Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Twelfth Day of Christmas

Today is the the last day of Christmas.  We made it.  In many ways, it was more difficult than Lent.  Today, my true love gave to me Twelve Drummers Drumming.  It is the consummation of the essentials of the Christian faith.  For the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and other self described "non-creedal" churches, this may be the most difficult day.  The word "creed" comes from the Latin word "credo" and simply means, "I believe."  To call the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) "non-creedal" or worse, "anti-creedal" is incorrect.  We do believe in something!  Our creed is that which most scholars believe is the basis of all creeds.  Peter responds to Jesus' question of who he is with the statement, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)  From that, we ask all converts this question: "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and do you accept Him as Lord and Savior?"  This questions may differ from congregation to congregation, but it is essentially our creed even though we call it the Good Confession.  The founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) were never opposed to creeds.  They were opposed to creeds being used as a test of fellowship, although our Creed or Good Confession is used as such.
The twelve drummers remind us of the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed. Below is the Apostles' Creed divided into the 12 basic parts with the Scripture references that speaks to the points.

  1. I believe in God, the Father (Ephesians 4:6) almighty, creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1ff; John 1:1ff; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord (John 3:16-18).
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) and born of the virgin Mary (Mathew 1:18).
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:15), was crucified, died, and was buried (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). ["He descended to the grave" was added much later and is not in the earliest manuscripts of the creed.  It is often omitted by Reformed Protestants. Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans argue that Ephesians 4:8-10 proves this phrase.]
  5. On the third day he rose again (1 Corinthians 15:4).  He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Acts 1:9, 2:32-34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1).
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42).
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 15:26),
  8. the holy catholic (universal) Church (Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:24),
  9. the communion of saints (Acts 2:42)
  10. the forgiveness of sins (Mathew 26:28; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:22),
  11. the resurrection of the body (Matthew 28:6-7; 1 Corinthians 15:13-14)
  12. and the life everlasting (John 3:15; Jude 1:21).
Legend proposes that the Apostles' Creed was written by the Apostles themselves on the Tenth Day after Christ's ascension.  The truth about the Creed is that the Apostles never wrote or contributed anything to the Creed.  Many, both inside and outside of the Church, believe that the Creed is of equal authority or supersedes Scripture.  The Creed was never intended to be the only statement of the essentials of the Faith.  However, from the earliest years of the Church, local assemblies outlined what was essential to the Faith that was confessed by all candidates for baptism.  As is the case in most human communities, these statements were often applicable to the local context of issues.  If a Christian community was dealing with a particular heresy in or near where they lived, their statement of faith might focus more intensely on countering those teachings.  As the Church began to grow and an understanding that a rule of faith needed to be standardized, many influential elders or bishops would draft a Rule of Faith that would be in conversation with other Rules of Faith.  One of the earliest creeds we have is attributed to Hippolytus who lived at the end of the third century.  Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus who was a student of Polycarp who was a student of the John the Apostle.  Hippolytus' creed is called the Interrogatory Creed.
Dr. Joe Jones (a Disciple of Christ), retired Professor of Theology from Christian Theological Seminary, makes the case that the Creeds in general and the Apostles' Creed in particular, are not so much tests of fellowship but serve as a grammar of faith.  That is, they teach us how to talk about the Faith.  In the early Church, complete copies of the Scriptures were rare.  The Apostles' Creed served as a brief statement of the essentials of the Christian Faith.  As humanity went through the Enlightenment with further education and available copies of the Scriptures, more and more people were able to read for themselves the written revelation of Jesus Christ.  However, in today's society, Biblical illiteracy is at epidemic levels.  Perhaps the creeds serve as a starting point for the new believer.  Perhaps they give us a "grammar of faith." What do Christians believe? What does the Church teach as true about Jesus Christ? The best solution would be to sit together and read through the New Testament. As we are doing that, perhaps the creeds help us to begin to consider what Christians before us have taught for almost 2,000 years.  Augustine said that the Apostles' Creed was the first and greatest statement of the faith.  Tertullian said that the Creed was not something different from the Gospels, but as a summary of the Gospel.  Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther said, "Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement." Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, said that it was an admirable and truly Scriptural summary of the Christian faith.  Even our own founder, Alexander Campbell, based his Christian System outline on the Apostles' Creed.
What do Christians believe? We believe what the Bible teaches.  What does the Bible teach? One place to begin is the Apostles' Creed. It is the oldest statement of what Christians have believed.  What do you believe?

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