Tomorrow I begin a 13-week series titled, Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed. Tomorrow’s message is the first in the series, “I Believe: An Introduction To The Apostles’ Creed.” I hope your Lord’s Day is wonderful, and that your affirmations of faith, whatever form they take, will help your members “watch their life and doctrine” as Paul admonished young Timothy.
Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed
“I Believe: An Introduction To The Apostles’ Creed”
1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
6If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
11Command and teach these things. 12Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. — I Timothy 4:1-16 NIV
Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely
Paul the apostle is writing to his protege in the ministry, a young man named Timothy. Paul knows Timothy, knows his mother, knows his grandmother, and Paul knows that Timothy comes from good stock. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy of his heritage as he writes —
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” 2 Timothy 1:5
But, in this letter, Paul’s first to young Timothy, he admonishes the young preacher to —
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
This must be pretty important stuff because Paul says Timothy will save both himself and his hearers if he heeds Paul’s advice.
We’re pretty familiar with telling each other to watch our lives, watch how we live as believers. Gerhard Lohfink said that the church is a “contrast society.” By that he meant that Christians, gathered in community together, live differently than the world around them. Live in contrast to the normal, or accepted rules of the greater society.
And Christian history overflows with our best moments when we rose to the challenge of being a contrast society. In times of early persecution, Christians went to their deaths in the arenas with the testimony of Christ on their lips. Simon Peter himself, when faced with crucifixion, requested to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Lord.
Down through the centuries Christians have nursed those struck down by plagues, when no one else would care for them. Putting their own lives in danger, and many did die, Christians cared for those abandoned by society and government, earning the admiration of generations that followed.
Christians have opposed war, worked for the abolition of slavery, insisted that the hungry be fed, and those in poverty lifted up. We have watched our lives both personally and collectively as Christ’s witnesses for over 2,000 years. Have there been colossal failures? Of course, but at least we now recognize them to be such, and admit freely that as part of looking to our lives, we have the duty to repent of past sins both individual and communal.
So, we’re familiar with self-examination and community conscience which is driven by our commitment to Jesus Christ.
But if there is anything we lack in the 21st century, it is the other half of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “watch your doctrine.” In our family of faith, doctrine has become the embarrassing uncle, the one we never talk about, but are related to anyway.
In seminary, my professors used the ridiculous illustration of medieval theologians debating about how many angels could stand on the head of a pin, to illustrate how silly those times were. But doctrine today has taken on the same kind of silliness in our society.
But let me stop here and clarify what I mean by doctrine, and what I think Paul meant by doctrine. I do not mean “Baptist doctrine” and of course, neither did Paul. I do not mean the things that distinguish this congregation from our near neighbors who are worshipping at the Methodist church, or the Presbyterian church, or the Episcopal church this morning. What I mean, and I think what Paul meant when he uses the word “doctrine” are those beliefs that distinguish us from the rest of the world, from those who do not share our faith.
The danger Paul saw for young Timothy was two-fold:
First, that Timothy would not live an exemplary life and would therefore lose his effectiveness as a young preacher. That’s why Paul tells him to watch his life, how he lives, what he does, the actions he takes, the behaviors he engages in. That’s why Paul says to him, “12Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
But secondly, Paul was also concerned that Timothy would get blown off-course by “every wind of doctrine,” by old wives tales and false teaching. Paul writes, “1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
The Christian movement is over 30-years old at this point, and already there are challenges to the apostles. The Judaizers were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to become observant Jews before they could become Christians. Paul countered that falsehood with his letter to the church in Galatia.
The Gnostics were claiming that Jesus only appeared to have a body, and wasn’t really flesh-and-blood like we are. Or, that the Christ Spirit descended on the human Jesus at his baptism making him the Christ, and that this Christ-spirit left him before his death on the cross. John the Beloved answered that heresy in 1, 2, and 3 John.
So rather than the first century being a time when all followers of Christ were going in the same direction, it was a time of intense challenges to the very heart of the good news.
An Outline for Watching Our Doctrine
Okay, enough history for right now. So, what does that have to do with us here 20-centuries later. Just this: the Church under assault by the similar forces today. We just finished an 8-week study of the challenges that every church faces. In the face of secularism, pluralism, nominalism, materialism, criticism, postmodernism, and atheism what are we supposed to do?
Well, in dealing with each of those challenges, I talked about watching our lives — how we live and relate to the world around us. But beginning today, I want to spend the next 13-weeks talking about how we watch our doctrine. And as our outline for this look at Christian doctrine, I am using the Apostles’ Creed.
I am waiting for the gasps of disbelief to die down. A Baptist preacher using the Apostles’ Creed. Baptists don’t believe in creeds. In the 17th century when Baptists emerged as a denomination distinct from the Separatists and Puritans and Anabaptists, one of the hallmarks of our history was our insistence that we not have a creed.
Baptists emerged from the group called the Radical Reformers. Of course, the Reformers in the 1500s were Martin Luther (from whence came the Lutherans); and John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli (from whom came the Presbyterians). Other figures would follow like John Knox in Scotland.
Baptists came along after the first wave of the Reformation, however. Not satisfied with the reforms of the Reformers, the precursors of the Baptist denomination disagreed over many points that Luther, Calvin, and others did not reform. For instance, the Radical Reformers believed that communion was only a symbol, not a means of grace; and, that infant baptism was not scriptural. Luther and Calvin continued to baptize infants, and so a further rift in theological thought occurred.
In 1640 or so, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys had gathered a small band of followers together. Smyth declared the church he had started as disbanded, then proceeded to baptize himself, and then re-baptized all of his followers. That, as best we can tell, was the beginning of the Baptist denomination.
Among all the other things Baptist rejected were creeds. Tired of the domination of an authoritarian church hierarchy, Baptists began shedding as much Catholic influence as we could.
* We abolished a professional class of clergy.
* We abolished a centrally-controlled church, asserting that each local church was a full and independent expression of the kingdom of God.
* We abolished infant baptism, declaring that we would only baptize believers, and they had to be adults initially.
* We deleted the word sacrament, replaced it with the word ordinance, and reduced the ordinances to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
* We instituted a democratic form of church government.
* We declared the preached word to be the central event in worship, not the eucharist, and we designed our meetinghouses without center aisles and with a the pulpit as the focal point of the congregation.
* And, we declared the Bible as our only creed.
Creeds had been forced as confessions on unwilling and unrepentant converts, and often repeated without meaning or conviction. In their place, however, Baptists substituted long documents called “confessions.” The Baptist Faith and Message is our Southern Baptist version of our confession — the things we say we believe and that others who are in fellowship with us believe.
The Apostles’ Creed has suffered a fate similar to the mechanical clock. The 12-hour clock was invented by Benedictine monks in the 12th or 13th centuries, who believed that having a device to call the monks to prayer at precise times, and at the same times each day, was a good thing. Today of course, we are slaves to the clock, dividing our days not into times for work and prayer, but into nanoseconds by which we live our busy lives. So, just because the Creed was abused, or employed in less than ethical or spiritual ways, it can still focus our hearts and minds on the central truths we hold dear as Christians. And even Baptists have acknowledged the value of the Creed.
At the founding of the Baptist World Alliance in 1905 in London, Baptists from around the world stood together in that opening meeting and recited in unison The Apostles’ Creed. On the 100th anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance in 2005, in England again, Baptists from around the world again stood and recited together The Apostles’ Creed. So, even though Baptists do not say the Creed regularly, or officially acknowledge it as a summary of our belief, we have recognized The Apostles’ Creed as a common statement of the things we believe in common with other Baptists, and other Christians through the centuries and across cultures.
Why We Need The Apostles’ Creed
We stand again at the crossroads of our culture. The church is beseiged like no other time since the first century in which it was founded. And in the midst of this assault we are more unprepared as a community of faith to give an answer for our faith than we have ever been. When challenged in the public square over the tenets of our faith, whole denominations are more likely to waffle on issues of faith in the attempt to not offend, than we are to give a clear statement of that faith.
The Apostles’ Creed is not Scripture, nor is it a substitute for Scripture. Rather, the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of what we believe Scripture to be teaching. Like our own Baptist Faith and Message, the Creed emerged at a time of great challenge to the church.
The legend of the Apostles’ Creed is not true, but it is interesting. The story goes that after the Day of Pentecost, as the Spirit was scattering the apostles to the four corners of the earth, the 12 came together and each penned a line that would express the faith they carried. The Creed was called “the faith delivered” or the “Symbol” and it was said in one form or other as early as the end of first century. It took the form in which the church has it today by the fourth century, and was itself an answer to those who challenged Christianity.
I believe we need the Apostles’ Creed today, and we need it in our own lives and in this congregation.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed because it is the oldest expression currently in use of the beliefs we hold in common as Christians.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to connect us to the church of the first century, and to the faith of the Apostles themselves. For even if the apostles did not write the creed, it was certainly what they proclaimed as they carried the Gospel to Jerusalem, and Judea, and the ends of the earth.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to humble us, and remind us that we are not the first generation to have followed Christ. There is a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, who have handed the faith off to us, and to whom we are responsible for its transmission to our generation.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed as a clear expression of what we believe when called to give account of our faith.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to remind us of the whole counsel of God.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to help us affirm the uniqueness of Christ.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to remind us that the Holy Spirit is still with us.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to remind us that we do indeed believe in the church, in an age in which the church is being attacked or ignored.
* We need the Apostles’ Creed to draw us into a new appreciation for the communion of saints,
* to make us newly thankful for the forgiveness of sins,
* and to remind us that there is indeed a life everlasting.
Mostly, we need the Apostles’ Creed as a brief expression of our faith. The Creed is short enough, only 109 words, to commit to memory with only a few recitations. It is broad enough to join us to the greater Christian family that transcends denominational division. The Apostles’ Creed stands as the oldest and most concise expression of the beliefs we hold as followers of Jesus Christ. It provides an outline for our self-reflection on the great doctrines of the faith, and gives us an concise way to speak of that faith to others.
A pastor friend of mine told the story of a young woman who was a member of his church. In a group of friends one evening, the conversation turned to religion. As friends do, the conversation was wide-ranging, and opinions on religious belief were offered. Finally, the conversation turned to what each person believed. Some of the young adults spoke in vague generalities, or were unable to articulate their faith at all. When the conversation turned to this young woman, someone asked her, “And what do you believe?” She told her pastor later that before she could form other thoughts, the words to the Apostles’ Creed that she had said every Sunday growing up in her United Methodist church poured from her lips:
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 Spirit,
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 sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall 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.
Paul said, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”