Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The One Thing That Unites All Bible-believing Christians

Dear Friends,

Many years ago, we stated our belief in the Apostles’ Creed on our church website and were immediately attacked by a fundamentalist Christian who ranted in an email to us that reciting any creeds meant that we were in league with the anti-christ Pope and would burn in hell. Golly! Who knew that the words, “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...” could inspire so much hatred from a Christian believer?

It saddens me to read elitist Catholic theology that the Roman Catholic church is the “sole true church.” In 2007, the Pope affirmed that the Orthodox Churches are “defective” and that all “other Christian denominations were not true churches.” The Roman Catholic Church provides the only true way to salvation and those of us non-Catholic Christian believers will go to hell. Of course, the Orthodox Churches throughout the world claim to be the only “one true church,” meaning that Protestants and Catholics are on our way to that hot place when we die. The Lutheran “Augsburg Confession” states that they are the only true catholic faith and the “one true visible church” and the only church that rightly administers Christ’s sacraments. (I’m sorry ELCA Lutherans, but Missouri-Synod Lutherans claim to be the only true Lutheran church!) And, according to a university professor writing about the history of the Southern Baptists: “Only Baptist churches can trace their lineage in uninterrupted fashion back to the New Testament, and only Baptist churches therefore are true churches. Only the true church (a Baptist church) can legitimately celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Any celebration of these ordinances by non-Baptists is invalid.”

Alrighty then.. Can anyone see why so many in our younger generations look at the church and choose atheism? I am constantly astounded when I hear solid God-loving, church-going Christians attack each other. When I changed our non-liturgical service to include the Lord’s Prayer, I heard objections and that we should not say it because it was “too catholic.” I told them that since that was the one prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to say, then we must assume that Jesus is also “too catholic” for us. On the other side of the church aisle, I have liberal Christian friends who sincerely believe that all of us “Evangelicals” have a NRA bumper-sticker on the pickup truck and a mini-confederate flag clipped to the antenna. That was why, in last week’s AMEN Corner, I listed the twelve doctrinal beliefs of Evangelicals. A good friend, in a progressive liberal church denomination, read that and admitted that perhaps he’s also “Evangelical.” When it comes to the fundamentals of our faith, we all agree with each other more often than not.

What divides the body of Christ is too often not our beliefs but what we’ve been taught by our church about the beliefs of others. A church can only justify itself as the “one true” church if it can convince their followers that all others are theological heretics and false–even dangerous–Christians. 

Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” 1 Cor 1:10 The response to this word of God was for the Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants to disagree, divide and disunite, burn down each other’s churches and then kill one another in the name of Jesus. While the deadly “Holy Wars” of the Reformation ended 370 years ago, that animosity among the different Christian churches still runs deeply today and we attack each other, not with a battleaxe but with our words and the web. 

And yet, in my own conversations, I have found many Catholics and Protestants who are shocked at how much we really do agree upon. A dear Catholic woman was astounded and confused when I told her that we believed in the Nicene Creed just as she did. She heard Catholic teachings about Protestants all of her life and was unable to believe that we “non-Christians” would actually say the “Catholic” creeds. “You don’t really believe those, do you?” she asked. A Lutheran church we rented from assumed we were not Christians since we were not Lutheran. The church leader asked me, “What kind of religion are you?” I told him that we were Evangelical Christians who recited the Apostles’ Creed just like his church did. He cried, “But you’re not Lutheran! That’s a Lutheran creed!”

We have different church traditions and teachings that are not in the Bible and are important to man and then there is teaching and doctrine that's important to God. That’s the message of the Gospel and the foundational principles of our faith that were written in the ancient creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is the complied teachings of the original apostles. And in 381 AD, the church came together to finalize the Nicene Creed with its increased emphasis on the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Only those who hold to the historic, classic, traditional and apostolic beliefs can say the creeds. 

It’s time for Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to stop the scornful condescending comments and our sinfully superior belief that the only true Christians are those who are baptized in our church. If we believe in the Nicene Creed, which is the ecumenical expression of our shared faith, then we are united into that one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We are all the body of Christ. Let’s act like it.  Amen?

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In the Year of Our Lord 381 ~ First Council of Constantinople.

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
And of all things visible and invisible: 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, 
Begotten of his Father before all worlds, 
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, 
Begotten, not made, 
Being of one substance with the Father, 
By whom all things were made; 

Who for us men, and for our salvation 
came down from heaven, 
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, 
And was made man, 
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. 
He suffered and was buried, 
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, 
And ascended into heaven, 
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father. 

And he shall come again with glory to judge
both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end. 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, 
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, 
Who with the Father and the Son together 
is worshiped and glorified, 
Who spake by the Prophets.

And I believe one catholic and apostolic Church. 
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. 
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, 
And the life of the world to come.   Amen.

(Anglican Book of Common Prayer 1662)

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About the Nicene Creed
By the Rev. John B. Hickman

Why Is This Called The Nicene Creed?
We call it the Nicene Creed because these foundational beliefs of our faith were agreed upon and adopted by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and it was amended in 381 by the First Council of Constantinople. The formal name of the amended Creed is the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed” which is why we call that tongue-twister simply the “Nicene Creed.”

As a Protestant Christian, Should I Be Saying a “Catholic” Creed?
Protestants can forget sometimes that Martin Luther and his band of reformers did not invent the church! Our church was started by Jesus Christ and developed by His apostles. There was not a “Roman Catholic” church but just one universal and apostolic Christian church at the time that the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed were written. The creeds were written in the 4th century to counter some popular movements that were leading people away from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. No person had a Bible so people relied on the creeds as their only written statement of faith. In 1054 the church split into two with the western half becoming known as the Roman Catholic Church and the eastern half becoming known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. In another 500 years, a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther protested that his church was charging money for indulgences that would shorten one’s stay in purgatory and Luther’s intent was to reform the Church and return to the ancient teachings of the Apostles. The Creed is those ancient teachings. It’s an Orthodox Creed. It’s a Catholic Creed. It’s a Protestant Creed.

Do All The Churches Use The Same Version of the Nicene Creed?
The original Creed, as amended in 381, had the words: “And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father..” In the sixth century, the Roman Catholics added the words, “and the Son.” The original Creed also said that Jesus Christ is “one substance with the Father” and the Roman Catholic church changed that to “consubstantial with the Father” which means the same thing. The Orthodox say the original Creed as written while, over the centuries, both Catholics and Protestants have tweaked the wording to use modern language or to clarify a minor theological point. Appreciating the beauty and flow of the language from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, we use the original 381 version that has the words “and the Son” added. Jesus said that He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father. John 15:26 So both versions are theologically correct.

What Does the Quick and the Dead Mean?
“Quick” is an archaic word from the King James Bible that means “living.”

As a Protestant, How Can I Say:
“I believe one catholic and apostolic Church?”
Remember that the Creed was written 670 years before the western branch of Christianity became what we know today as the “Roman Catholic Church.” The word “Catholic” with a capital “C” refers to the Catholic Church. The same word with a small “c” means universal and that was the meaning of “catholic” as written in the both creeds. The Apostles lived with Jesus, wrote the Gospels and developed the Christian church that we read about in the book of Acts. We proclaim our belief in the universal church that was founded upon those apostolic teachings.

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