The Sunday School class that I attend at Clark Memorial is set on a course of Bible study without the use of curriculum. A walk through Bible— scripture as the one and only source. I love it. All commentary arises from within. Questions raised that remain unanswered sends the ‘inquiring mind’ out to ‘seek’ information, knowledge, wisdom, revelation— the working out of salvation.
While in the book of Peter, the study brought us to the 4th Chapter where the statement “… to judge the quick and the dead” led to the discussion of the ‘Apostle’s Creed’. Voice was given to the fact that as a Methodist Church tradition we have recited most every Sunday; have come to know ‘by heart’ this ‘Apostle’s Creed’, with very little knowledge of it’s meaning. While the discussion was going on I began to scan the shelves of books which surround us as we convene in the Church’s Library. When asked what I was looking for I responded, “a source for church history, like a Williston Walker or a Kenneth Latourette”. In truth, this question of the ‘Apostle’s Creed’ could not be solved apart from the Church’s History; inclusive of the line which was most recently amended— ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church’.
The fact that Jesus was born, lived and died within the faith of Judaism indicates the void in his mission for purposeful organization. Matthew alone has knowledge of Jesus saying ‘upon this rock (Peter) I will build my church…’; where, to be sure, the word ‘church’ or Jesus ever having the notion to build church, never arises in the thought or witness of the other three Gospel writers. What is clear is that it did not take long after Jesus’ death for the Disciples to ‘organize’ and define their place in the establishing of this ‘new faith’. By the time that the ‘New Testament Canon’ was closed (382 AD Council of Rome; 393 African Synod of Hippo; 397 Council of Carthage; 1546 Council of Trent)— we have received a New Testament Bible in which the terms church and bishop are inclusive.
I suspect that it is Paul’s work that has to be credited. While the Jerusalem Church was a single entity, Paul’s Letters are the result of the work of what I submit to be THE ‘OB’— ‘Original Bishop’. He has preached a very powerful gospel in multiple cities where convicted and converted gathered in newly formed ‘Christ-centered’ communities; inclusive of his work to define their purpose for existing as a ‘body of Christ’; to maintaining written contact with each group; to re-visits; to giving personal council on their daily living in salvation community. That the Roman Church raised up in the Capital City of the Empire, surviving the Great Persecutions to become the governing seat of this developing ‘catholic/universal’ church is simple mathematics.
The ‘Apostle’s Creed’ then, began as a defining mechanism to separate the various conflicting thoughts about who Jesus really is. Williston Walker writes, “… the strongly consolidated church that came out of the Gnostic and Montanist crisis is now usually described as the ‘catholic’. This ‘Catholic Church’ developed its distinguishing characteristics between 160 and 190 AD. … The power of the bishops was greatly strengthened, a collection of authoritative New Testament Scripture recognized, and a creed formulated.”
Several church historians have noted that the ‘Apostle’s Creed’ began as an ‘interrogatory creed’ where at Baptism the convert was asked ‘Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?; to which he responded ‘I believe’. ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God…? I believe’. What was interrogatory is now declaratory.
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