(By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)
Man has always wanted to "have his cake and eat it too." So it should come as no big surprise that some religious leaders today feel free to depreciate the authority of Scripture, while at the same time utilizing the historic Christian creeds as part of their ministry. But do they really believe it? That is, can they honestly say the creeds are absolutely true if they don't accept the literal nature of the Bible and Christianity?
The doctrines which are laid out in the Apostles' Creed are historic Christian doctrines derived from Scripture. These doctrines are fundamental to the Christian faith. The nature of God. The virgin birth. The death and resurrection of Christ. The forgiveness of sins. Eternal judgment. And life everlasting. Not exactly the stuff of skeptics.
We are dealing here with supernatural revelation which came to man through the Word of God. The Apostles' Creed lays out in broad strokes the most essential aspects of the Christian faith. These doctrines are either literally true, or not. A Christian stakes his soul on the truthfulness of these doctrines. He does this not because the creed says these things are true, but because the Bible says so.
So if you don't have a strong conviction about the veracity of Scripture, is it honest to use the Apostles' Creed as though you do? Is it appropriate to carry out ministry under the banner of Christianity if you question the reality of Christ's resurrection for example? And on the other hand, if you truly believe Christ was born of a virgin and rose from the dead, the rest of the literal revelation in Scripture shouldn't be too hard to swallow. The big stuff gets laid out in the creed. But do you really believe it?
It is stunning to see what gets taught in liberal-leaning congregations these days. You are left to wonder, "Where in the world did they come up with that idea?" And yet, one of their rituals (during a baptism for example) involves people reciting the Apostles' Creed together. Talk about a disconnect.
After all, the Apostles' Creed isn't politically correct. It endorses only one religion. That narrow path simply isn't kosher in liberal-leaning congregations. Christianity must be seen, we are told, as one of a number of good options out there. And "our brothers and sisters" in other religions can enlighten us in spiritual matters just as we can enlighten them. Oh really? How does that work? And how does that philosophy match the doctrine in the Apostles' Creed which your members speak aloud with one another from time to time?
If truth be told, a good number of liberal-leaning religious leaders are essentially "universalists." They believe that most sincere people of all religions will live with God forever. Never mind the fact that Christianity has never taught such a thing. Yet these progressive spiritual guides proudly do so with the Apostles' Creed tucked in their back pocket so to speak for good measure.
Anyone who has ever started down the path of "liberal-leaning theology" soon discovers just how slippery things become underfoot. Before you know it, you are lost in a spiritual maze where human reasoning supersedes biblical authority. No wonder the serpent attacked Adam and Eve's confidence in what God had told them. Satan hates to see people interpret God's Word literally because faith and obedience are born out of such confidence.
Some church leaders interpret their budgets and bank accounts in a literal way, but the historic creeds in more of a "symbolic" way. Those who approach it with intellectual honesty, however, recognize that a "faulty Bible" leaves you with a "faulty creed" as well. But what the "laypeople" don't know won't hurt them, right? We are the "higher critics" of Scripture, and all the people really need is just a little dose of religion every week to keep them happy.
OK. So maybe we don't agree with conservative Christians on the literal nature of biblical doctrine and the creeds. But just look at our social programs. Look at all the people we are helping. Doesn't that count for something? Doesn't that prove we must be doing something right? Otherwise, how do you explain our relief work among the needy of the world?
It is a pretty convincing argument, at least on an emotional level. It appeals to the heart. It appeals to the compassion within us that wants to alleviate pain and suffering wherever possible. And social work is a good thing, as long as it doesn't replace literal Christian doctrine. If it replaces the truth of God's Word with noble deeds of assistance, you leave people feeling good about their charitable work while struggling to have personal faith in the literal and living Christ.
Must one choose between truth and compassion? Of course not. It is not only possible to do both "literal Christianity" and social ministry, but it is actually being done today by million of Christians all around the world. And some of the greatest acts of compassion have to do with getting the Gospel message of salvation to those who are lost in their sin. Feeding a man for a day is good, but feeding his soul for eternity is all that man will care about after his body dies.
So with that issue clarified, we come back to the question of whether or not liberal-leaning churches interpret the Apostles' Creed literally. This is really a question only they can answer for themselves. But it is a critical question that begs for a straightforward answer.
No one can miss the fact that there is plenty of doctrine not only in the Apostles' Creed, but also in the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. These core doctrines have been held by Christians since the early days of the church. But in our day, not every so-called "Christian church" teaches these doctrines as absolute truth. Within some religious groups, picking apart the Bible has become an art form. But it is disingenuous to identify your message as "Christian" when the Word of God is held in such low esteem. Without Scripture, we wouldn't have a clue as to the truthfulness of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Christians have always believed, for example, that Jesus Christ will literally return to earth one day and He will judge the living and the dead. And not everyone will make it into heaven. Not by a long shot. The historic creeds present a faithful witness to the major doctrines of Scripture. And it is that same Bible which has come under such vigorous attacks over the years by "enlightened higher critics." It is tragic to see the way man in his puffed-up pride calls into question the Gospel message, heaven and hell, and the bodily resurrection of Christ.
If you attend a liberal-leaning church, ask the pastor if he interprets the Bible and the Apostles' Creed literally. If he beats around the bush, it is likely that he has strong reservations about the authority of Scripture and the literal nature of the doctrines presented in the Apostles' Creed. This simply reveals how far some self-proclaimed "Christian churches" in America have strayed from the path.
At the same time, many church leaders today lovingly and unashamedly teach the historic Christian doctrines concerning the nature of God, heaven and hell, the resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, etc. These pastors and teachers literally believe the Bible. But for those who do not have strong convictions about the authority of Scripture, we find an abyss of emotional appeals but very little if any literal doctrine.
After all, the problem with literal doctrine is that many religious people (and irreligious people) all over the world get left out of God's family. And that just doesn't seem very nice.
Liberal-leaning churches generally prefer what is perceived as "nice" and "acceptable" to society, rather than getting too specific about biblical doctrine. And their self-induced pressure to promote a "nice" path over a narrow path is what leads many liberal-leaning ministers to promote social programs, but not the literal nature of the creeds or the Bible. After all, one must believe it before he or she can stand up and teach it with any sincerity. Allowing members to recite a creed is one thing, but promoting those doctrines as absolute truth is quite another.
Such convictions were apparently not a requirement in those seminary courses which presented the Bible skeptically and critically rather than with childlike faith. And the proof is in the pudding, which has about the same consistency as doctrine that is not firmly grounded in the literal Word of God.
But let's always remember. God loves believers, unbelievers, atheists, liberal-leaning folks, and conservative-leaning folks. And a Christian isn't merely someone who attends a church. That religious activity does not guarantee genuine faith. A Christian is someone who literally believes in Christ as Savior, and therefore has compassion and the love of Christ in his or her heart. Such compassion longs for many others to be saved from sin and from eternal punishment in hell.
Anything short of that conviction and compassion is just religious talk, human reasoning, and wishful thinking.