I saw this poster recently on a popular social networking site. I don’t know its source nor its creator but my first thought after I read the poster was: “I wonder how many viewers will know the origin of these words?” My next thought: “How many people will recognize that many words from the original historical document (from which this poster had been created) had been left out?”
In previous generations, we often referred to the Cliff Note version of any given literary work in order to study for a test or perhaps to get the gist of a story line, but we always understood that the Cliff Note version did not tell the whole story. In the case of this poster, even the Cliff Note version of The Apostle’s Creed, the historical document from which this poster was created, has been reduced down to what I might call Twitter Feed theology.
Our brains are capable of learning and understanding so much more than we imagine if we would only give them a chance! First, the basics must be learned – terms must be defined – we must become grounded in the fundamentals. The next step: digging deeper into the topic, asking questions, connecting the dots and discovering reasoned answers.
This kind of well-conceived educational process does not appear to be prominent in most contemporary churches. Our fast-paced, media-driven culture drives everything into warp speed so that the mind only has time to process the bullet points of any given topic. Real discernment is the result of thoughtful and careful study, as well as struggling with experiences that challenge what we want to believe, though our understanding should never be driven by experience alone.
While most people find plenty of time to check their social networking sites multiple times a day, these same amazing people rarely make time in their day to study those things which would become of most valuable to them. These self-inflicted, addicting habits of minutiae are incurred at a tremendous cost. There is little time left in the day to engage our brains with important theological concepts which will deeply instruct the mind and the heart — those things which speak of the eternal rather than the temporal.
The Apostle’s Creed, in its original version, is beautifully crafted and rich with doctrine. It was not written by the Apostles but is an accurate summary of the core teaching of the Apostles. It was written no later than the Fourth Century and contained within its words are the necessary fundamentals needed to understand salvation….and so much more. It is simple and short, easy enough for anyone to understand. (Which begs the question, “Do we really need it to be more simple than it already is?”)
So, I am befuddled. Why would anyone want to massacre such an important, historical document?
Here’s the original Apostle’s Creed.
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
2. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary;
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell;
5. The third day He rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
7. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit.
9. I believe a holy catholic Church, the communion of saints;
10. The forgiveness of sins; 11. The resurrection of the body;
12. And the life everlasting. AMEN.
Here’s what the poster left out.
1. Maker of heaven and earth.
God is the Creator — both of heaven and earth — meaning He is the author of everything. Our apostolic Fathers did not make this mistake. They were clear and concise rather than vague and reductionist in their words. It’s one thing to say you simply believe in God, but it’s quite another to define the God in which you say you believe.
2. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; The third day He rose again 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 living and the dead.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. A reference to the Trinitarian nature of God is important or we are led down the road into deism or theological error. An understanding of the Holy Spirit is also necessary to understand how we grow in Christ as well as the sanctification process. In John 14, 15 and 16, Jesus discloses that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name and that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things in regard to the truth of the Father, from whom He proceeded. How reassuring to understand that we don’t have to count on our own frail understanding! That assurance, however, should never be an excuse to ignore the necessity of a sound, biblical education.
Jesus was born — he is a real historical figure. His mother was still a virgin while she was pregnant. Without this understanding, we fail to understand the significance of God’s sacrificial gift to His beloved — that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. (Another Trinitarian statement).
Jesus suffered. Jesus suffered in this world, both from leaders and commoners alike. Because Jesus suffered, he can understand our own human suffering completely. We have a compassionate Savior!
Jesus was crucified to death, buried, then resurrected, yet this poster contained no words about the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ from the dead. The contemporary poster makes it sound like the only thing that matters is our choice of belief — that our choices and personal decisions about that choice are more important than marveling in what God has already done on our behalf, something we could never do of our own accord. If Jesus had not died on our behalf, then risen from the grave, no atonement for sin would have been made on behalf of the sinner. This one is crucial and should never have been left out.
Jesus ascended to heaven where he lives today. He has been reunited with the Father, a sure promise given to the true believer. Such a great hope! Though the poster mentions a resurrection of the human body, why would we believe or even understand this statement if Jesus had not been raised up first?
There will be a judgment day. Both for the living and the dead. The omission of a judgment day gives a false sense of assurance to those who may not believe. For those who believe, Christ has assumed our judgment and borne it on His very own scars so that we are free, indeed.
This beloved creed, in its original form, upholds our understanding of the Trinity and the nature of God. It is historical in nature, reminding us about the historicity of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It explains the Church as God intended it to be. It gives hope to the believer of our future resurrection and eternity.
Unless we are confident in the object of our belief, our tendency is to create our own belief system from which we draw a false sense of comfort. A self-imposed, subjective belief system is always dependent on personal whim. Without sound theology, founded on reasoned examination, how can we understand what Christ has already done on our behalf on the cross and in the resurrection? How can we understand that His sacrifice (death on the cross) atoned for our sin (the sin of original sin, not just the sin we commit every day on a regular basis)? How are we to have an eternal hope in a historical Savior if we deny every aspect of his very real, historical life?
Truthfully, it is very hard to watch the rich heritage of the Christian faith reduced down into bullet points, as demonstrated in this poster. Twitter Feed Theology is unwise, instigates incorrect theology and believes self-imposed false ideologies. Certainly, the gospel is simple at its core, but I must ask, where is our desire to delve deep into the wonders of what God has disclosed in His Word — all of His Word? Not just the parts we personally want to hear. Not just the parts our family or friends, throughout generations, have chosen to embrace without true discernment. Not just the parts that incorrectly appear to connect us to our country and its founders. Rather, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in all of His Word. Scripture contains so much more than mere bullet points, which can be misunderstood if not clarified and compared with other portions of scripture.
I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Perhaps the creator of the poster merely wanted to simplify the Apostle’s Creed so that more people might understand these words more easily in a reduced form. Perhaps he wanted seekers to fall in love with these simple words withdrawn from the original creed. The problem is that even when intentions are sincere, this kind of mentality never works, as evidenced by the failure of seeker churches all over our country. The mantra of easy-believism and the promotion of a dumbed-down gospel in seeker-oriented churches is driving more and more people away from our Father’s Church, the single, very place they should find sound answers and heavenly comfort.
A recent poll revealed many trends, including the fact that our children are running away from the church, where the means of grace is received by believers each Lord’s Day. They are embracing universalism (and other random ideologies) and its ideals at a fast rate. Sadly, many of them were raised in seeker-church evangelical environments, but other churches have been infected, as well. A seeker-church mentality in its contemporary form is unrecognizable to the historical, orthodox, Protestant faith of Christianity. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
Perhaps this person did not want to say anything that might be offensive to those reading the poster. Hello, the gospel is offensive! Galatians 5 reminds us that the cross is an offense to our hardened hearts. We are born completely dead in our sin (speaking of original sin). We are not just a little bit alive enough to do anything on our own in regard to salvation, but we are, as Ephesians 2 tells us, entirely and totally dead in our sin. I rather suspect that our hearts need to be offended in order to see clearly the complete desperation of our state of being. The result? When you leave out more than three quarters of the story, it is easy to develop the desire to create your own path to salvation. Hello universalism.
God, in His rich mercy, provided exactly and specifically what we needed, Jesus Christ, so that we would not experience His wrath. The concept of the wrath of God is foreign to contemporary evangelicalism because it is offensive to human ears. Yet, it is because of the very wrath of God that we needed a Savior in the first place. Because of our innate sin, we deserve His wrath, yet His mercy has been shown to us! He provided the necessary sacrifice to atone for our sin. Romans 5:9: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
3. I believe a holy catholic Church.
I had to learn about this one the hard way. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, though today, I am a confessional, Reformed Christian. Daresay, in those days, we would have never used the word Catholic (capital C) for any reason. In much of evangelicalism today, confusion continues about the word ‘catholic’ (little ‘c’). Catholic (capital ‘C’) refers to the Roman Catholic Church and mind you, as Southern Baptists, we were anything but Catholic.
The word catholic (little ‘c’) refers to the universal church of Jesus Christ, not the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly, many evangelical pastors and lay people, in ignorance, continue to promote this false understanding of the word ‘catholic.’ Traditions and habits are easily passed down through generations, even if they are incorrect and false.
I’ve actually known people who who will start to quote the Apostle’s Creed and then become completely silent when the sentence with the word ‘catholic’ is to be recited. The minute the sentence is finished, they chime in on the communion of saints. It is tragic that this sentence, regarding the catholicity of the church, was left out on the poster. The universal Church is God’s beloved, made up of His covenant people from every denomination, race and culture. We all should be celebrating God’s goodness and mercy to all of His beloved — the holy catholic Church. The universal church, however, is not universalism.
The dilution of sound doctrine in the church has broken my heart for more years than I care to count. The richness of sound doctrine instructs. It comforts. It brings joy to the believer. Rarely does a slaughtered version of doctrinal statements do anything to bring such peace and joy to the soul of a believer. Rather, bullet points bring confusion, a lack of discernment and an absence of joy.
I’m overcome with emotion when I read the real Apostle’s Creed. I am reminded, once again, that if Jesus had not died on the cross on my behalf, I would have been left in the state of original sin, as would every human on the planet. BUT GOD! (Eph. 2: 1-10).
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10)
Yes, doctrinal error abounds in our generation, much of it due to insufficient study, which results in a lack of honest discernment. It scares me that many in our generation consider that Twitter Feed theology is all they need. As one friend said to me several years ago, “I don’t need to know more about Jesus; I just need to love Him.” To that friend I must ask, “Just which Jesus do you love? The one you created in your mind or the one found in scripture which you obviously do not know anything about?” You see, it’s easy to express an opinion but the real question is this: “Is there truth in your words or are you simply stating your personal preferences or self-truths?”
Living in the Hall of Shallows and Denial is comfortable. It is easy and requires no effort. It is self-affirming and self-congratulatory, giving credence and affirmation to posters such as the one on the left. This poster is yet another example of doctrinal error. Do you know why?
My guess is that it has already crisscrossed the globe multiple times on the internet and millions of people have already embraced these words as truth when they are far from biblical truth.
Thankfully, we have a God who is bigger than Twitter Feed theology – who is faithful to complete what He started. In this regard, I can think of no other passage more suited to use as my conclusion than this:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
After all — it’s about the work of Christ has already done on our behalf — not about any effort on our part.