The two passages I mentioned in the Book of Acts yesterday were originally addressed to the Jews. They plainly take for granted the faith of the Old Testament and of Judaism. In addition to this obvious assumption, I believe that the following points summarize the core of apostolic faith and preaching:
1. There is one God, the creator and ruler of the world, who chose Israel to be his people and the agent of his saving purpose toward all mankind.
2. There is one Lord Jesus, the Christ (Messiah), the Son and Word of God, through whom all things were created, who was made man for our salvation, and dwelt among us.
- In him (Jesus Christ) God fulfilled his promises made by the prophets, for in the mighty words and works of his ministry, the kingdom of God was present and made manifest.
- According to the plan and foreknowledge of God, Jesus died to redeem us from sin and death, that we might receive salvation and eternal life.
- He was raised from the dead on the third day by the power of God and seen by chosen eyewitnesses.
- He ascended into the heavens, exalted by God to the position of supreme power in the universe as our mediator and king.
- He has poured out on all flesh (everyone) the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, light and holiness, who indwells and inspires the church, the body of Christ.
- He will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, to punish the wicked and unbelieving, and to gather believers, through resurrection and eternal life.
But How Can the Early Creeds Help Us?
I shall never forget the day that it powerfully dawned on me that everyone interprets the Bible. This is so obviously self-evident, but it is easily forgotten by Bible-centered Christians who assume so much about “their reading” of the text.
We know that everyone does not interpret the Bible in the same way. Saying that the Bible is authoritative, or inerrant, never settles disagreements, thus these kinds of beliefs can never promote real unity. (The major Christian cults affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible.) In truth, we need to know the answer to a much larger question: What is the essential message of the Holy Scripture? I submit that the basic answer to this question is found in the Bible and summarized in the faithful witness of the ancient church.
What did the first Christians believe and why did they believe it? How did they hear the gospel and express the faith? Indeed, before there was a completed Bible how did the church understand and confess what was the living message of the New Testament? (They confessed the faith for several hundred years without a completed New Testament. When they finally had the completed Scriptures most Christians never had an opportunity to read them, much less to study them personally and privately.)
To make my point as clearly as I possibly can, I now routinely ask people one simple question: Are you the first person to ever read the Bible and attempt to understand its message? I reason with my friends that there were people before you and me who wrestled with these same writings and expressed what they understood in very plain language. They did this with carefully chosen words through which they conveyed their sense of what we might call “core orthodoxy.” This expression of common faith united all believers in one apostolic faith.
It seems logical that wisdom encourages us to listen to these early Christians before we work out some of the difficult issues that we face in the twenty-first century. The catholic and apostolic church must live forward but it should always understand itself by going backward. This doesn’t mean that we simply repeat the past but that the past is the framework through which we faithfully move into our shared future.
It is in this sense that I conclude by saying the Apostles’ Creed, and later the fuller and more nuanced Nicene Creed, provide the best tools that we have for giving a summary of the ancient Christian faith, the same faith we see revealed in Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 and in the dramatic record given to us in Acts 10:36–43.