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What do you believe? Essentials Week 1

What do you believe?

This question is always a bit of a kick. It’s jarring. It doesn’t matter the context, when someone asks you to lay out your big answers, your whole model for looking at life, God, the world, everything, its always going to catch you a bit off guard. And its hard. Where do you start? What order does it go in? How does your faith in God, your education and your opinion on lion fish (they’re real bad) fit together? We need a way to talk intelligibly about what we believe. We need to be able to tell our stories.

Creeds and Confessions

A lot of Christian traditions, both around the world and throughout history, have offered group affirmations of what they believed. They came together in groups and ironed out their beliefs, condensing them down to short but powerful statements of belief that they shared. Oftentimes the words they chose and the items they did and didn’t include were responding to some specific historical disagreement about the nature of God or Jesus or the role of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Church. The brightest theologians, church leaders and priests would gather together to debate things like the specifics of Jesus humanity and divinity (Did Jesus have a body? Was Jesus really God or just the absolute top of all created things? Like a super angel). When they had come to an agreement they would set it out as a creed or confession. Later churches would develop and refine these, sometimes splitting over major disagreements contained within them.

One of the best known and most widely used creeds is the Apostle’s Creed. Its probably at least 1600 years old and is generally agreed upon as a common core of Christian faith shared by nearly every denomination.

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, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

This creed lays out Christian belief mostly as the story of Jesus’ life. It covers a lot of key points very quickly and in a logical order.

We also looked at the Baptist Faith and Message (1963), a 14 page document put together by the Southern Baptist Convention to explain not only their basic beliefs but also how those beliefs shaped their stances on church practices and social issues. Its greater length allowed for much more detail and it makes strong use of scripture to show how the Bible shapes their beliefs.

Why Baptists are hesitant about Creeds

Though no one is alive today who experienced it, Baptists were once persecuted extensively for their disagreement with the confessions and creeds of their time. Because of their disagreement over issues like believer’s baptism (the practice that baptism should only follow a conscious and public confession of faith, not infant baptism by birth or church membership by geography) they were not allowed to organize churches or preach and many were jailed on various charges, the Anabaptists before them (Mennonites now) who shaped early Baptist thought were actually killed in some places for their similar beliefs.

This has left a bitter institutional memory that gets passed down without obvious discussion. We should have a rightful suspicion of the way a creed or confession could be used to bludgeon other people. We also need to emphasize that individual’s do need to know what they as individuals believe. We shouldn’t thoughtlessly just internalize whatever our Sunday school teacher, pastor or parents hand us.

Somewhere in the Middle

So this leaves us somewhere between these two. Its important that we name and hold up the things we share with Christians everywhere, with other Baptists and with our own church. But we also need to find our own individual voice. So we study the creeds and confessions. We find common ground with other Christians. But we also make sure to note the places we might disagree or how we fill in the gaps differently than someone else.

So if you weren’t with us on Sunday the 26th here is your activity. Take 10 minutes with a word processor or blank piece of paper and write out what you believe. It doesn’t have to start in good order or be pretty or flowy or even make excellent sense. Whatever comes to you. It can be as simple as “There is a God” “God is good” “We have a responsibility to help others” “Family is important” etc. Then every so often go back to that document. Fill in things you missed. Look for how your beliefs fit together. This will keep you thinking about your faith, growing and maturing into a deeper understanding.