I believe in God
by Jack Wald | September 18th, 2011

The Apostles’ Creed
I just returned from the US on Wednesday afternoon – at least the shadow of my body returned, my mind and body were still drifting somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Traveling can be very disorienting. In my three weeks in the US I slept an average of 2.3 nights per bed. I flew to Boston and then after one day with my family, I flew to Minneapolis for a conference of Presbyterians from my denomination who are dissatisfied with the theological drift of the church. It was an absolutely wonderful conference with excellent worship and preaching. I was very much encouraged and have hope that the Presbyterian church (PCUSA) can again become a useful tool in the hands of Jesus as he builds his church.

I was planning on preaching this fall from Isaiah but at this conference, as we discussed the theological drift of the denomination, I though of  this advice Paul gave to Timothy, advice that I have on the board above my desk. (I Timothy 4:16)
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

This mainline denomination in which I am ordained, Presbyterian Church USA, has been drifting for years and moving away from the authority of the Bible. In one survey, 2/3 of the pastors in the PCUSA do not believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.

In the summer of 2010 the General Assembly passed an amendment allowing practicing homosexuals to be ordained. 2/3 of the Presbyteries voted in favor of this amendment and so it became church polity in July 2011. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and more than 1,900 pastors and leaders of churches dissatisfied with this change met at the end of August to discuss a new direction that will put distance between them and the denomination. I am told that 48 of the fifty largest churches in the denomination were present at the meeting.

In eleven years, no one from the Presbytery has written me or phoned me or emailed me or asked me how I am doing. My only contact has been sending in my monthly medical and pension dues and then meeting for lunch or breakfast when I come back, something that I have to initiate. And now that there is a new Presbytery Exec and Stated Clerk, neither of whom I know, and I don’t even do that anymore.

I have wondered why I am ordained in this denomination when I have so little interaction with it and when I disagree so much with many of their decisions. Now I am encouraged that perhaps Jesus is breathing new life into this denomination and it can once again be a useful tool in the building of his kingdom.

So as I sat at the conference I thought of the importance of being anchored by the truths of the Bible.

This theological drift is not unique to my denomination. Over the course of history the church has continually drifted. In many ways the church simply follows the drift of the culture surrounding it. The devil and our human nature work to pull us away from God and unless the church is vigilant, it gets pulled with the culture away from God. In our own time we have moved from a culture of certainty to a culture of cynicism. There is no more absolute truth in our culture, at least not in the West.

Working hard to gain success is being replaced with a sense of entitlement that says I should be able to receive without having to sacrifice or work hard. Politicians say whatever they have to say to get elected. It is not longer a matter of running on convictions; it is a search for the power of elected office and politicians will say and do anything necessary to get elected – and then do anything necessary to hold on to their power.

Several years ago Chuck Colson pointed out the cultural drift by comparing two movies. One is Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and filmed in 1942. The other is The English Patient starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche filmed in 1996. Colson pointed out that in the 54 years between these two films, the culture moved from one in which Bogart gave up his love for a greater cause. Bogart sacrificed his own interest for the greater good. 54 years later Fiennes betrayed his country in order to go to his love. This is the cultural drift we are on. Our sense of self has put us at the center of the universe and our desires and our interests are more important than anything or anyone else.

Our culture is drifting toward a world where we do not think of the interests of others but first and foremost ourselves. “I believe in God” is being replaced with “I believe in me and a god who serves my interests.”

Homosexuality is an increasingly accepted lifestyle and those who view it as an undesirable lifestyle or as a sinful lifestyle are labeled homophobic. In the media culture of the US, anyone who makes a statement that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful or harmful is dismissed. That person either has to make a public apology or lose their job.

Divorce used to be viewed as sinful but now, even in most of the church, divorce is easily tolerated.

Culture thinks it is advancing, progressing, moving steadily toward an earthly utopia. But in 1920 after the War to End All Wars and before WWII, T.S. Elliot asked:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

As the culture drifts the church drifts with the culture and becomes weak and impotent. Elliot wrote in another poem:
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells up-turned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?

We drift and the church must not drift with the culture. Culture and popular opinion are not our guide. The Bible is our guide. And so we need to continually affirm the truths to which we hold.

In all this drifting, what centers us? What holds us to the truth? The Bible is the anchor that keeps us from drifting with the culture. But there are 66 books of the Bible, 1,189 chapters and 31,103 verses. There is a need for something shorter that communicates the essential truths of the Bible and for that reason the church has created creeds.

This morning I am beginning a series of sermons on the Apostles’ Creed that begins with, “I believe in God.” In the midst of the drifting we declare, when we read the Apostles’ Creed, that there is a truth to which we hold.

The word creed comes from Latin and the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed, Credo in Deum. I believe in God. Creeds have been used by followers of Jesus to express their belief from the very beginning.

In John 1:49 Nathanael said to Jesus:
Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

In Matthew 16:16 Peter said to Jesus:
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In John 6:68 Peter answered Jesus:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

In John 20:28 Thomas said to the risen Jesus:
My Lord and my God!

Paul wrote in Romans 10:9
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Paul wrote in I Cor 15:3-4:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…

And finally in  I Cor 8:6 Paul wrote:
yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Immediately in the churches of the New Testament theology began to drift. In Galatians Paul addressed those who wanted to add obedience to the Jewish Law to faith in Jesus in order to be saved. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he had to deal with those who accepted Jesus as a man but not as divine.

Over the centuries the drifting has not stopped and the creeds were written in response to the new heresies that developed.

The Apostles’ Creed was in more or less a fixed form in the fourth century and by the seventh century had settled down into the form we have today. As the church grew, new questions were asked and new creeds were written to hold on to the truths of the Bible.

In the fourth century the Arian controversy erupted with some claiming that God the Father begot Jesus the Son and so there was a time when there was God but not Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon was held in 451 to address this and resulted in the Nicene Creed, about twice as long as the Apostles’ Creed, and begins with, “We believe in one God.” In order to insist on the divinity of Jesus, it speaks of Jesus as “being of one substance with the Father.”

This morning we will begin with the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed,  Credo in Deum, I believe in God.

When we sing the Graham Kendrick version of the Apostles’ Creed, we sing, “We believe.” Why do we sing we rather than I? God exists in relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God brought his truth to Abraham with the promise of a community that would be as many as the sands of the sea and the stars in the sky. We are meant to live and worship in community.

But we say in the Apostles’ Creed “I believe.” I think this has meaning because truth is not democratically determined. What we believe is not based on how many people believe what we do. We do not take a poll to determine what we believe. We do not have elections to determine what it is we believe. What we believe is true, even if only one of us is alive to believe it. Islam could become the dominant world religion with Christians a persecuted minority and that would be an emotionally difficult position to be in, but it would not affect what is true. Even in that scenario, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

When the culture drifts and does not support the beliefs of followers of Jesus, we take a stand and say, “I believe.”

Secondly, we say, “I believe.”

The Greek phrase is literally translated, “I am believing into.” This is quite different from someone who might say, “I believe there is life on other planets,” or “I believe my national team will win the World Cup.”

Someone can say, “I believe in God” without having any emotional or spiritual attachment to God. “I am believing into God” says I am living in a relation of commitment to God. “I believe in God” says that there is a God and I am committed to him.

Baptism in the early church had great significance. In a world that was often dangerous for those who declared themselves to be followers of Jesus, baptism was not simply a ritual of the church to pass through. In baptism the individual being baptized was not simply asked to recite a creed, he or she was asked if they personally believed in the gospel.

Here is an excerpt of a sermon preached in the fourth century to those who had just been baptized.
You were asked, “Do you believe in God the Father almighty?” You replied, “I believe,” and were immersed, that is, were buried. Again, you were asked, “Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and his cross?” You replied, “I believe,” and were immersed. Thus you were buried with Christ, for he who is buried with Christ rises again with him. A third time you were asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” You replied, “I believe,” and were immersed for a third time.

In baptism the individual declared he or she was now a follower of Jesus and ready to follow him anywhere, even unto death.

Thirdly, we say, “I believe in God.”

The God in whom we believe is a holy God.

There were many views of God in the ancient world. The Babylonian and Assyrian view of God was a pantheon of gods who fought and struggled, who seduced and manipulated. The God of Genesis stands above all these other ancient views of god. The God of Genesis is a holy god who is separate from his creation and yet desires to be in relationship with his creation.

When Moses met God at the burning bush, he asked who God was and God replied, “JEHOVAH,” which means “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be.”

When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai with the second set of stone tablets (Exodus 34:5–7)
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

This is not a god to be trivialized. This is not a god to put on your shelf and decorate with flowers and incense. This is not a god to be manipulated to get what you want. This is a god approachable only because he first approached you.

When Isaiah came into the presence of God he said, (Isaiah 6:5)
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

When Peter saw the holiness of Jesus when Peter pulled in a net full of fish he said, (Luke 5:8–9)
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

When John received a vision of Jesus on the Isle of Patmos, he (Revelation 1:17)
fell at his feet as though dead.

There is no other way to respond to God who is holy.

The God in whom we believe is a relational God.

In Matthew 28 Jesus told his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The God in whom we believe is, as I mentioned before, a relational god because he lives in relationship with the members of the Trinity. This is a great mystery and the closest I can come to understanding this is that the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is so perfect that there is unity, oneness.

The unity and fellowship of the Trinity is the model for us in the church. We do not model ourselves after one of the churches in the New Testament because they are only imitations of the fellowship of the Trinity. We are to strive to be relational as our triune God is relational.

The God in whom we believe is not distant and unapproachable because the nature of God is to be in relationship. The perfect relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was worked out in the creation of the universe and of men and women so we could also be in relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with each other. “We love because he first loved us,” John wrote in his first letter.

To believe in God is to hold on and persevere. Hebrews 11 is the great chapter of faith, of men and women who believed in God. Their belief was not casual; it went deep and carried them through very difficult circumstances.

Abraham believed despite no evidence whatsoever for his belief. For years he went without having a child even though God had promised him descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Abraham and Sarah believed and in her old age she gave birth to a son. Abraham was then tested and offered up the only evidence that God’s promise to him would be fulfilled as he lay Isaac on the altar to be sacrificed.

Isaac and Jacob, as imperfect as they were, persevered and continued to believe. Jacob wrestled with God and would not let go until he received God’s blessing.

The parents of Moses believed and hid their son from the Egyptians. Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh but
he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

Moses tried to become the deliverer of Israel but then fled in misery to the desert to live out the rest of his life as a failure. But by faith Moses believed and led Israel to Mt. Sinai.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

These were men and women who believed in God. These are the men and women who model for us how faith is to be lived out.

The writer of Hebrews continues in chapter 12
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

I have seen people pray to be a follower of Jesus and then watched as they drifted along. Their spiritual roots did not seem to go very deep and circumstances pulled them away from the commitment they made. I have watched other people pray to be a follower of Jesus and have been stunned as I watched a miracle unfold in front of my eyes. I could almost see the roots going deep. I do not know at the time what will be in the future, but I know God is preparing to do a great work in their lives.

I know people whom I love very much who seem to be drifting along with the church. They were brought up in the church, had good experiences with Christian groups in university, but now they seem to be simply drifting along. And my prayer for them is that they will become passionate for Jesus. I pray that their belief will be a passionate love for Jesus.

I sent out in the RICEmail a newly discovered favorite musician, Jason Gray. If you have not taken the time to listen to his videos, I encourage you to take the time. I wish we could sing it this morning. But for now, listen to the words of his song, Falling in Love.

Give me rules, I will break them
Show me lines, I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet, it’s gotta be

More like falling in love than something to believe in
More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling in love

Give me words, I’ll misuse them
Obligations, I’ll misplace them
‘Cause all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free, it’s gotta be

Deeper and deeper
It was love that made me a believer
In more than a name, a faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me, it’s gotta be

“I believe in God” needs to be, I am passionately in love with God and I will never let go of him. Even if I am the last one standing, I will hold on to Jesus and trust in him.

If the entire class mocks my faith, I will give a good answer why I believe. If the entire office views my faith as primitive and irrational, I will stand with Jesus and be unashamed. If my entire family is against me, I will continue to love Jesus and pray to be light and salt for him. If my culture drifts, I will hold on to the anchor of the truth of Jesus as found in the Bible. If my views become unpopular, I will lose the respect of society in order to stand with my God who loves me and has saved me.

I believe in God and I will not let go.