It’s a confusing religious landscape today. That is not necessarily new or newsworthy in itself, but there does seem to be greater doctrinal confusion and/or indifference than may have been the case previously. There’s more syncretism, more openness to compromise, more throwing of hands into the air in disgust—none of which has dispelled our confusion. Instead of leading to greater unity, however, there are some indicators that Christians in different camps no longer understand each other’s language, song, or worship, and sometimes wonder about the Christian status of the other.
There are statements about God, statements about our standing and purpose as humans, statements about our problems and our prospects that I prefer to some of their alternatives; hopefully, that preference has more to do with measuring their truth value than with what I simply find more comforting and reassuring. There are other statements that seem to me to be inseparable from claims to the name Christian. But this second set of statements is more limited than the first.
The second set, the ideas without which Christianity becomes something else regardless of the name one attaches to it, comprise what I believe in the strong sense of the term. That is, in a manner spoken by Augustine a very long time ago, these are things I/we believe on the basis of sufficient testimony and evidence and become themselves a way of knowing other things. In other words, we have sufficient reason to look at the world through the lenses they provide. This is a stronger sense of belief than I may have regarding other statements, even though I think they may be the best of the available options. Others may judge differently about them without denying what Christians believe in the strong sense.
I differ from some other believers on matters such as creation and even the nature of the new creation; on how it is that people demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit; on the precise meaning of terms such as sanctification; on appropriate worship practices, the nature of the sacraments, the structure of the church, the manner in which the Bible is to be appropriated for today’s living, and a host of other things. I do not count those who hold the alternatives to be non-Christian, even if I believe them to be mistaken in choosing them. I trust they will conclude the same about me.
So what do I believe in the strong sense, so strongly that I do not hesitate to take it as not only a legitimate but a necessary worldview foundation, even as an epistemological starting point? It’s not arbitrary. Christians have said they do this for centuries. It goes something like this:
<strong We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
I’m just one small part of the we, a group that includes many who do not accept the validity of creeds at all, yet have no argument with the articles herein contained. I pray all who read this are similarly part of “we” who believe in the strongest, life affirming sense.