In the not too distant past, Canada was considered to be a “Christian nation”. At a practical level however, that designation was often a vague concept that meant different things to different people, and it did not have very much significance on a daily basis. Regardless of what it meant in the past, though, such a sentiment would certainly not describe Canada today.
Since we cannot (and should not) appeal to our culture for a definition of Christianity, where should we look? Given the diversity that has developed throughout Christianity during the last two thousand years, perhaps it is best to go far back in time, back to one of the oldest creeds of the early Church. There are a number of creeds associated with the historical Church, but the most widely accepted is called the “Apostles’ Creed”.
In terms of structure, the creed contains twelve statements, and some ancient Christians associated the twelve articles with the twelve original disciples of Jesus. The content of the Apostles’ Creed is as follows:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living 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.
Volumes have been written about the content and structure of the creed (and some have astutely noted the absence of anything related to the Old Testament and the life/ministry of Jesus), but let’s look at two elements in particular. First, there is a reference to the “catholic” church. What does that mean? In its historical context, that was simply a reference to the “universal” church, that is, all Christian churches everywhere. It was not until later in history that the distinct Roman Catholic church came into existence.
Second, did you notice the references to all three people of the Christian Trinity? As we explored a few weeks ago on July 14, the Christian concept of God is Trinitarian – one God consisting of three persons. The Apostles’ Creed contains three “I believe in” statements – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As well, each person of the Trinity (ie God) is associated with a specific role or responsibility – creator, lord, and eternal life.
For centuries, the Apostles’ Creed has summarized what many people believe is the core of Christianity. If you have had personal experience with Christianity, which statement in the Apostles’ Creed is the most meaningful to you? If you have had little or no experience with Christianity, which is the most intriguing?