Thursday, 11 January 2007

I Love This Creed (A Little History, A Little Opinion)

From its inception, the Christian faith has been attacked by various heresies, and through them all it has survived. In speaking of the survival of orthodox Christianity in the face of various heresies, G. K. Chesterton likened it to a river flowing through the sea. “And while all that sea was salt and bitter”, he says, “of this one stream in the midst of it a man could drink.”

From the beginning of the Christian faith, the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:20b) has threatened to creep in and corrupt the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3b). Jesus predicted that false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (Mat 24:11). The Apostle Peter also assured us that heresies would occur. (2 Peter 2:1). If Jesus and Peter actually predicted them we should hardly be surprised that they would occur.

In response to various early heresies, the Church developed statements of faith, or Creeds, stressing the beliefs that oppose specific tenets of these heretical teachings.

One of the earliest creeds, and one I truly love, was what would later (not until the 5th or 6th century) come to be known as the “Apostles’ Creed.” It dates in its earliest form to the mid second century and was set down by Hippolytus in a baptismal creed around AD 200. It makes several statements directly addressing various points of heretical teaching.

The Apostles’ Creed states:

“I believe in God the father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth...”

This emphasizes that, contrary to Gnostic thinking, it is the Supreme, “God the Father Almighty” who created all creation, not some lesser spiritual being.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary...”

Here we see the orthodox view reinforced that Jesus was both God and man, denying the Gnostic position that the Spirit was not involved with Jesus until his baptism. The creed affirms that Jesus was born (meaning he had a real physical body), of a virgin (declaring, or at least strongly implying, his divinity).

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate...”

The story was not just a myth, but was firmly fixed at a certain date in history.

“...was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

Again, showing that Jesus was not an illusion; he had a real body. He was nailed to a cross. He actually died.

Later on, the creed affirms belief in the “holy catholic Church.” Gnostics believed that their special mystical knowledge was available only to a select few, while the Church (and indeed, Christ himself, in Mat. 28:19) taught that the Gospel was to be preached to all. Christ’s true church would be made up of members from all nations. Therefore the term “catholic,” meaning, “universal.”

The creed also speaks of, “the forgiveness of sins.” The Gnostic belief that matter, therefore the human body, was entirely evil, led to two quite opposite patterns of behaviour. Some believed that every desire of the flesh was to be severely subdued, and as a result led lives of great asceticism and self-denial. Others held that, because the body, being evil could have nothing to do with the Spirit, it didn’t matter what one did, and lived very licentious lives, indulging every passion and desire. In either case, forgiveness of sins was not even considered. Other heretical movements, notably Donatism and Montanism, took a very hard line on sin, believing that certain lapses were unforgivable. The creed’s affirmation of forgiveness of sins confronted these erroneous views head-on.

And finally,

“...the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Salvation, to Gnostics, meant finally leaving the body in which it was trapped and being free forever from any association with evil matter, returning to the realm of pure Spirit. Hence they would have rejected any notion of the physical resurrection of the body.

This early creed, then, was a point-by-point refutation of various heretical deviations. It was a means of identifying true Christians, who could not recite it and remain true to unorthodox thinking, and it was an instrument for educating new converts in the true faith in a time of widespread illiteracy.

Today it is a powerful declaration of the orthodox Christian faith. It is a battle cry, even, which true Christian believers can proclaim boldly in the face of liberalism, modernism, synchretism, “enlightened” thinking, and the trend on the part of some churches to soften the traditional Christian message in the name of “seeker sensitivity.” Ultimately even in the face of the enemy, Satan himself.

I promised a little opinion; that will come next.

Take Care

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