Christ and Creed

Rom. 10:10---' With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

It is important that we should believe rightly. One may say, 'it does not matter in the least what a man believes, provided he lives straight.' That is a reply which is often given; and its insufficiency lies in this, that it implies that belief and the springs of good conduct reside in separate water-tight compartments in a man's nature. Which is not the case. Character expresses itself in belief; and belief has clear effects upon action and, therefore, finally upon character.

If a man have the 'Christ spirit,' it seems to many people to matter very little whether he holds the Christian doctrines or not. And yet it is historically psychologically and experimentally certain that the 'Christ spirit' cannot be divorced from the 'mind' of Christ.' Emotion cannot be healthily maintained apart from thought. Sentiment is liable suddenly to disappear, or to swing round into an utterly contradictory passion, unless it be linked with some permanent reasons. And the same is true of good conduct. Stability of character is more likely where there is stability of principle. Ethical orthodoxy cannot subsist on mere sentiment. The allurements of the flesh and the devil, and the arguments which can sophistically brought up to justify them, are so strong and subtle, that without a real intellectual support unselfishness is impossible for long. In short, neither the Christian sentiment nor Christian conduct can be nurtured, let alone created, without Christian belief.

When people say they want 'Christianity without dogma', what do they mean? They cannot mean that there is no such thing as truth. What they must mean is that they will not be forced without conclusive evidence to say that they believe in everything which some particular set or sect of men say they believe in. Churches may make their own conditions of membership. They are not the gate-keepers of the heavenly world. One man can see farther than another, and farther at one period of his life than at another period. One nation, one age, is more subtle and profound than another, and all who live in that age and atmosphere are infected with its spirit. Ages, like individuals, can only see for themselves. To make a man say that he sees what he does not see is not to make him see it, it is to make him tell lies. To punish a man for not seeing something which he cannot see is, to use the quaint expression, to give a man "two black eyes for being blind." On the other hand, we are not to repudiate authority, for authority is the basis of most of our knowledge. Vast fields of knowledge are open to us only on the authority of others. We accept the conclusions of the great masters of science, not because we have verified their conclusion or are experts in their methods. We cannot investigate everything for ourselves. We must accept the conclusions of others. In ten thousand matters of practical life we must act on the authority of others. Such assent to authority is rational assent. We assent because we are assured by our reason that such an one knows more about a thing than we do; because we believe that he is master of the subject, which we, it may be, have neither time nor ability to investigate.

The story runs -- and has become proverbial in the controversy with questions as to a person's religion who takes refuge in the declaration, "I believe what the Church believes.' If that saying is offered as a reason for intellectual indolence, as if any of us could right live without exerting our mental powers in the matter of religion, it may be abused very dangerously. But if it is meant that none of us is really dependent on the slender understanding of truth which we personally possess, and it is our right and our strength to build on the larger basis of common Christian belief, and to supplement our weakness and our ignorance by the power and knowledge of the Church, then it indicates a truth both necessary and consoling. We are constantly taking conclusions worked out in laboratories or in the studies of scholars. It is not otherwise in religion. Behind the assumptions of the Christian life lie the labors of generations of thinkers and students. A whole theology is needed to justify in reason the simple prayer of a child.

So the human soul must have a creed. The soul must recognize the act by which it gives itself over to the possession of another. If it is to offer itself, personally alive, to the will and love of the Holy Spirit who personally calls us, it can do this only by our conscious intelligent act gathering up the purpose of the entire self into an uttered expression of a desire. If we are to be saved, we must be able to say 'I believe.'

"I believe in--what?' What is the meaning and intention of this world in which Faith makes its self-surrender? What was it that God then did for me? I must know enough of what it was, to give real force to the motive in which I trust His love today. And this I can know only through the experience of those who fell under its immediate and unqualified impact. Experience! Something happened: and men were there who saw and felt it. They experienced its invasion. They alone, who were eyewitnesses, can say what it was that they saw. An experience is a fact as felt. Something from without passed within their assimilative apprehension; it affected them in a certain manner; it produced in them a reaction; and that inward reaction is part of the truth of what we call the fact. We cannot state what the fact was without including its significance to them. Their experience of it, whatever it was, is essential to it. Then, we are required to give meaning to our eternal relationship to the pardon and love of God by filling it out with the experience which certain people had of its crucial activity on our behalf some 2000 years ago

Now this apostolic experience was conveyed to us through the medium of the Written Word. And, in order to sum up the very core of this unique experience, we have a Creed handed down to us. This Creed simply rehearses the fact as the men who experienced it understood it. It states the thing that they believed to have happened. That is all. And all the after-work of Creeds is devoted to this one object. The Creeds expand a little, and take in some new phrases. But these have no value except that of preserving and transmitting the one supreme experience.

The theological interpretation of the ultimate fact will vary from generation to generation, as each brings in, to help its interpretation, all the resources of its special experiences and peculiar modes of thought. But through all their variety of expression and application, their standard of value lies solely in their power to interpret the one work done once for all, the one experience through which God's Eternal Significance made itself manifest in a unique act of our salvation.

The Origin of Creeds. At first the Church formulated no creed, because none was necessary. Thus, if we examine the passages in the New Testament which describe the admission of a new convert into the Church, we find that it is the simple confession of Christ's lordship which he makes. The Philippian jailer asks in his terror, "What must I do to be saved?" And he receives the answer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Such was the earliest Christian creed. There was no necessity to commit it to writing. It was so simple that it ran no risk of being either forgotten or misunderstood. However, an instant's reflection shows us that this happy situation must of necessity be as short-lived. Very soon doubts and misunderstandings would arise. The lapse of time would bring unthought-of problems, and there would be none of the fathers left, whose decision would put an end to controversy.

So formal creeds or summaries of belief, which could be used for the instruction of new converts, or appealed to in disputes with strange teachers, came into being. Paul seems already to be alluding to such a summary which he says in his Epistle to the Romans that, whereas these Roman Christians had once been servants of sin, they had now become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto they were delivered. The form of teaching seems to mean some simple summary of Christian belief such as has been described. Such were the first beginnings of our present Creeds. As the centuries passed, the primitive statements of faith were found insufficient, and creeds became more lengthy and elaborate. Christian belief became a matter of intellectual interest. Conflicting doctrines were confidently put forward as the Church's creed. So to put an end to uncertainty, and silence controversy, the simple primitive creed was amplified and expanded. It was thought that the truth could not be too carefully or emphatically stated. Hence the great Creeds of Western Christendom, the 'Apostles', the 'Nicene', and the 'Athanasian'.

The Insufficiency of Creeds. The effort to express the idea of God in the form of a compact system of teach, valid for all man and for all time, is vain. Peter had his 'creed' in this sense, inherited from his Jewish forbears, and under its influence he was prepared to set limits to the operation of the grace of God in Christ; he comes in contact with Cornelius, and his creed is not big enough, and in astonishment he exclaims, 'Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and works righteousness is acceptable to Him.' The ideas transmitted from the past were too narrow to compass the saving goodness of God. So in later ages.

Religion is the response of the whole man to God-- the response of conscience and will, of thought and affection. But a creed is merely the expression of thought about God-- the utterance of the intellect. To lay the stress on the creed is therefore to affirm that in religion the mind is the first, if not of exclusive, importance. And this is false to the method of Jesus Christ. 'By this', said Christ, 'shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.' At every stage of His ministry He emphasized not what men said about Him or about God, but the practical attitude they took up. The affirmation of the mere intellect is nothing if it stand alone; the confession which the life as a whole makes is everything. 'He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him." Not doctrinal accuracy, but living obedience is the supreme condition of this hallowed fellowship.

The creeds, let us remember, belong to the realm of theology, and theology is science. It is the science through which men interpret the manifold revelation of God in Nature,in history, in Scripture, in the Church, in personal experience. And every science, however valuable, falls short of compassing the whole range and variety of the object with which it deals. Life, expanding, multiplying, expressing itself in countless forms, and continually increasing their number, is far larger and more interesting than biology, which is the science of life. The heavens are vastly more wonderful than the report of them which the most amply equipped modern astronomer is able to give. The beauty of tree and hedgerow, plant and flower, has a charm all its own; and he who responds to its charm knows something surpassing all the classifications with which botany has to do. In regard to God, we may be thankful for whatsoever great thinkers have done to assist the thoughts of their fellows; we may reverently study the creeds in which the common thought of large sections of the Church of God has been set forth; but a living faith in a living God carries us far beyond: 'Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much les this house ' of dogma, this temple of creed that men have builded! God is larger than our intellectual conceptions of Him. Love is greater than a formal treatise respecting love; light more glorious than the laws of light, though set forth by Newton or Tyndall; and the God who is Love and Light sheds forth His brightness and His grace far beyond the limits which theologians have been able to describe.

Religion is a falling in love. However much we describe and explain live, when we fall in love we are ashamed of our words. Explanation by the tongue makes most things clear; but love unexplained is clearer. 'In theology' the less we define the better. A true instinct prevents us entangling the faith of Christ with the philosophy of the day, the philosophy of past ages is a still more imperfect of it. Our reasoned thoughts of God are mostly sure to be false; a few great reverential thoughts or rather feelings about Him is our truest knowledge-- let every thought be a feeling.'

Creeds and Practical Religion.

The Christian religion is a personal relationship; it is not a form of words and it is not an ecclesiastical system; it is, in the first instance at any rate, a personal relationship towards Jesus Christ. That is one of the points that in these days need to be very strongly insisted upon. In the things of the soul we have to stand, as it were, one by one. No other man, no church, and no body of men, can ever be responsible for our attitude to God or for our relationship to God in Christ Jesus. But it is a great encouragement to our souls to realize that hosts of other people of all ages have seen in Christ what we ourselves have seen. That is the power of creeds to express the common faith and make the common confession.

There must be the open acknowledgment of our faith. 'Confess with the mouth.' We have to put our faith into words and give it articulate meaning. The disciples of Christ must not only own Christ as his Lord and Master; he must let his allegiance be seen. There could be no question of his keeping his faith a secret.

Many of us admit to our shame that we do not in any real way confess the Lord Jesus with our mouth. We do not let it appear that we are among His disciples. We gather but seldom at the table which bears witness of His love and His hope. We support the Church perhaps as a political institution---trying it as if it were a pawn in the game of politics---but we do not avail ourselves of its ministries. We are hindered perhaps by indolence, perhaps by false shame. But that an odious thing false shame is in all its forms! Bad as it may be to be ashamed of one's parentage or one's early friends, it is still worse to be ashamed of one's faith, the faith which has been the stay of the innumerable company of just men who watch us from the world unseen

Creed issues in conduct. A definite way of believing ends in a definite way of living. The Christian metaphysic results in the Christian ethic. Right thinking must accompany right living. 'Not every one that says unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.'

A religion of hunting the Bible for hidden truths, but no obedience, no sacrifice needs a change. Words must become deeds. The commands of Christ are not for mere Sunday recitations, but they are battle calls to be obeyed. Instead of saying 'Lord, Lord', in our most reverent voice and continuing to be deaf to obeying the Lord's commands is a failure to rely upon God as a real Father and to trust Him. We need to drop cant and ceremony and become a Christian. Reverence in the New Testament is not politeness and the manifestation of disobedience, but we are to have a childlike obedience, trust and love for our Lord.

Jesus Christ did lay down a law; He set before us an ideal; He did aim at a character change in His children; and He does require a certain way of conduct of his followers. The gospel does have ethical implicates. Obedience to the law of Christ is an absolute necessity. There can be no real faith in Christ and no real love to Christ unless we do the things that our Lord says.

The very acceptance of the Divinity of Jesus Christ lies in this simple personal relationship of trust, obedience, and love. It is not a question ultimately of three Persons in one or of two natures in one Person; it is not an intellectual problem at all. It is a problem of the soul and of faith. Who is ultimately the person who believes in the Divinity of Jesus Christ? Is it the person who says he does? Is the man who says he is prepared to accept everything the Church has said on the subject? Or is it the person who, in the secret place of his own soul, in that temple where none enters but himself and God, is able to say, "My Lord and my God", and who caries out his confession in loving obedience every day of your life?

We often hear that in business and in matters of everyday concern people are always anxious to deal with the head of the firm, with the man who can really say the thing with authority; they do not like to be put off by clerks, secretaries, and the rest of it. Surely it would be wise thing if people would do that in religion. After all, ministers, churches, books, creeds, doctrines, sacraments, are all in the position of the intermediary, of the clerk, so to speak. You want to get behind every one them to the Master who alone is able to meet your need and who alone is able to speak to you the Word.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha