The Apostles' Creed | Dwayne Cole
The Apostles' Creed | Dwayne Cole
JOHN B. COBB, JR., RETIRED PROFESSOR of theology from the School of Theology at Claremont, California, believes that theology has become obscure and irrelevant for most church members. Theology has become a discipline created by the theologians and handed down to the churches as something they are supposed to believe. He believes that theology is far too important to be left to the theologians in the university and seminary setting. Dr. Cobb has written two books that seek to reverse this trend, and involve the laity of the church in theologizing. One book is appropriately called, Lay Theology in which he defines theology as “intentional Christian thinking” (p. 11), and the other is On Becoming a Thinking Christian.
I agree with Dr. Cobb, and this series of sermons on the Apostles’ Creed is an attempt to involve the church in simply thinking theologically. Our Christian faith can grow stale like water that has been sitting too long in an old oaken bucket. When this happens we need to drink from springs of life-giving water (John 4:14). The Bible and our Christian Creeds are such springs when they lead us to Jesus, the living Water. One such source that has never grown stale is the Apostles’ Creed that is not composed of the exact words of the Apostles but a good summary of the message passed down by the Apostles. As such it has been accepted by Western Christendom as a valid expression of our faith in God who relates to us in saving ways in Jesus Christ and in empowering and transforming ways in the Holy Spirit. The Reformers elevated the Apostles’ Creed as one confession of their faith, and it thus found a place in the confessional documents of many Protestant churches. Its greatest strength is that it points to the basic facts of the life of Jesus; its weakness is that true faith is not believing facts about Jesus, but committing ourselves in loving trust to Jesus.
I have had a long standing interest in the Apostles’ Creed, teaching it as a theology course in college and preaching series of sermons based on it in the local church. This book evolved out of these settings and in its present form is based on a series of sermons I preached in the Mt. Sharon Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the summer of 1997 and the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. They were presented in written form for members to take home and study. The individual sermons were discussed on Wednesday evenings in Bible classes, with the purpose of forming our own private confession of faith.
The Bible and the creeds of the Church are always interpreted through one’s own world view. In interpreting the Apostles’ Creed, I ask the question, “What did these beliefs mean to the early Christians when they used some of the concepts as baptismal statements, long before they were shaped into the Apostles’ Creed in the fourth century after Jesus?” And since the language of the Creeds often sound ancient and outdated to us living in a modern scientific age that is far removed from the early Christian centuries, I ask, “What do these beliefs mean for us today?”
Asking and answering these questions in a church setting can help us to see that it is not necessary to drop God talk and just talk about Jesus and his love for children and for us. As thinking Christians who accept scientific views of how the world was formed through evolutionary ways over eons of time, we can still use phrases in the Creed like “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and by using the ancient language, we are linked with the early Christians and become a part of the “communion of the saints” through the ages. We can do this and still interpret what it means for us today through the prism of our own world view and our own private faith.
These sermons are informed by many of the insights of process philosophy and its sister, process theology, a relational theology that is scientifically informed, gender sensitive, racially conscious, and globally aware, and they are expositions of the gentle teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament.
Alfred North Whitehead, the Harvard philosopher and father of process philosophy, had the strong conviction that the church has skipped over the tender teachings of Jesus which slowly operate by love for the ways of Caesar. The Apostles’ Creed selects one flaming sentence out of life’s manuscript that might give back to the church its message: “I believe in Jesus Christ.” The sentence begins in the tender manger scenes, passes quickly to the sacrificial love of the cross, and emerges triumphant in transforming resurrection power!
These sermons are built around these gentle Galilean glories. They are presented here with the prayerful conviction that the Apostles’ Creed, fleshed out by the teachings of the Gentle Galilean, can lead the way in the creation of a world community bound together by cosmic love. I believe that the church can become such a cosmic transforming force.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten 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 again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. The following chapters will seek to interpret each article of this Apostles’ Creed.