Last Sunday, for the second time in 25 months, a shooting occurred during a church service in Texas. For many, this thought is unthinkable. One metaphor for the church is a hospital. It is a place to come to be healed from the week, to be healed from the effects of living life in the world, not a place for chaos and for killing.
The very room we are in – the sanctuary – may have different names in different churches. Some will the primary gathering place the worship center or something similar, but historically it is called sanctuary. Sanctuary is not necessarily a place of worship; it is a place of refuge. Historically, it is the last place that someone would shoot someone else. This idea is not just true of more modern times, it has root in the Bible where God designated certain cities a sanctuary cities (or cities of refuge, cf. Deuteronomy 4.41-43). If a person killed someone by accident, they could flee to a city of refuge, and if they reached the city, they were given asylum until the high priest died, at which point, a kind of atonement had been made and the person was free to leave without fear of retribution.
But, today is quite different. The world has changed. We can no longer find refuge. And the world has not only changed, it is still changing. It is changing fast. We just changed to a new year, some will say a new decade. But most of us can still vividly remember the change of the century just 20 years ago.
So much has changed in that 20 years. We have known of terrorism for decades, but now that terror is not only in other countries, it is in our churches, it is in our schools.
We live I a world where love is preached, but the practice is hostility because hatred and confusion are everywhere. We live in a world where values are changing, where principles are forgotten, where truth is ignored.
But the change is gradual and so we do not take notice as much as we could. Of course, media, and specifically television, has made change so much easier. As Rick has mentioned in the past, Ricky and Lucy could not sleep in the same bed together, and when Lucy got pregnant, she was said to be “with child.” Shortly afterward, Rob and Laura Petry were prominent and still slept in different beds, but Laura wore pants sometimes. Yes, she was married and a homemaker, but she did wear pants. On the other hand, Sally was single and working, and always wore a dress. Little changes. But big changes. Not all change is the same, however. Change can actually be divided into two major types – continuous and discontinuous.
Continuous change is what develops from what has already been. We call this a natural progression. The change can be anticipated. It is often managed and is under control. An example could be the modern telephone. The telegraph allowed communication to happen quickly, eventually leading to the ability to communicate by voice, then to do so without wires on a cordless phone, and now we carry our phones with us so we can communicate (often by text, i.e. telegraph) wherever we are.
On the other hand, discontinuous change is disruptive. It is hard to determine what will happen next. Thoughts and assumptions are challenged and the results are consequential, whether for the good or the bad. Again, let us consider the telephone. While much of the change was incremental, when the iPhone was released, things changed considerably. We now have not only a phone but a camera in our pocket. We not only have the ability to talk but to watch videos and play games and listen to music on what was once a device that required not only wires, but knowing that anything you said could be overheard at the switchboard.
So, change is constant. Change will happen. Therefore, we, as people, must change. The question is: How will we transition with the changes around us?
Well, as Christians, we must also change, but we do so with a constant in our lives. One constant exists. And that constant is not merely in the universe, He created the universe. That constant is God.
He is our constant in a world of change.
But we have a problem – we do not believe. At least, we do not believe as we say we believe. A quote that is attributed to DL Moody is, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” While he may not have said it, the words ring true. (1)
Why are the words true? Because we do not believe as we say we truly believe. If we truly believed, you would have no worries. If you truly believed, you would have no doubts. If we truly believed, we may not be sitting here right now, or more people might be sitting here.
But the problem is not that we don’t believe. The problem is that we don’t believe enough. Or more specifically, we believe much like the father in Mark 9.24. Read Mark 9.23-24.
The father knew he needed to believe. But he knew his belief was not strong enough. Perhaps he did not believe correctly. This series is to help us not only believe correctly, but also to put our belief into practice.
Mark 9.23 tells us that Jesus said belief makes all things possible.
If belief makes all things possible, then why do we face the challenges we do?
Well, faith requires action and our actions are based upon what we truly believe.
Why Do We Need A Creed?
So, what do we believe? Well, a true Christian will believe the ideas presented in the Apostles’ Creed. As Albert Mohler says, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.” (2)
A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING
As humans, we can be overly sentimental and hold onto items that are otherwise worthless. We have items from when our kids were in elementary school, and clothes from when they were young. Susan and I have our letter jackets. All of these items are worthless to most people, but they have a sentimental value to us.
But in the midst of all of the changes around us, most people look for some sort of stability – something unchanging, something in which to believe. A creed can provide that. Certainly, creeds can be abandoned (or even altered), but a creed that is built on the Bible, and a creed that has stood for centuries, can provide what many people desire.
A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING
It is one thing to have a belief; it is another to share it with others. When many people hold the same belief as you, a bond can form. This bond may not make sense at all. You may recall the championship parade in KC after the Royals won the World Series in 2015 (yes, that really did happen!), people (as many as 800k) who did not know one another were squeezed together for hours by one bond. The bond was simple. In the grand scheme of history, the bond meant nothing. And I doubt most of the people talked to one another again after that day. But for one day, a shared belief created a tight bond.
So, consider the impact of a belief that does have meaning, or, at least, should have meaning. We know people down the road, across the town, in another city, and around the world that share the same basic beliefs. And we have examples of people throughout history who have shared these same beliefs. That provides comfort. It should provide assurance – if, what we believe is true. The truth of the creed will wait for another message – for now, we must understand that a creed allows for common perspective.
Now, the fact is that a creed can be mis-guided. But that does not make creeds wrong. For instance, non-believers will say that the Apostles’ Creed is wrong. But having a creed can help prevent erroneous belief. For instance, Fairfax Baptist Church requires members to be baptized. That requirement may not be an official creed, but it is similar.
Traditionally, Baptists have not endorsed creeds. But we have always endorsed confessions. The Baptist Faith and Message is a confession of our beliefs. The first Baptist confession was developed by one of the first two Baptists, Thomas Helwys, in 1611, the same year the King James Bible was first published. (BTW, Helwys thought King James was the antichrist. After making that claim, he was jailed and never heard from again). Another important confession was the 2nd London Confession (1789). The Baptist Faith and Message was first adopted in 1925 (largely to refute evolution and an anti-supernatural movement), revised in 1963 (to uphold the divine inspiration and credibility of the Bible) and then in 1998/2000 to reflect changes related to the sexual revolution.
Biblical creeds, themselves, go back centuries. Beyond the Apostles’ Creed, which likely developed in the 2nd or 3rd century, the next oldest, and well-known, creed is Nicene Creed from the 4th Century. Early creeds, like confessional statements today, were to help prevent heresy from entering the church. The early church had to determine how to understand if Jesus was separate from the Father or the same as God, the Father. Later, a similar argument was made about the Holy Spirit. These councils and the subsequent confessions (creeds) helped to define orthodoxy in the church for the last 1700 years.
So, creeds have a place. And that is why, in the midst of all of the chaos and change around us, we are doing this series – to remember the constant in the midst of the changes around us. I know I have not spoken about Mark 9 yet, but I will do so quickly in just a moment. Before I do, I want to bring your attention the Apostles’ Creed itself. I want us to take time to memorize it over these coming months. Today, we will simply recite it, but in the coming weeks, as we examine each phrase, we will work to memorize it.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived of 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 sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
Whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic Church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And life everlasting.
Again, as Mohler said, a Christian should believe more than that, but not less. But beyond simply believing, we must understand that belief alone is not enough. Let us briefly consider the story in Mark 9.
First, we must understand the overall context of Mark 9. The story here falls directly in between the disciples starting to believe in Mark 8 and the faith exhibited by Bartimaeus at the end of Mark 10. Specifically, we can look at Mark 8.27-31 where Peter makes The Great Confession about Jesus as the Christ, and then the next verses where Peter rebukes Jesus for what He says.
This example shows Peter believed, but not really. Then, in Mark 9, we have Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus where they see something unbelievable. They believe what happened, but cannot fully process it. When they come down the mountain, the complaint is made by this father that the he brought his son to be healed but the disciples at the foot of the mountain could not do it. Thus, Jesus does it, eventually.
Then, Jesus makes another statement about his death AND resurrection and the disciples, who have faith, argue about which of them is greater. Hello! Jesus just said that He would rise from the dead and you are worrying about how great you are!
But finally, if we jump to the end of Chapter 10, we see someone who is blind who not only has faith, but exhibits that faith in what he says (crying out Son of David) and does (leaving his cloak, which likely had money in it) to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where with his new eyesight, he might have watched him die just a few days later. But then, three days after that, if he was still around, and I presume he probably was because he recognized Jesus as the Son of David, he got to SEE Jesus alive!
Given that overview of Mark 8-10, let me go back to the father in Mark 9. We cannot dismiss this man as a man of simple faith – oh, if I believe, everything will be fine. No, this man was a man of faith and action, but he knew he needed more.
This man cared for this son since these demonic attacks started in childhood. He would have had to care for the boy physically (the burns), emotionally (perhaps the boy developed a fear of drowning from being thrown into the water). It was the man’s responsibility to earn a living for the family, but this man was there for his son – day in and day out.
So, he heard about a man named Jesus who might be able to heal his son. He travelled to see Jesus. He was not there, but his faith (maybe just hope) said something like, “Well, these men have been around Jesus, so they can probably do it.” But they couldn’t. Yet the man stayed. He waited. He had to wonder how long he would have to wait. He had to be embarrassed by the situation. He had to be more than a little disappointed. Certainly, he was still concerned for his son. But he waited.
And then, when the opportunity presented itself, he seized it. He had a moment with Jesus. And it changed his life. And it changed his son’s life. Why? Because he believed, and yet he acknowledged that he needed more faith.
The same is true for probably every one of us today. We may believe, but is our faith complete? Paul would answer no. In 1 Corinthians 13.13, we are told that love will remain, but faith will one day disappear. Why will it disappear, because it will not longer be needed when we reach the other side of eternity. But until then, it needs to develop. We need to grow in our faith and allow our faith to move us into action.
And active is what we must be. It is said that a person does what they truly believe. Many people made resolutions to get healthy this year, but they will sit in front of the television instead of exercise. Their actions show they believe the television is more important than their need to be healthy. If we say, we are followers of Jesus, we need to be following – we need to be moving.
In last month’s business meeting we adopted a new vision: To Know Christ and to Make Him Known. A part of me believes that is more of a mission statement, but as I have thought about it, it can be a powerful vision statement. So, this year we begin this sermon series with a focus on knowing Christ better. But the goal isn’t just for our knowledge, it is so that we will be prepared (equipped) to make Him known.
We may believe, but if we truly believe in the God of the Bible, that belief will change how we do everything. That belief may not always change what we do, but it should change how and why we do what we do.
So, as we contemplate all of the changes around us, it is important know that God is real, that Christ’s life and death and resurrection matter. It is important for us to find assurance in our beliefs that are based upon the Bible. That is why we will be reviewing the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed does not replace the Bible, rather, it summarizes the essence of authentic belief, a belief that must be expressed and active by the church Jesus promised to believe.
Our JOURNEY letter this week is J – Jesus. As we start the year, let us make a point of knowing Him in order that we can make Him known.
LEARN – Take time to read through the Apostles’ Creed this week. Begin to memorize it if you wish.
(2) Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity In An Age Of Counterfeits, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, xvi.