When You Do Not Know What You Believe
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
1 Corinthians 15:50
As the pastor led his congregation in the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, that begins with the words, “I believe…” one man quietly said, “I used to believe…” and continued to mumble the words, recited by Christians for centuries.
Rarely today does a church focus on what it believes. Seeker-sensitive approaches to reaching large crowds of people don’t include a belief system in their approach in order to win a hearing today. The result: few people know what they believe, and some–like the fellow I mentioned–only remember a few statements drilled into their heads when they were kids and had to memorize a statement of belief which they recited without thinking of what it meant or whether or not they believed it.
Scholar and church historian Edward Panosian believed that a balance between orthodoxy and emotions is necessary. With a commitment to orthodoxy alone (which includes creeds) churches tend toward coldness, formality and deadness; but emotional expression without the balance of orthodoxy produces excesses and, eventually, errors in doctrine.
Needed today is an understanding of what you believe and why you believe it. “But that’s a matter for the church to decide–not for me as an ordinary person?” some ask. “OK,” going one step further, “do you know what the church believes, your own church?” Probably not.
An amazing discovery that some make who seriously begin to search is that there is not nearly as much diversity in what churches believe as people think. There is a core of beliefs that have remained virtually unchanged from the first century to the present–at least in the important issues. And what are they?
Many believe the statement of faith known as The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest summary of what Christians have held to over the years. If this statement was formulated by the Apostles themselves (and there’s no serious challenge to that belief) then it has to be old.
It goes like this: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again 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 the life everlasting.” That’s it.
Many Christians today are searching, striving to formulate a belief system. Are you one of them? Interested in taking a challenge? Sit down with your Bible and a blank sheet of paper and write at the top of that page, “I believe.” Then write down what you do believe. If you can, also write down a reference to Scripture where your belief is substantiated. Yours may be a very short list, but at least it will be a beginning. Remember, one of the earliest statements of belief was written by Paul, who simply said, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried, and He rose again the third day.”
Ours today is a world that is hostile to your faith, but when you affirm, “I believe,” you are driving an immovable stake into the ground. When you finish the statement, “I believe,” you are embarking on the life of faith which will take you beyond the empty, unbelieving secularism of our day. Knowing what you believe can well keep you from saying, “I used to believe…”