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Credo: I Believe

by Tim O'Hearn

Members of the Churches of Christ may be quite familiar with some of the slogans coming out of the Restoration Movement in America (early to middle 1800s). Perhaps the favorite is that “where the scriptures speak we speak; where the Bible is silent we are silent.” Because of various groups adopting practices or words that were not biblical, we “Do Bible things in Bible ways; call Bible things by Bible names.” Another was, “No headquarters but heaven, no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” This emphasized the autonomy of individual congregations and the authority for doctrine. Some have, perhaps unfortunately, shortened that to “no creed but the Bible.” Unfortunate, because by definition each of those slogans is, in itself, a creed.

A creed is a brief statement of belief. The word comes from the Latin credo, I believe. Most creeds—such as the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, or those above—were written primarily to distinguish one group from another. When the Gnostics were teaching that Jesus could never have been fully human and others were teaching that Jesus was not coeternal with God, the Nicene Creed defined the eternal divinity of Jesus. The Apostles CreedWhat were these weightier matters? Exactly what Micah had said. was apparently written, in part, to counter the doctrine that Jesus’ body (flesh) was not resurrected, and perhaps a doctrine denying the virgin birth. The triune creed mentioned above was a response to: 1) Roman Catholic hierarchy; 2) man-written creeds that did not always conform strictly to the Bible; and 3) the proliferation of books defining what faith should be. (It later applied also to the Book of Mormon and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.) Any creed will naturally distinguish its followers from others, but that is not necessarily wrong. After all, the Bible itself contains several creeds. Some are more complex than others, having anywhere from ten to only two statements.

The Ten Commandments

Although not the earliest creed in the Bible, the Ten Commandments are the most familiar and the most complex. While some of its tenets have universal application (do not steal, do not commit murder), this creed was given specifically to the Israelites (later designated the Jewish people). They had just come out of bondage in Egypt. They had been exposed for years to Egyptian thought and religion. God needed to put in simple terms what he expected of them that was different from what they were familiar with. That may be why the first commandment is that they were to put no other gods in priority to Him.

The Apostles Creed originally consisted of twelve statements, each according to tradition having been contributed by one of the apostles. The Ten Commandments are, obviously, ten statements. They can be divided into two or three groupings, depending on how you consider the fourth commandment. The first group deals with man’s relationship with God. The fifth through tenth commands define man’s relationship with man. The fourth (the Sabbath) is often grouped with the first three, but is actually transitional, defining one’s relationship within oneself as well as with God and man.

While this creed was defined to distinguish the Jewish people from others, many non-Jews still consider it as the foundational creed of all life. Thus we have arguments, even by non-Jews, over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed on U.S. government property.

Simpler Creeds

Rabbi Simlai said, “Six hundred thirteen commandments were given to Moses—365 negative, equaling the number of days in the year, and 248 positive, equaling the number of a man’s members. David came and reduced them to eleven. Then Isaiah reduced them to six, Micah to three, and Isaiah again to two, as it is said, “Keep judgment and do righteousness.” Then Amos reduced them to one, “Seek me and live.” Or one could say Habakkuk: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” (Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a, abridged)

This rabbinic statement covers several statements of creeds, simplifications of what God expects of us. The reference to David’s reducing them to eleven is to Psalm 15. These all put limits on how we deal with other people, and do not include the God-related commands of the Ten.

Isaiah reduced the commands to six. (Isa 33:15) These are similar to the creed of Psalm 15, including such generalities as walking righteously and speaking uprightly. It also contains more specifics, such as eschewing bribes and not looking upon evil.

The triune creed of Micah bears looking into. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8) When Jesus pronounced woes on the scribes and Pharisees, one condemnation was that they tithed precisely while omitting “the weightier matters of the law.” What were these weightier matters? Exactly what Micah had said, “judgment, mercy, and faith.” (Matt 23:23) Justice requires adherence to the commands of God. More specifically, justice demands that one does not enforce one command while ignoring others. It also means treating all men equally before the law, not excusing one for gain or favor over another. Both David and Isaiah, in their summaries referred to earlier, specifically condemned taking bribes to pervert justice. Mercy, on the other hand, tempers justice. One can be strict and unforgiving in respect to God’s laws, or one can show mercy. This should not be based on gain, but each instance based on its own merits. Christians particularly should show mercy to those who have erred, because God has been merciful to each of us who have become part of the body of Christ. Jesus equates faith with “walking humbly with thy God.” If one believes in the supreme creator God, how can one walk in his presence other than humbly? When we believe that “God exists, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb 11:6), the only possible response is humility. This is not abasement, belittling oneself. After all, the writer of Hebrews said we could “come boldly unto the throne of grace.” (Heb 4:16) We don’t come crawling to God, but we do come in humility, acknowledging Him as our superior.

The other three mentioned in the passage from the Talmud are Isaiah 66:1, Amos 5:4, and Habakkuk 2:4. They are even further simplifications, perhaps oversemplifications if looked upon as creeds, of the passages already addressed.

The Jesus Creed

Some of the creeds written by men have value in defining belief or action. Even the “five steps” to salvation (“hear, believe, repent, confess, and be immersed” or “faith, repentance, confession, immersion, and the gift of the Holy Spirit”) help to teach others what the Bible says concerning salvation. The danger is that one may become legalistic with any manmade creed.

Jesus was asked what his creed was. His response may have surprised some, although it was earlier stated by some prominent Pharisees.

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt 22:37-40)

It is probable that the questioner, who was a specialist in the Law, was asking which of the Ten was the greatest. After all, we generally consider murder to be more serious than petty theft, and both of them more serious than envying your neighbor. We tend to rank laws, especially the Ten Commandments. If truth be told, most people would probably rank “do not murder” above “don’t make any engraved images.” One reason we tend to do that is that we have our “pet” sins that we want to be less important than any others; or we have our serious sins that we consider unforgivable in others.

The Ten Commandments, as noted earlier can be divided into laws about how we deal with God and with each other. Jesus answered that these two areas sum up the whole of God’s laws for us. Instead of quoting from the Ten Commandments, though, he went to different sources. When discussing creeds, the Jewish people have always considered one to be above all others. That is the Sh’ma contained in Exodus 6:4-5.

Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha. (Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.)

This is such a foundational statementChristians particularly should show mercy to those who have erred, because God has been merciful to each of us. that the questioner probably nodded his head in agreement. Yes, this was the greatest command. He may have been surprised, though, when Jesus continued by quoting from Leviticus 19:18. (Of course, at the time the passages were not divided into chapters and verses, but it is convenient for us to think in those terms.) One of the surprising things is the context of the passage. It immediately follows as a result of choosing not to take revenge. “Do not bear a grudge, but love your neighbor as yourself.” The second most important command is not to take revenge? No, Jesus takes the passage out of that context and makes it much broader. Under all circumstances, love your neighbor.

In the account in Luke 10, the lawyer, “wishing to justify himself,” asks who his neighbor is. Jesus tells the parable we know as The Good Samaritan. His point is that if you love God fully, you will seek the best for all people. It may be a man lying beaten beside the road. It may be the homeless man on the street corner, or the refugee seeking asylum. It may be the person down the street or at the check-out line at the store who has never heard about Jesus. It may be an abusive spouse, or a loving one. It may even be a rebellious child. It could be yourself. The Jesus Creed says love; God first and others second. If you love God first, then the second part comes naturally.