500 Years LATER

In some Christian circles it may have escaped notice that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of what has come to be known as The Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther in 1517 nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church. His original intent was to reform the Catholic church, but what followed was a break by many people from the Catholic Church and protestant denominations sprung forth. Today, depending on what source you trust, estimates of the number of protestant denominations run between 22,000 and 40,000. I’m fairly certain Martin Luther could not have possibly conceived this being the case.

Nonetheless, among all the Christian denominations that exist, however many, there should be a core understanding of what it means to be Christian. Two potent examples encompassing the core tenants of Christianity are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, both coming early in church history. Early Church leaders quickly came to the understanding that for persons newly come to the Christian faith and for all believers it was a common bond of faith to be able to recite or have a firm, concise grasp of what a Christian believed.

While phrased differently, The Nicene Creed and The Apostles’ Creed express the same basic tenants of Christian belief.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Apostles Creed

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

He descended into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Today as never before the Church needs to be unified to fight the war against secularism that has invaded the US, Europe and a good many other nations. It seems apparent that the Church with its many denominations is not going to unite on all points of doctrine. Suffice it to say if that were the case we would currently have one denomination. But, is it possible to cooperate if all Christian Churches could agree on the basic tenants of what it means to be “Christian?”

Or do we have to take it back one step further to the individuals who call themselves Christian? This whole topic was set to churning in my mind when I read an article in the October 2017 issue of afa Journal entitled “Christian, What Do You Believe?” by Teddy James. Within the article Mr. James quotes Dr. Ray Rooney. Dr. Rooney expresses his opinion that you can’t push back against any of the essentials in the Apostles’ Creed and still be a Christian. It was that particular statement which set the wheels in my mind to rolling. I re-read the Apostles’ Creed and looked back at the Nicene Creed.

After dissecting each statement within the two creeds I came to the same conclusion. These tenants are indeed the basics of what the Bible teaches us concerning God and Christ. If an individual rejects any one of these can he be someone the Church would recognize as a Christian? I guess this would depend on which church body is asked that question.

We seem to have many people today who are self-proclaimed Christians who do not believe some of what is in these creeds and will publicly say so. The first statement of belief in both creeds is that God is Creator. Wow! How many people who call themselves Christians sit in church pews today reject a belief in creation because “science” tells them that it didn’t happen? How many people who call themselves Christian can’t quite accept the virgin birth? One of the more famous was David Jenkins who was consecrated as Bishop of Durham in York Minister. He publicly questioned not only the virgin birth, but also the miracles of Jesus. A bishop of The Church of England, a Christian church did this??

A majority of Christians profess to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but far fewer believe in a personal resurrection after death. The percentage who reject a belief in Jesus’ resurrection face a daunting task in claiming that they are Christian. That event was the climatic stamp of all that Jesus taught and God promised. Doubts regarding a personal resurrection seem to leave an open-ended conclusion of faith – in what? So, what does the Church do with this problem?

It seems to be way past time that the Christian Church reclaims its authority over what it means to be Christian and what someone who wants to identify as a Christian has to believe. Will that be easy? No; because it is going to take some cooperation and determination from every Christian denomination, or at least a majority of them. We have a media, particularly the social media, that is inundated by heretical offerings on a variety of subjects from individuals who self-identify as Christians.

We need Church leaders who will stand up and reject these offerings as coming from someone who is not a Christian. As of this date, we have a world which cannot rightly divide what is Christian from what is not. That is because we have a fractured Church which has a problem deciding what is Christian and what is not. Is it possible we could once again agree with the creeds already written? They already have the basics.

When is the last time your heard your pastor or anyone else give a detailed teaching on what you have to believe to be a Christian? Pastors, this is a sermon series well worth considering. And what do we do with people who reject one or more of the basic beliefs? Do we have the courage to look them in the eye and tell them that such a rejection disqualifies them from self-identifying as a Christian? If not, the Church will continue to lack credibility in the eyes of the world if we are incapable of stating and defending what it means to be a Christian. Have we now created “safe spaces” in the Church where people can go and not be offended no matter what they believe?

I heard recently about a pastor who said he could not really be dogmatic on certain issues because he would offend the Millennials in his congregation. In other words, portions of the Church are avoiding calling certain actions sin because we would offend certain church attendees. Is there another institution out there that would let you join up if you did not support its beliefs and goals?

In my bottom line the two pressing questions for the Church are: What do we have to believe to be a Christian and are we willing to stand up and say so? There is a confused and lost world waiting for the answers, not to mention the Church itself.

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