by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: John 17:11-23
I. Every once in a while someone will ask what is our statement of faith.
A. Back when we were home schooling, we were wanting to get involved with a local group, but they wanted us to sign a statement of faith
B. Another name for a statement of faith is “creed.”
1. A creed is a statement of what one believes.
2. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a. A brief authoritative formula of religious belief
b. A set of fundamental beliefs or guiding principles
C. Creeds exist because of division
1. Two people claim to be Christians, but they don’t agree. A creed exists to distinguish one group from another.
II. For instance, the Apostles’ Creed was written around AD 140 to refute a false teacher named Marcion and his followers.
A. Marcion was the son of a bishop in Pontus. He was a mariner and somewhere in his travel he came across Cerdo.
1. “Cerdo was one who took his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus ... He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous, but the other benevolent. Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing, he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself. But Jesus being derived from that father who is above the God that made the world, and coming into Judaea in the times of Pontius Pilate the governor, who was the procurator of Tiberius Caesar, was manifested in the form of a man to those who were in Judaea, abolishing the prophets and the law, and all the works of that God who made the world, whom also he calls Cosmocrator.” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.27.1-2].
B. Marcion thought the Old Testament referred to a tyrannical God who created a flawed world. He believed that Jesus revealed a good God of love and mercy. In other words, Marcion thought there were two Gods. Jesus could not have born in this world, since the world is a part of the lesser God’s work, so Marcion claimed that Jesus just mysteriously appeared in the temple at the beginning of his ministry.
C. Therefore, Marcion concluded that the Old Testament was not Scripture. He only accepted the Gospel of Luke (leaving out the parts he felt were too Jewish in nature or that proved Jesus was born) and some of Paul’s letters, especially those that Marcion thought were anti-Jewish.
1. “Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us, furnishing them not with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it. In like manner, too, he dismembered the Epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the apostle respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also those passages from the prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us that they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord.” [Irenaeus, I.27.2].
D. Of course Marcion insisted that only followers of his doctrine are saved.
1. But he went further to say, “that Cain, and those like him, and the Sodomites, and the Egyptians, and others like them, and, in fine, all the nations who walked in all sorts of abomination, were saved by the Lord, on His descending into Hades, and on their running unto Him, and that they welcomed Him into their kingdom.”
2. But in regards to those of the Old Testament who followed after the lesser God, “Marcion declared that Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and those other righteous men who sprang from the patriarch Abraham, with all the prophets, and those who were pleasing to God, did not partake in salvation. For since these men, he says, knew that their God was constantly tempting them, so now they suspected that He was tempting them, and did not run to Jesus, or believe His announcement: and for this reason he declared that their souls remained in Hades.” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.27.3].
E. The Old Roman Creed was developed to counter Marcion’s followers and was intended to be recited at baptism
1. It was lightly modified and began being called the Apostles’ Creed around AD 390 because a belief developed that the apostles each wrote a line of the creed before leaving Jerusalem.
2. It was lightly modified over the next few centuries to take stances on a few other issues. The current version comes from the 8th century.
III. It isn’t too difficult to see that Marcion’s beliefs are false. Any belief that requires removing portions of the Bible to justify clearly has problems.
A. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham are among the heros of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
B. Abraham is used frequently in Paul’s writings as illustrative of faith - Romans 4:9-16
C. Jesus, of course, was born into this world - Galatians 4:4
D. Denying the prophecies of Christ leaves Marcion’s followers having a religion that has no proof of validity - John 5:39
E. The number of passages which state that the Father made the world are large - Hebrews 1:1-3
IV. The problem with the Apostles’ Creed is that it asserts without proof
A. There is an objection to what Marcion taught, but it appeals to no higher authority than itself.
B. The oldest form (The Old Roman Creed) is believed to have been written about AD 140. The oldest recording of it says: “I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (the life everlasting)” [Recorded by Marcellus of Ancyra, AD 341].
C. The current 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 Ghost, 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 sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.”
D. The one line I object to is saying that Jesus descended into hell, though we can put that down to the Old English that didn’t make a distinction between hades and hell - Acts 2:27
E. But what makes its teachings any better than anything else?
1. If it is right, it is only right because it happens to agree with the Scriptures.
2. Its use doesn’t establish what is right.
V. Creeds puts men’s words above the Scripture
A. Creeds are seen as authoritative and a guide
1. The Apostles Creed is used by the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans and Episcopals, the Lutherans, and Methodists during their baptisms
2. It will also appear in their worship services at times.
B. Our authority is found only in Christ, who gave his teachings to the apostles - Matthew 28:18-20
C. We are established by the gospel - Romans 16:25-26
D. Creeds stand between the people and the truth. If a false teaching needs to be refuted, we need to pull out our Bibles, not insist that people agree to a creed.