
I Am - I exist all around, I am throughout and within, I AM
God of both the Old Testament and the New
Transcendent and Immanent
Above us and with us
Untouchable and “Father”
We are made in God’s image - the Imago Dei
God is to be experienced
We were made to praise and worship God
The Apostle’s Creed provides clarity as to what it means to be a Christian. We will be exploring that meaning each week in greater detail as we move through “The Creed” study on Wednesday nights and when we come together on Sunday mornings. The purpose of this focus is to not beat into our heads and our hearts the differences that we have with other practicing Christians but to show that there is one heartbeat in the body of Christ and it is held in the unity of these words that begin with the phrase “I believe”.
There is greater unity in the faith of knowing that between all Christians, there is greater commonality in the foundation than differences in dogma would allow us to admit. We are not as different in our faith as we may appear to be. We can sort through all of our post it notes and wash off all of the ball point pen to reveal those tattoos that cover our body. At the top of the list is the phrase, “I believe in God”.