Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Apostles' Creed - I Believe

Today we are beginning a series looking at one of the foundations of our Christian faith – The Apostle’s Creed.  This creed is a statement of our faith that helps to outline what it is we believe about God.   The first word of the Creed in Latin is Credo which means: I Believe.

Now there are many things that we believe; some things are trivial and some things are eternal.  For example, I might say that I believe MSU is going to win the Big Ten Football title this year.  Now that belief is probably more my hope and desire than it is a fact and this belief might not be shared by many of you here.  So sometimes what we say we believe is really just an expression of our preference, but some beliefs go much deeper, like our social and political beliefs.

Political beliefs and passions run deep and people hold many different views.  I might say I believe smaller government is better than a larger bureaucracy or I might say I believe that the government is better equipped to manage more things in our society.  Our political beliefs are varied and they run deep in our lives and they might shape our decisions and actions a little more profoundly than what sports team we like, but they are still just statements of what we think is the best or the right way to live.

Then there are our religious beliefs.  These are the foundational truths we believe about God, ourselves and the world in which we live that cause us to live a certain way.  While we might see our beliefs as eternal truths that shape and guide our lives, the reality is that we cannot prove these beliefs which mean that things like Apostles’ Creed are really just statements of our faith.  The Bible says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.  And so our religious beliefs are what we are sure and certain of but they cannot be seen or proved.

So when we start the Apostles’ Creed by saying, I believe, it is important for us to think about what we are affirming.  Is this just a statement of our preference or our convictions?  Is this what we think might be a better way to live or is this belief the one true way to know and experience God?  My hope is that the more we study this creed and the God it points to - the more we will be able to say with boldness, courage and certainty that this is what we believe - what we believe to be true and eternal for all the world.  

Before we look at the specifics of the creed, let’s think about where our beliefs actually come from and how they are formed and nurtured in our lives.  Why do you believe in God?  Where did your personal religious beliefs come from?  There is not one answer to this because our beliefs come from many different places but the most important factor in forming our beliefs is our family.

Our family has a huge impact on what we believe about all kinds of things from sports to religion.  Through our families we are exposed to the preferences, values and world views of our parents and their beliefs shape us.  When our parents value and believe in something, we tend to feel the same way.  My parents valued hard work and service and I wasn’t just told that those things were good, I was shown this to be true.  I could see in my parents a love of service that enriched their lives so I have come to believe that serving and loving others is important and an expression of faith.  

The importance of the family on our religious beliefs cannot be understated.  God created us to be in families and this was the place where we would be nurtured, cared for and formed and this was the place where we were to be educated in all things – including religion.  Religion was to be taught first and foremost in the family.  Long before there were churches, faith and trust in God was shared and taught through the family.  Parents were to teach their children about God.  Parents were to instruct their children in the way of faith.  In many ways the worship life of the church was to take place in the home with parents as the leaders.  Right after God gave the 10 Commandments to the people He said this, Deuteronomy 11:18-21.

In Proverbs 22:6 it says Train up a child in the way he should go.  Even when he is old he will not depart from it.  God created families to be the primary place where faith in God was learned
Since the most important people in the faith development of children are parents and grandparents, our faith needs to be talked about and lived out in our homes.  It’s not always easy for us to have spiritual conversations with our children and teens or model prayer and worship, study and service – but if passing on our faith to the next generation is important and if it is going to happen then we need to find ways to share our faith and religious beliefs with our children.

Beyond our families, our beliefs are also influence by friends.  While the foundation of my faith and trust in God came from my parents and family, it was friends and mentors I met along the way that also helped my faith grow.  One friend I met through Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship was very influential in my faith because he was the one who helped show me what it looked like to follow Jesus.  Dave was a mentor and friend who walked with me in so many ways and it was through his life, witness and love that I learned what it meant to trust and walk with Jesus.

It is Jesus who shows us the importance of friendships in sharing and strengthening faith.  The primary ministry of Jesus was not teaching, preaching or performing miracles, the primary ministry of Jesus was to walk with his disciples and help them believe in God and live into that faith and trust.  God did not send Jesus to develop a program to educate people about God or equip them to serve God, Jesus came to walk with people so that they could experience God and grow closer to God through that relationship.  The model of Jesus is still an important model for us to follow.  While programs and activities are important, there is nothing that deepens our faith more than a personal relationship with someone who can genuinely love us and encourage us to follow Jesus.

Think about your personal faith?  Can you name the people who have been influential in your own personal beliefs?  Can you name the people who helped shape who you are?  My guess is that most of us have been influenced more by people than by programs.
This is not to say that education through things like Sunday School, Bible Studies, VBS and small groups is not important – they are very important.  Education plays a big part in what we believe.  Many of our social, political, economic and religious beliefs have been shaped by what we have learned in school, church and from others.  Learning about God is important and that is why we are going to take some time these next few weeks to learn what it is we believe about God and Jesus and ourselves.

Families, friends and educational opportunities all shape our beliefs, but so does our experiences.  When we experience the majesty and wonder of God in creation, it deepens our view of God as creator.  When we experience the freedom that comes when we accept God’s forgiveness or when we forgive someone else, it helps us understand the power and importance of grace in our lives.  When we see injustice and feel compelled to do something and then feel the power of God at work in us when we act – we understand more fully the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Since experiences shape our beliefs we need to put ourselves in places where we can experience God.  We need take part in worship, fellowship, study, prayer and service so that we can experience God and the kingdom of God because it will be those experiences that will strength what it is we believe. While we can learn everything there is to know about the church – it will always be lacking until we actually find ourselves as part of the church.

God uses all these different ways to help us believe.  Family, friends, education and experiences are all important ways we learn and grow and deepen our faith and all of these things need to be part of our journey through this series on the Apostles’ Creed.

So let’s look at the creed.  The earliest mention of this statement of faith is from the fourth century.  In a letter dated in 390 AD we hear about a document called the Symbol of the Apostles or the Old Roman Symbol.  Here is what it said:

I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh
the life everlasting.

As you can see, this document contains much of what we call the Apostles’ Creed.  Since this finished statement of faith was included in a letter dated at the end of the fourth century, we know that for decades before this the early Christians had been working to figure out what it is they believed about God.  The life, death, resurrection and teaching of Jesus challenged many of the traditional views of God held by both Jews and Gentiles and so the followers of Jesus worked hard to outline and clarify what it meant to trust and believe in Jesus and this is one of the first documents they produced.

Legend says that each apostle gave one line of this creed, which is why we call it the Apostles’ Creed, but there is no evidence to back this up.  While the Apostles’ themselves may not have given us this creed line by line, it certainly expresses the faith of the Apostles’ and it is this creed that became the foundation on which all other creeds and much of the teaching of the church has been built.  Today the Apostles’ Creed continues to outline for us the foundation of what it is we believe as followers of Jesus.

It is important for us to see that the creed does not try to answer every theological question we have about God, Jesus, ourselves, the world in which we live and our eternal destinies.  The creed was not meant to answer all our questions but provide a foundation and framework for us to think about our faith.  What I find interesting about this creed is that the focus is clearly on God and not us, our future or our world.  The larger purpose of the creed is to draw our attention to the nature, work and glory of God.  It talks very little about us.  The creed does not tell us how to live out our faith or what is required of us as a follower of Jesus – it simply points us to God and assumes that the more we know God in all God’s glory – the more we will be drawn into the life that God has for us.

If we can make the focus of our lives and faith God and not us, then the glory, power and love of God will shape us.  When Jesus called people to have faith in him or to trust in and believe in him what he said was “Follow Me”.  Jesus didn’t give a list of things people had to do in order to believe, he gave them a person to look at.  If our focus can be on the fullness of God, then our lives will change, our faith will grow and our beliefs will become strong.

Look at Hebrews 12:2-3.  It is when we fix our eyes on Jesus and make God our focus that we grow stronger.  In many ways the Apostles’ Creed helps us do just this.  It helps fix our eyes on God.

So each week during this series we will affirm the Apostles’ Creed at some point during worship by saying it together.  While the hope is that we will be growing in our understanding of what we are saying, the other goal of sharing in the Apostles ’ Creed together is to help us keep our focus on the greatness, glory and grace of God.  So I invite you to stand as we affirm together our faith using 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, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at 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 Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.   Amen.

Next Steps
The Apostles’ Creed ~  I Believe

1. Identify 3 basic believes you hold in life.  (These can be in the field of politics, economics, social or scientific views, even preferences in sports and entertainment.)  How did you come to hold these views?  Who and what helped shape them?

2. How have these factors contributed to your religious beliefs:
Friends / Mentors
Which of these 4 have been most important in shaping your beliefs?

3.  Use the Apostles’ Creed to help you fix your eyes, heart and life on the glory and greatness of God.