How can Christians and their churches reconcile their beliefs to the truth?
The Nicene Creed summarizes Christian essential beliefs. The Church leaders who collaborated to develop this creed rooted its statements in the Scriptures, mostly the New Testament. Athanasius, mentioned in the previous Blog as the leader of the cause for orthodoxy – in his insistence to continue in the teaching of Christ, as the Apostle John wrote in 2 John 9 – was the earliest author to list the 27 books of the New Testament in one of his documents. Time and space does not permit me to substantiate the biblical validity of the Nicene Creed here, but as I see it, nearly 1700 years of examination by Church leaders and biblical scholars validates its certainty.
Recently I watched a video series about the story of the Bible presented by a pastor and his companion in the ministry. The presentation was excellently done, and in less than six hours it effectively shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ starting with the Creation story in Genesis, proceeding with the story of the descendants of Abraham and the covenant with Israel, and linking the entire story to Jesus and his life story told in the New Testament. The series emphasis was on the finished work of salvation through Jesus Christ. For most of the series, I was in agreement and pleased until it got to a major part devoted to hell as the place of punishment of sinners who before their deaths do not confess belief in Jesus.
Based on a parable Jesus told and recorded only by Luke in Luke 16, the presenters taught a basic doctrine of their branch of Protestantism. As I watched and listened, I wondered how they could prefer this explanation of Jesus’ parable over the prolific information throughout the New Testament about the Judgment to come when Jesus returns – a judgment that has not yet occurred.
Why, we may ask, doesn’t the Creed mention this eternal punishment in hell if it is a major doctrine of the Church? In The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostles Creed According to Calvin’s Catechism, Karl Barth explains that “the Creed discusses only the things which are the object of the faith.” Barth goes on to explain that the Creed is about what Christians, starting with the Apostles, believe. Believing in the existence of a place in which sinners have been roasting for thousands of years is not a teaching the ancient Church leaders founded.
Another major branch of Western Christianity has held the belief that unless a believer has a “second blessing,” a Spirit baptism perhaps long after initial confession of faith and baptism, and witnesses to this baptism by speaking in tongues, they have not achieved the full Christian experience. Why isn’t such an important doctrine as this in the Nicene Creed? In answer, I could quote Barth as above. These are two examples. A book could be written on the many others.
A revisit of basic beliefs, orienting them to the Creed could do much to correct false teachings and consequently eliminate many of the distinctive teachings that inhibit common belief. May those who hear heed! More to come in the next Blog.