Yesterday I asked whether or not the Apostle’s Creed should function as the minimum confession for Christian fellowship (here). There were plenty of great responses on this blog as well as on other blogs (e.g. the person who noted that the Old Roman Symbol is likely older). Some thought I was setting the bar too low (e.g. here). Others thought it was too high (here). I do not know if what I said was so much my statement on what “ought” to be the basis for fellowship as it was a pondering aloud of what seemed to be the actual boundaries within which I have functioned.
I continued to think to myself about this matter. I asked myself, “What did the earliest churches hold in common?” I am not going to say this is the only confession, but this is where I started: (1) Jesus is Lord and (2) Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Jesus is Lord: For Jews this would have been the fulfillment of messianic hopes. Jesus may not have acted exactly as each and every Jew expected the Messiah to act. This is because it seems that messianic expectations in early Judaism were diverse and nuanced. That being said, the earliest Jewish Christians understood Jesus to be “the Christ, the son of the living God”.
The Apostle Paul seems to have understood faith in Christ not as a simple verbal confession that this is an accurate answer to a trivia question. Rather, he saw faith as allegiance. To be a Christian was to declare allegiance to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, as Lord of the world. For the Apostle one must be able to confess that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10.9). This is something that loyalist to Christ do now, freely. This is the confession that those who are not loyal to the King will confess when his reign is fully established. As he wrote elsewhere, “…so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phili. 2.10-11)
So we see that salvation is more than right belief about Christ. Rather, it is a loyalist confession of allegiance to Christ, first and foremost.
Jesus has been resurrected: Along with the Lordship of Christ we see that the Apostle demands that one believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 10.9). Jesus’ Lordship is established by his resurrection (Rom. 1.1-6). If Jesus was not raised from the dead the whole apostolic proclamation is at stake (1 Cor. 15.12-19)!
All four evangelist put emphasis on the resurrection as the event that ends their narrative for all intents and purposes. The Book of Acts is essentially the story of how Jesus continued his reign by the Holy Spirit through his people. I have always understood the resurrection to be the core dogmatic confession of Christianity. As N.T. Wright has recalled his cab driver once saying, “If Jesus has been raised from the dead, everything else is rock and roll!”
In part, what I was saying in yesterdays post is not that I am a doctrinal relativist but rather that I believe salvific confession is more than cognitive affirmations. Salvation is political allegiance. It is allegiance to Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, whom God has crowed as Lord of the world. Since Jesus is Lord it is an imperative that we pledge allegiance to his Kingdom because this is God’s decision and to deny Christ is to rebel against God!
I am not saying that this is all one affirms and then one can sit on their hands. There is so much this confession implies. It implies that if Christ is King there is a Kingdom. If Christ was raised there is something we must know about future expectation like fulfilled reign, a judgment, and so forth. If Christ was raised by God there is a God we must know. This is the primary. This is the beginning confession. It is the starting point of entering the Kingdom of God.
What about the other doctrines? Those matter as well, but there is something we must consider: if the Spirit has brought a person to confess Christ as Lord then we must rely on that same Spirit to lead said believer into further truth. If a person does not affirm this or that core doctrine, creeds, or council this does not mean they are not part of the people of God, the church. It could (if the person has begun to reject God as more is made know to them) but it doesn’t necessarily do so.
Thoughts? What do you think of this as a primary (not necessarily a final, not the only, not merely the first) confession?