Monday, May 29, 2006

"I Believe"

The Apostle's Creed begins with the words, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty,the Creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord...." These opening phrases contain much that will take us several posts to work through. Today, I will begin with just the first two of those words: "I believe."

How much can you say about that? Well, it turns out a great deal.

First, it may seem curious that the Creed begins with the statement of an individual ("I"), even though it is most often recited by a group in a church. Yet, this is entirely appropriate. Christianity is both personal and communal, and the Bible describes the Spirit of God specially inhabiting both the individual believer and the gathered church. Thus, while faith should be expressed corporately, it also should be declared by persons who are trusting in and adhering to that faith individually. This is poignantly occurring when church members join together in expressing the individual faith that binds them to God and also joins them to one another.

Second, it has been said that much of what it means to be a Christian is understood in pronouns: God is not just "the Lord;" He is "My Lord." Christ is not merely "the Savior;" He is "My Savior." Of course, this is not intended to be self-centered, as though I am saying that God belongs to me. It is rather the opposite: I belong to God, and in belonging to Him I can find the greatest joys of life. Christian belief includes propositional truths, but it is not merely a set of propositions. These truths tell us of Christ, to whom we have entrusted our life and souls, and with whom we shall enjoy eternal fellowship.

Finally, many people misunderstand the notion of Christianity (or religion generally) being a personal matter. Christianity is personal, but not in the sense of it being private -- which it must never be. For a person who believes, Christianity has implications for every aspect of life. However, Christianity is personal in the sense of being individual. My faith in Christ is not a matter of birth, family affiliation, or of the willing of another. Rather, faith is a gift of God to an individual.

Which brings us to the second word: "believe." That one will have to wait for the next post. And, I promise I will not take the entire Creed one word at a time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Upcoming: a Series of Posts on the Apostle's Creed

I am going to begin a series of posts on the Apostle's Creed. The words of the creed are as follows:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into Hades.
The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence 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 life everlasting.


The Apostle's Creed was not actually written by the Apostles. Composed in the second century A.D., it is so named because it is an apt summary of the basic teachings of the Apostles. In fact, for nearly two millenia, the Apostle's Creed has provided a basic definition of what it means to be orthodox. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christians disagree over a great deal, but historically they all would agree with the basic statements formulated in this creed.

Those readers who know me as a Baptist might be surprised that I am choosing to expound on the creed. Both conservative and liberal Baptist leaders commonly tell their flocks that Baptists are not a creedal people. Those who do so simply do not know Baptist history. Though Baptist confessionalism has been on the decline for the last two centuries, Baptists historically have made use of creedal confessions of faith and have taught their children using catechisms. Indeed, the loss of their usage has resulted in the growing ignorance of basic Christian teaching that is all too frequent in Baptist churches today. It is an indictment on Baptist churches that all too frequently their teens, having grown up in church, leave it without any real understanding of what it is they are leaving behind.

Baptists, like all other Protestants, do not regard this or any other creed as being authoritative. However, creeds may be instructive tools regarding the teaching of Scripture. Although many people in Baptist pews who don't know their history would likely revolt, their churches would actually benefit if their ministers would use the creed as a part of worship.

The statements in the Apostle's Creed are deceptively simple. Their exposition could fill volumes. I will deal with them in a dozen or so posts -- I hope in a manner that will be both theologically instructive and devotional for anyone that comes across them.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bible in Public Schools

The Tennessean has an article today discussing the fact that the Bible is taught in a few history or literature courses in public high schools in Tennessee. Although the usually reliable first amendment scholar Charles Haynes says that the practice is inappropriate, there really should be nothing controversial about teaching the Bible in such a manner. Whatever one's views of the Christian religion, the Bible is a text that has had tremendous influence over western civilization and western culture, and a basic understanding of it is a legitimate public school enterprise for that reason.

That being said, I doubt that very many public school teachers are qualified to teach such a course, which would require both an understanding of ancient middle eastern culture and the ability to read the Bible from a historical/literary approach -- an approach that is also used, by the way, by the best of evangelical theologians and pastors (that is, not very many). However, the teacher who is referenced in the article, Mike Brown, appears to be handling the course appropriately and competently.

Mr. Haynes counters that some Christians may be offended to learn that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible. As a Christian, as long as the text is treated with an appropriate academic demeanor, I say, "Who cares?" There are multiple interpretations of most, if not all, aspects of history and of literary texts. If we are to have that level of sensitivity, then we will have to eliminate all course work. The study of the Bible is an academic subject, and not just a devotional one.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Show Me the Money

I have been involved in a lot of funerals over the years, but have never seen this in an obituary:

"Expressions of sympathy may take the form of contributions to the family."

Out of respect for the deceased, I won't link to the obituary or provide the name or city.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us

I had not intended to write about the current controversy over The Da Vinci Code because I am not interested in it. A decade ago, when I was in a position of church leadership, I would have read the book and possibly planned to see the movie for the purpose of preparing myself to answer the questions that would be raised by church members and others in the community. Those days are well in the past, with the result that I can limit my reading to those things that interest me. Having heard about the broad themes and the pseudo-history that is central to the work of fiction, I decided long ago that I wasn't interested. I am also not interested in participating in the predictable and counterproductive calls by numerous evangelicals to boycott this "dangerous" movie. Such calls are counterproductive both because they provide the movie with free publicity and because they make it appear as though Christians are afraid of the debate. All of that being said, I changed my mind about ignoring the matter after reading an article regarding the book's popularity that I thought made an important point regarding the current state of the church.

As far as the controversy itself, my own views as to the Church's proper response is largely similar to that expressed by Kat Coble (and those she links to favorably) here.

In an article that appeared in Sunday's The Tennessean (it was a syndicated article not written locally, and I regret that I can't locate a link), it was argued that Christians are largely responsible for the book and movie's popularity. In short, the author contended that the Church's failure to teach American Christians about church history has created a vacuum into which The Da Vinci Code's historical background has entered. The supposed history behind the novel is so discredited that it seems almost silly when serious historians and theologians bother to dispute it. However, most of those who grew up around churches learned virtually nothing about church history, with the result that the book seems mysterious and interesting.

It has been said that American Christians sometimes act as though the Bible fell out of heaven last week. To put it a different way, many American Christians have been exposed to such limited information as to seemingly suggest that the period of the Apostles ended just before we were born and was immediately followed by the current era. Of course, Protestants don't regard history and tradition as authoritative; however, they should regard it as instructive. The failure of Christians to understand their heritage separates them from Christendom's glories and leaves them vulnerable to repeating its mistakes.

As is shown by the public's hunger for a novel featuring an alternative church history, it should not be said that there is no interest in the Church's story. In fact, I used to find that classes featuring discussions of where various denominations came from and sermon illustrations recounting high or low moments and teachings from ages past generated considerable interest. Religious history, like all other history, is not about names and dates, but about people and ideas. People and ideas are interesting if their stories are well told.

Christian leaders in the United States over the last two centuries have not cared enough about that. It is part of the reason that American Christianity can be characterized as 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. When spiritually hungry people, many of them former or current church members, take interest in the false history presented in The Da Vinci Code, they give evidence that this failure has a cost.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Church Is Full of Sinners -- and I'm Glad

The writer at The Evangelical Outpost reflects on deficiencies in his attitude toward churches:

Why am I so dumb that I expect the church to be something its not? Why can’t I recognize that the trouble with the church is that it accepts sinners like me? If they excluded the people who could ruin it church might be a better place. But it would also be empty.

Read the rest of the post here.