The Slow Train from Christendumb

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Countless Christians for Centuries

Christians are those who confess the faith. The Faith is not the same as faith.  Ordinarily, faith is a verb.  In this instance, faith is both a verb and a noun.  I believe (verb) the Faith (noun).  That is something very active and something very concrete.  My purpose is not to offer a refresher course in the finer point of English grammar, but rather to remind the reader that our faith is very specific and very precious.

When the Apostolic writers urge us to “hold fast to the faith” and “earnestly contend for the faith once (for all) delivered to the saints” they aren’t commanding us to strain our spiritual muscles into a cramped state of abstract believing in only God knows what.  They are telling us to believe the body of Christian doctrine which has been received by fathers and passed down to sons.  That is a very specific body of truth.  Belief alone is not Christian.  Believing the truth is Christian.

We are not asked to confess our faith in isolation, but rather in concert with other saints throughout the world, and down through the long history of the Church.  I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  When those hallowed words arise from our hearts and enter the world through our lips we are taking a stand as historic Christians.

Together with that great cloud of witnesses, we believe in God the Father Almighty.  The God of the Bible is not some limp-wristed, diminutive deity.  He is Almighty, and it comforts us to know that this omnipotent One is our Father.  He is not a vague Benevolence; He is the king of all glory and nothing is too hard for Him.  At the same time, we confess that He is our Father.  As the Almighty One, the distance between us and Him is infinite.  Loving condescension on His part spans that great gulf as He takes us into His bosom, in union with His Son, and makes us Heirs of God.

Because He is Maker of heaven and earth, we did not come about as the result of primordial forces working manfully away on a pile of primordial goo.  We were created, imago Dei, by the same One who made everything in heaven and on earth, by the simple word of His power.  As John the Apostle reminds us, nothing that was made was made apart from Him.

We are Christians; we know that Jesus Christ our Lord is the only-begotten Son of the Father.  This refers to His unique status as one who never began to be the Son of God.  The relationship between Father and Son is an eternal one, just as the author of Hebrews teaches us.  There never was a time when He was not. Jesus Christ is eternally-begotten of the Father.  This is the One whom we confess as our Lord.  To confess another (or fail to confess this One) is to fall short of salvation.

Everything about the beginning of His incarnation was miraculous, from His conception to His virgin birth.  At the end of His life, Jesus died and was buried during the rule of a particular governor of Judea.  These things are no myth; they were not done in a corner.  These are reliable, historical facts.  This we confess.  The manner of His death and burial was in full accordance with the Scriptures.  The cross, burial and resurrection are the heart of the gospel.  He rose from the dead physically.  A spirit does not have flesh and bones as Jesus did, and still does.  Christ the Lord is enthroned today at God’s right hand.  As the psalmist says, He will remain there until all of His enemies are subdued and placed beneath His feet.  At the end of history, Christ will judge all men.  God has declared that Christ is the Judge of all by bringing Him back from the dead.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and has all the divine attributes held by both the Father and the Son, and in His power He binds together the holy catholic Church.  In part, we make this confession because we share the communion of this Church with every true saint throughout all history.  In the heart of the new covenant, at the center of this communion, we find forgiveness of sins.  If this is not true then we are sunk.

As Christians, we do not hold to the immortality of the soul, but rather to the resurrection of the dead.  We will live forever as sons and daughters of God—in the body.  This life forever is the grace of God, a grace which will never cease.

As this summary of the Apostles’ Creed makes clear, the ancient creeds have done much to shape the expression of our common faith.  In a similar way, Nicea and Chalcedon give us a time-tested way to confess the truth of God as it is found in Christ.  The language of these creeds is formal, lofty, scriptural, and Christ honoring.  In these creeds, we find clear testimony of the heart of the gospel—the cross and burial, the resurrection and ascension, the enthronement of Christ, and His second coming in power and glory.  This gospel is always to be understood as that which God did for us in Christ, and not that which we do by some act of our own will.

These creeds were born in controversy. We take the answers for granted now, but when they were under dispute, the future of all Christendom was hanging in the balance.  Further, the history of the creeds shows us the idea of creedal advance.  The Church grows and matures doctrinally over time.  Some wonderful creedal and confessional statements have been made since the time of these early confessions, but only by portions of the Church.  The Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession are wonderful examples of this kind of doctrinal maturity which is possible—but creeds of this caliber have not yet been confessed by the Church universally.  A central part of our duty is to labor and pray for the time when the entire Church is mature enough to confess a truly Reformed faith, reformed according to the scripture.

Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to do much pressing on.  Part of the reason why creedal advance has stalled in our generation is because of mindless neglect.  We have seriously neglected those truths which the Church has confessed universally.  Such agreement provides the only possible foundation for building further.  The Church, no less than individuals, needs to live up to what it has already attained.

For the modern evangelical, who does not believe in creeds, this is all just too much.  He has no respect for ecclesiastical history, or the sovereign providence of God over all history.  So he wants none of it—he does not believe it.  If he knew a little Latin, he could begin his denial with non Credo, which in its short, succinct way, is a nice little creed.  In the world that God made there is no place for neutrality.  We must either affirm or we must deny.

He may yet still continue to protest.  He does not believe in creeds because He has the Bible.  He believes the Bible—the Bible only.  Isn’t this the classical Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura?  Um, no.  There is no refuge here from the necessity of creeds.  That would be like hiding in the lion’s belly in order to escape his teeth. When a man opens his Bible, the first thing he encounters—the table of contents—is a creed.  When a man looks at the spine and sees the letters KJV, NASB, ESV, NKJV, he is gazing upon a small creed.  Because the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, the Church must testify concerning the truth.  Even the man who says that he has no time for creeds and wants to stick with the Bible alone must say that this book and not that one is “the Bible alone.”

When a man says, “I believe,” he has confessed adherence to a creed.  When a man says, “I do not believe,” well, he has confessed adherence to a creed too.  The question is not whether or not you will confess faith.  The question is, which faith will you confess?

It’s time that we stop spitting on the graves of our fathers.  They gave us much.  We own them much.  It seems that someone quite important once said, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”  We have a God-given obligation to perpetuate the faith to the ends of the earth.  That train never leaves the station unless it has tracks under it.  Those tracks go all the way back to the beginning point.  Our job is to run to the end of the line and carry as many passengers as we can back to the original point of origin.

Orthodox confession ought to be like an involuntary reflex to us.   We ought to always be ready to give an answer for the reason of the hope that lies within us.  Sharing our faith is predicated on upon knowing it.  So, “Christian, what do you believe?”  Hopefully we will say something like,

“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 Ghost,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, 

Was crucified, died, and was buried;

He descended into hell;

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, 

And sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence 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 life everlasting.”

Amen and Amen.

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