Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 16

The Nicene Creed~ Part 2

In our last post, we began to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we dig a little deeper into the background of the Nicene Creed.

Why Nicaea?

The Nicene Creed is the most authoritative common confession of the Messianic movement. Like all ancient baptismal confessions, it is presented in three phases or articles corresponding with the three Persons of the one God attested in Scripture.

There are two centuries of confessional prototypes before Nicaea. Their Christological core is found in Philippians 2:6–11, which confesses: 6 Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, in that He took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when He appeared as a human being, He humbled Himself still more by becoming obedient even to death – death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore God raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – 11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. (CJB)

This same core confession repeatedly appears in the rule of faith we find in Ignatius (107 CE), the Epistula Apostolorum (150 CE), Justin Martyr (165 CE), the Presbyters of Smyrna (180 CE), Der Balyzeh Papyrus (200 CE), Tertullian (200 CE) and Hippolytus (215 CE), all in use and carefully committed to memory more than a century before Nicaea (325 CE). All early creedal prototypes follow this same sequence of confession. Scripture itself provides the structural basis for the organization of baptismal teaching.

As early as about 190 CE, Irenaeus of Lyons summarized the faith of Believers in this memorable way, which anticipates the background of this series: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles, and their disciples, this faith: [She believes] in one God,

  • the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and
  • in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and
  • in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God.”

This core outline of Messianic teaching had already appeared originally in Matthew 28:19–20 in the formula for baptism, where the resurrected Lord concluded his earthly teaching with this summary charge to all subsequent believers. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” (CJB)

Today’s Messianic teaching still stems from early baptismal teaching. Messianic theology came into being to explain Messianic baptism. The Creed first had a baptismal teaching function that later came to have a doctrinal teaching function – for the defense of the faith, for liturgical life, scholastic, and systematic theology, and for the training of persons charged with teaching the faith.

T.C Oden opines:

“Today, we live amid a flurry of well-publicized efforts to revive ancient heresies. Some are desperate attempts to give even the weirdest ideas some faint aroma of legitimacy: DaVinci decoding, the grail as a bloodline, the sexual relations of the Messiah, the insertion of ideological claims into Messianic interpretation, the new Gnostic elitism. Doting press attention has been given to these highly speculative forms of advocacy that promote long rejected documents and ideas. It has become a profitable media game to defend the poor heretics against the oppressive winners and elitists who wrote the rules of orthodoxy. The truth is the opposite: the most extreme elitism of all false claimants to Christian truth came from the Gnostics, who were contemptuous of the naive consensus of uninformed believers, and who were never even interested in gaining the hearts of ordinary believers. Yet ordinary believers then and now could easily recognize that these later speculations did not match the authenticity, beauty, and clarity of the original apostolic witnesses.” [1]

The Nicene Creed is the first which obtained universal authority. It rests on older forms used in different East communities and has undergone some changes again.

In my next post, we begin to dig into the first article of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] General Introduction. In G. L. Bray & T. C. Oden (Eds.), We Believe in One God (Vol. 1).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 11

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 10

This post will begin our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

The story of the Bible begins with the Ruach brooding over the abyss, ready to bring forth creation out of nothing (Gen 1:2). And at the turning point of the ages, we find the Ruach brooding over the womb of a virgin (Luke 1:35). The Ruach rests on Miryam’s body in order to bring forth the new Adam, the beginning of a new creation.

The language of the creed reminds us that the work of this creative Ruach is not yet finished. The same Ruach is now brooding over the whole human race, bringing forth a new human community in the image of Yeshua.

One of the great themes of the Bible is the unity of the human family. In the garden of Eden, God makes a man and a woman, a miniature society imprinted with God’s own image. And the Bible ends with depictions of a future city where people from every tribe and tongue will live together in a perfect harmony of praise (Rev 7:9).

In Genesis, the fall brings about a tragic disorder in human relationships. There is a curse now at the heart of the relation between man and woman, as well as between parents and children. The relation between humans and the rest of creation is likewise blighted (Gen 3:14–19). God’s creation is divided. Each human being is a fragment torn loose from the whole.

This grim assessment of human error culminates in the story of Bavel [Babel ~ Confusion] (Gen 11:1–9). Here, human beings have begun to use their collective life to mock God. And so, God divides their language, making it impossible for them to work together. They can no longer share a common world or articulate a common good. They cannot form a coherent society. Each group is a mere splinter of humanity, all scattered across the cursed earth, exiled and alone.

But with the coming of Yeshua, the story of Bavel is reversed. When the Ruach descends on the frightened company of Yeshua’s followers, they all begin to speak in different languages. The multicultural crowd outside is astonished to find that each one’s language is being spoken by a band of Galileans. They ask, how is this possible? Aren’t all these people who are speaking from the Galil? (Acts 2:7).

The Shavuot (Pentecost) story shows the undoing of the fall through the creation of the Messianic community. There is now a new society in which all the old divisions are torn down. That is what happens when the Ruach is present. The Ruach fulfills the Creator’s original plan by bringing forth a universal community whose boundaries extend to the whole world. The Ruach broods over the chaos of human nature, lovingly piecing the fragments back together so that together we form an image of the Creator.

Sha’ul notes that the presence of the Ruach is marked by heightened individuality as well as a deeper communal belonging. The Ruach fuses unity and diversity by bringing many gifts together in one body (1 Cor 12:12–31). We become more truly ourselves as the Ruach broods over us and as our lives are knit together with other lives and stories.

In this way the Ruach broods over each of Yeshua’s followers, renewing the human race one life at a time and drawing all into a common family. There is nothing more personal, and more universal, than the Ruach HaKodesh.

The Holy Catholic Church

At baptism, each Believer proclaims that the Kehillah is “catholic.” The word simply means universal. It means that there is only one Kehillah because there is only one Lord. Though there have been many Messianic communities spread out across different times, places, and cultures, they are all mysteriously united in one Ruach. Each local gathering of Believers is a full expression of that mysterious catholicity.

The Kehillah is catholic because it is a microcosm of a universal human society. In the waters of baptism, all the old social divisions are made irrelevant. The Kehillah includes every kind of person: rich and poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free (Gal 3:26–28). Whatever defined a person before is relativized by the new defining mark of membership in the company of Yeshua’s followers. There is no social barrier that could exclude a person from inclusion in this body. The boundaries of the Kehillah are as wide as the human race.

Further, the Kehillah is catholic because it preaches a catholic message. The Gospel is not addressed to one particular social class or ethnic group. It is addressed to every imaginable human being. There is nobody in the world for whom the message of Yeshua could be irrelevant. One of the most unusual aspects of the Messianic faith is its translatability. The other great monotheistic traditions, Judaism, and Islam place a high value on preserving the divine message in its original language, whether Hebrew or Arabic. But right from the start, the Messianic movement was marked by translation. Yeshua himself spoke Aramaic, but the four Gospels all translated His teaching into vernacular Greek so that the message would be available to as many readers as possible. Within a remarkably short time, the Messianic movement had taken root in many different cultures, each one reading and proclaiming the Gospel message in its own tongue. The message of Yeshua is a catholic message.

The message of the Gospel is also “catholic” in the way it responds to the human plight. The deepest human needs are addressed in the Gospel. The message of Yeshua does not just speak to a special part of life – the moral or spiritual part, for example. It speaks to the whole person, body, and soul, individual and social. It is a catholic message because it embraces the whole person in a word of grace and truth. The Gospel is as broad and deep as human life itself. It is a catholic word because it speaks to the whole human condition.

But there is an even more radical dimension of Messianic catholicity. The greatest barrier that divides human beings from one another is not culture or language or class. The greatest barrier is death. It splits the human family into the two classes of the living and the dead. All other social divisions are petty compared to this great division. All human beings are powerless before this fundamental boundary. But in the resurrection, Yeshua has stepped across the barrier and restored communion between the living and the dead. He has formed one family that stretches out not only across space but also across time. The body of Yeshua is the most inclusive community imaginable because it includes not only those who are now living but also all Believers who have ever lived.[1]

In my next post, we continue to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 10

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 9

This post will begin our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

This article of faith may be the hardest to wrap your mind around.

I know it was for me. The Father was not that hard even though He was not visible. I knew in my knower that something or someone must have created the universe and populated our small portion with the human race, along with the animals and vegetation. I was told that someone was God, and He was our spiritual Father.

Yeshua was not difficult for me to believe in. After all, He was divinely sent by the Father in human form to explain the coming of the Kingdom of God. There is just way too much evidence through His teachings and performance of miracles not to believe that He is the promised Messiah. He revealed to us more about the Father’s plan to redeem His creation.

Now, the Ruach was a different matter altogether. Who was He? There was not very much taught about who He was or what His function in the churches I had attended. However, as I mentioned in my About the Author page, I attended a Faith Alive weekend encounter at the Episcopal Church we were attending at the time. Several other Episcopalians from around Southern California came to share their experiences as Believers.

On Friday evening, the leader laid out the schedule for the weekend, and from two or three who shared their testimonies before we broke up into small groups to discuss the ups and downs of our own walk of faith. This was all new to me.

On Saturday morning, we met in the homes of parishioners to focus on prayer. The one I attended was led by one of the sweetest elderly ladies I had ever met. Her extemporaneous prayers were something that I had never experienced before. All the prayers I had ever heard were from the Book of Common Prayer used in the church.

At noon, the guys and the gals had separate lunches where the testimonies centered around personal ministries of caring for the widows, orphans, and prisoners. That also had a significant impact on me because I knew that ministry was mentioned in the Bible.

That evening, we met back at the church for some more testimonies and small group discussions. As the meeting ended, I went back into the church and knelt at the altar to pray. My prayer was simple, “Lord, I don’t know what these people have, but whatever it is, I want it.” Although I felt warm and fuzzy and at peace, there was no outward manifestation of an answer to my prayer, so I just went home to go to bed. I was scheduled to be the Lay Reader the following day.

On Sunday morning, as was my custom as a Lay Reader, I read the assigned Psalm for the day. I wanted to make sure that I could read it with dramatic emphasis as if I were an actor in a play. That is when the Ruach hit me; I actually understood what I was reading for the first time. He had opened my spiritual eyes.

From that point forward, I have experienced many manifestations of His presence in my life. Now, I can truthfully say that I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In my next post, we will really begin to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 9

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 8

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated at The Right Hand of The Father

Early Believers proclaimed a Gospel of Yeshua’s bodily incarnation, bodily suffering, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the ancient Kehillah was not about spiritual escape but about the redemption and transfiguration of human life in its fullness, including the life of the body. As Irenaeus said in the second century, the Son of God“did not reject human nature or exalt himself above it,” but united Himself with our nature in order to unite us to God.

When the Brit Hadashah writers speak of the ascension, they are not describing Yeshua’s absence but his sovereign presence throughout creation. He has not gone away but has become even more fully present. His ascent to the right hand of the Father is His public enthronement over all worldly power. No scriptural passage is quoted so often in the Brit Hadashah as Adonai says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ~ Psalm 110:1 (CJB).

The earliest Believers proclaimed that Yeshua had been enthroned as the universal Lord and Messiah. The exalted Messiah has entered His glory (Luke 24:26; 1 Tim 3:16). From now on, all things are subject to His authority (Phil 3:21; Heb 2:8). Because He is ascended, His life is universally available. His loving authority extends over the whole creation and is present wherever Believers assemble (Eph 1:20-23). He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Pet 3:22).

So, the ascension is not meant to make us wonder where Yeshua has gone. Instead, it ought to elicit the psalmist’s question: Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? ~ Ps 139:7.

And through our union with Yeshua, we share also in His ascension. When Yeshua ascends to the Father, He takes our humanity with Him. To quote Irenaeus again, because Yeshua has ascended we also “ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father.” In Yeshua, our nature has taken up residence in the presence of God.

He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and The Dead

To judge is to discriminate, to separate one thing from another. The Gospel of John portrays Yeshua as the light of the world. The same light shines on everyone, but there are different ways of responding to it. Some walk gladly into the light while others screw their eyes shut and remain in darkness. Now, this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light. Why? Because their actions were wicked. (John 3:19). That is what it means for Yeshua to bring judgment. It is not that He is gracious to some and angry toward others. Yeshua is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The judgment that Yeshua brings, moreover, is not just a division between two kinds of people. When Believer’s light shines into our lives, it creates a division within ourselves. None of us is entirely good or entirely bad. Each of us is a mixture. The bad grows up in our lives like weeds among the wheat, and the two are so closely entwined that in this life we cannot easily tell the difference (see Matt 13:24-30). Sometimes our worst mistakes turn out to produce good fruit. And sometimes we discover that our virtues have produced unforeseen collateral damage. Our lives are not transparent to ourselves. We cannot easily tell where the bad ends and the good begins.

So, it is a comfort to know that one day someone will come and lovingly separate the good from the bad in our lives. The confession that Yeshua will come as the judge is not an expression of terror and doom. It is part of the good news of the gospel. It is a joy to know that there is someone who understands all the complexities and ambiguities of our lives. It is a joy to know that this one – the only one who is truly competent to judge – is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He comes to save, not to destroy, and He saves us by His judgment.

Yeshua will come to judge the living and the dead. That will be the best thing that ever happens to us. On that day, the weeds in each of us will be separated from the wheat. It will hurt – no doubt it will hurt – when our self-deceptions are burned away. But the pain of truth heals; it does not destroy. On our judgment day, we will be able for the first time to see the truth of our lives when we see ourselves as loved. [1]

In my next post, we will begin to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 8

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 7

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” ~ Psalm 139:8 (CJB). [1] The message of the Bible is that death is not the end. Death does not defeat God’s promise. Death is not separation from God. In Yeshua, God has dwelt among the dead. The Living has embraced the dead. Death has been incorporated into life.

Several of the Brit Hadashah authors describe Yeshua’s death as a descent into the world of the dead.

This is why it says, “After he went up into the heights, he led captivity captive, and he gave gifts to mankind.” Now this phrase, “he went up,” what can it mean if not that he first went down into the lower parts, that is, the earth?~ Ephesians. 4:8–9.

18 For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; 19 and in this form, he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. ~ 1 Kefa 3:18–19.

Therefore, God raised Him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:9–11 (emphasis added).

The dead are not lost forever. They are not condemned to silence. In Yeshua, the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. ~ John 5:25. Because of Him, the emptiness of death has been filled with God’s fullness.

The Son ofGod has taken our nature to Himself. He allows our fallen nature to drag Him down. He descends to the very abyss of the human condition. He traces our plight right back to the root and takes hold of us there. He embraces our humanity at the point of its total collapse into nothingness.

Because He shares our nature, He can fall with us into death; because He is the Son of God, he can fill death with his presence so that the grave becomes a source of life. In Yeshua, the dead are united to God and are alive in the strength of that union. The resurrection is not just an isolated miracle that happens to Yeshua. It happens to us – to Adam and Eve, to me, to the human family. As Yeshua rises, the whole of humanity rises with Him.

In the ancient church, the message of Yeshua’s triumph over death produced some peculiar attitudes toward the dead. Believers would assemble for prayer in tombs. They would worship Yeshua among the bones of the dead. Believers would raise the bodies of martyrs in the air and parade them through the streets like trophies. At funerals, they would gaze lovingly on the dead and sing psalms of praise over their bodies. Such behavior shocked their pagan neighbors. According to Roman law, the dead had to be buried miles away from the city not to be contaminated. But Believers placed the dead right at the center of their public gatherings. The earliest church buildings were just big mausoleums erected over the remains of the martyrs. In the words of John Chrysostom, “tombs with life, tombs that give voice.”

When new Believers were preparing for Baptism, they would gather in the presence of the dead, and there they would receive instruction in the ancient catechism. Even today, the Apostles’ Creed makes the most sense when you imagine the words echoing among the bones of the catacombs. The creed is marked everywhere by a courageous acceptance of the facts of human mortality, coupled with straightforward confidence in the ultimate triumph of life – a triumph that has already happened once and for all in the person of Yeshua.

Where others see only defeat, Yeshua’s followers see a paradoxical victory. Where others see only contamination, we see the sanctification of human nature. Where others see only darkness and despair, we see broken gates. Where others see an end, we see new beginnings. Death is serious: but not as severe as life. It has been placed in the broader context of meaning. We bury our dead under the sign of the cross. We lay our bones to rest not in horror but peace. The dominant sound at a Believer’s funeral is not mourning but the singing of praise.

Death is no longer the ultimate power in this world. In the ancient church, the martyrs were seen as extraordinary proof of that. In the death and resurrection of Yeshua, death itself was altered.

By nature, we are all on the way from birth to death. But by grace, we are traveling in the opposite direction. The Believer’s life is a mystery that moves from death to birth. In the beginning, we are baptized into Yeshua’s death; and at the end, we are born into the resurrection life. We are born as though dying; we die as those who are being born. [2]

Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
~ 1 Cor. 15:55 (CJB)

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1]  All scripture quotations are from the Complete Jewish Bible.

[2]  The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 7

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 6

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN YESHUA CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried
.

He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the
Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Until now, you would think the creed was describing a perfect world. It has spoken of the God who creates the world and then enters into that world through a woman’s womb. So far, there is no hint that anything is wrong. The Apostles’ Creed makes no mention of the fall or original sin. But now we hear ourselves confessing the word suffered, and with a painful jolt, we realize all is not well.

When God comes into the world in the person of Yeshua, God is met with violent resistance. The creatures have turned against their Creator. The loving Creator of the world has been pushed out. The judge of the earth has come among us: we have judged Him and put Him on the cross. He came to his own homeland, yet his own people did not receive him. ~ John 1:11 (CJB). There is room in our world, it seems, for everything – except God.

Among Messianic scholars today, one of the main criticisms of the Apostles’ Creed is that it contains no account of the life and ministry of Yeshua. The reading of the Gospel stories has always been central to the life of the Messianic community. The creed was never intended as a substitute for the four Gospels but only as a guide to the faithful reading of them. Whenever we read Yeshua’s story, we are to keep in mind that He was born of a woman, that He was a flesh-and-blood human being. And when we read His story, we are to keep in mind that He was not just another human being, but was God’s only Son, our Lord, the living self-expression of God’s will. That is what the creed offers: some general guidelines for the faithful reading of the Gospels. The creed does not include all the details but only to remind us of the larger narrative and focus our attention on Yeshua’s identity as divine and human, the Son of God and Miryam’s son.

It is so easy to forget what the Messianic faith is really about. We might slip into the assumption that it is a kind of philosophy, a comprehensive view of life and the world. Debates with atheists are often carried out on this level. We give the impression that our faith has to be cleverer than atheism if it is to be true. Or we might assume that the Messianic faith is essentially a religious doctrine, a set of accurate beliefs about God. Scholars and students are especially vulnerable to this assumption. We start out trying to get a clearer understanding of our beliefs. Before long, we have come to feel that those beliefs must be flawlessly integrated into a theological system if they are to be accurate.

The Apostles’ Creed is concerned with doctrine. The ancient catechism was meant to help Believers get a clear outline of the teaching of Scripture. There are some underlying doctrinal patterns in the creed: belief in God as Father, Son, and Ruach HaKodesh; and belief in creation’s goodness, its redemption, and its final glorification. Still, it is essential to notice that the creed isn’t a list of concepts and ideas. At the center of the creed is a story, or at least the summary of a story. We are meant to take our bearings not just from doctrine but from history: from a sequence of events that occurred in a particular time and place.

The baptismal confession centers on a name: the name of Yeshua. And in case we start to think that Yeshua HaMashiach is a theoretical concept, the creed adds a second name: Yeshuathe one who suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is there to remind us that God has acted at a particular moment in human history. The salvation of the world can be dated. Certain people were there when it happened.

The heart of our belief is not an idea but a brute fact. Not a theory but a particular human life. Not a general principle but a person with a name: Yeshua, who suffered under Pontius Pilate.

Was Crucified, Died, And Was Buried

In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was not only about death. It was about public disgrace. The problem with getting yourself crucified was not just that it would kill you but that it would humiliate you at the same time. Modern readers of the Brit Hadashah might assume that the worst thing about crucifixion was the physical suffering. But in a culture of honor and shame, the pain of the soul – humiliation – can be even worse than the body’s pain.

The psalms of Isra’el often lament over the experience of humiliation. Psalm 79 describes the sack of Jerusalem by a neighboring army. Asaf writes in verse 4: We suffer the taunts of our neighbors, we are mocked and scorned by those around us. We are familiar with Yeshua quoting the first verse of Psalm 22: My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me? But verses 6-7 speak of humiliation. But I am a worm, not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me jeer at me; they sneer and shake their heads.

To be crucified was to be cast out of the human community, rejected by God and the world. It was a fate worse than death.

The humiliation of Yeshua’s death made a deep impression on His early followers. Quoting an early Messianic hymn, Sha’ul describes the whole life of Yeshua as a descent into humiliation and disgrace. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…He humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death – death on a stake as a criminal! ~ Phil. 2:7–8 (CJB). Yeshua descended to the lowest rung on the social ladder. He became a slave and died a slave’s death. Though he possessed the highest honor, he embraced the worst disgrace. Yeshua’s shame saved the world: that is the scandalous message of the cross.

Yeshua’s followers were the first people in the history of the world to describe humility as a virtue. Sha’ul reminds the Philippian believers that they ought to have the same attitude as Yeshua (Phil. 2:5), renouncing honor and becoming like slaves in service to one another. In ancient Roman culture, the whole purpose of life was to acquire honor and shun whatever might diminish one’s reputation. To be humble was the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Yet, the earliest Messianics scorned pride and elevated humility. Sha’ul calls himself a slave of the Messiah Yeshua (Rom 1:1) as if such slavery were the highest honor in the world. The message of a humble Lord was a shocking thing to hear in the ancient world. Yet today, if anyone is asked whether it is better to devote one’s life to self-aggrandizement or service, most would admit that a life of service is better. The message of the cross has inverted the ancient values of honor and shame. Yeshua’s shocking claim that it is better to serve than to be served is accepted today as if it were plain common sense.

Because, today, the virtue of humility is taken for granted, we no longer feel the original scandal of the gospel.

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 6

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 5

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary
,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Who Was Conceived By The Holy Spirit

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the angel visits Miryam and tells her that: The Ruach HaKodesh will come over you, the power of Ha‘Elyon will cover you. Therefore, the holy child born to you will be called the Son of God ~ Luke 1:35 (CJB). This opening act of Yeshua’s story is meant to remind us of the creation story in Genesis 1, which we reviewed in The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3.

So, when the Ruach covers Miryam, we see a picture of God’s creative work happening all over again. Yeshua is brought into being by the creative breath of God’s Ruach.

In the third century, the Origen of Alexandria, widely regarded as one of the most important Messianic theologians in the third century, came up with a striking image to illustrate how Yeshua’s humanity was united to the eternal Son of God. He pictured a piece of iron placed in a fire until it is glowing with heat. This iron, he says, has become wholly fire since nothing else is discerned in it except fire; and if anyone were to attempt to touch or handle it, he would feel the power of that fire. In this way, Yeshua’s human soul is like the iron in the fire.

Yeshua is genuinely human: nothing but iron. He is truly divine: nothing but fire. Yeshua is so permeated by the divine presence that every part of His humanity is filled with divine energy. He is born of a woman. The Ruach HaKodesh conceives Him. He is human: He is divine.

This way of thinking about Yeshua’s humanity and divinity is just an attempt to make sense of the complex things that are said about Yeshua in the Gospels. The Gospels portray Yeshua as someone whose life is drawn directly from the source of God’s creative energy. Even in His mother’s womb, He is already the bearer of the Ruach. In Luke’s Gospel, the same Ruach that brooded over Miryam’s womb is constantly flashing out and touching the lives of those who come into contact with Yeshua. When Miryam greets her cousin Elisheva, the baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps for joy, and Elisheva is filled with the Ruach (Luke 1:41).

The same Ruach who rested on Yeshua in His mother’s womb now rests on the whole company of Yeshua’s followers.

Born of the Virgin Mary

There are Believers that the idea of the virgin birth is a relic of bygone days when people were more straightforward and found it easier to believe in impossible things. They can handle the rest of the creed, but the virgin birth stretches credulity too far. To understand the virgin birth, we need to see how it fits into the whole story of Scripture – a story in which miraculous births play a starring role.

Isra’el’s story begins with a promise to Avraham and Sarah (Gen 12–17). A couple who cannot conceive are chosen by God and told that they would have a family. Sarah laughs at the promise. But later, when she has given birth in her old age, the child is named Laughter (Isaac ~ Hebrew: Yitz’chak) because of the astonished joy of his parents. Sarah can hardly believe her own body: and yet it is true. She has given birth to the promise.

The next great turning point in Isra’el’s story is the arrival of Moshe (Ex. 2:1–10). Although Moshe’s conception is not a miracle, his infancy is marked by a miraculous escape from danger. He is snatched away from the murdering hand of Pharaoh. He is placed in a basket and set adrift on the river, where he is found and adopted by a member of the royal household, an Egyptian princess. She then appoints the baby’s biological mother to be his nursing maid. The whole story portrays a unique providential design by which Moshe is spared and, as it were, smuggled right into the heart of Egyptian power. All this is meant to anticipate the great miracle to come when God delivers the people of Isra’el from slavery.

When Isra’el has come to the promised land, God raises up judges to lead the people before the establishment of the monarchy. The greatest of the judges is Shimshon (Samson), and his story begins with another miraculous birth (Judges 13:1–25). Shimshon’s mother is unable to conceive. But she is visited by an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will triumph over the P’lishtim (Philistines).

That is how it goes in the Tanakh: at the great turning points of history, we find a woman, pregnant, and an infant child brought into the world by the powerful promise of God. Isra’el’s story is a story of miraculous births.

Later the people of Isra’el were taken from the promised land and led away into Babylonian captivity. It was the darkest hour of their history. Out of the depths of despair, the promise of God was heard again through the prophet Isaiah. The prophet compared the coming deliverance to the joy of a miraculous pregnancy in Isaiah 54:1–3, 13.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise to find Isra’el’s Mashiach entering the world through a miraculous birth.

The confession that Yeshua was born of a virgin is not a random miracle story. It is a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Isra’el’s story and Isra’el’s Scriptures. The coming of the Savior was not just a new thing. It was the culmination of the whole incredible story of God’s loving faithfulness to the people of Isra’el. When we confess that Yeshua is born of the Virgin Mary,” we see Him silhouetted against the backdrop of God’s promise to Avraham, the exodus from Egypt, the rule of the judges, the coming of the prophets, and the promised deliverance from exile. [1]

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 4

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“ALMIGHTY”

Almighty is a powerful word that is part of God’s character of being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

This is not like the power of the pagan gods who might intervene in the world from time to time. God’s might is everywhere present in creation. It is the underlying mystery of everything that exists. It is not just a solution to problems in this world. It is the reason there is a world at all.

We could not trust in God if God’s power were limited, sporadic, or unpredictable. A god who exercised that kind of power would be a pagan god: not the world’s sustainer but its invader, or perhaps a distant ruler whose wishes have to be imposed by force.

That is the problem with trying to place any limitations on God’s power. If God’s power were just one power among others – if God were “mighty” but not “almighty” – then divine power would end up being another form of manipulation or control. Only a totally free and sovereign God can relate to the world with unconditional love, patience, and generosity. There is power elsewhere in creation: each living thing has its unique power and energy. But God does not have to compete with these other powers. God’s power is their source, the reason why they exist at all. God’s power is what sustains and nourishes the power of creatures.

True power is not the ability to control. Controlling behavior is a sign of weakness and insecurity. True power is the ability to love and enable without reserve. Like the power of a good parent or teacher, God’s power is the capacity to nourish other people and help their freedom to grow. Without the sovereignty of a good parent, children have a diminished sense of worth. In the same way, God’s sovereignty is what secures human freedom, not what threatens it.

In the creed, we confess the three great movements of God’s power: God lovingly brought the world into existence; God lovingly entered the womb and became part of the world as Yeshua HaMashiach; and God the Ruach HaKodesh who is lovingly transfiguring the world in the lives of the saints.

The world lives because of this gentle but all-embracing power, and we are free because of it.

“CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH”

In Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 reads B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. בָּרָא bara is a verb meaning to create. Only God is the subject of this verb. It is used for His creating: heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1); humanity (Gen. 1:27); the heavenly host (Isa. 40:26); the ends of the earth (Isa. 40:28); north and south (Ps. 89:12); righteousness; salvation (Isa. 45:8); darkness (Isa. 45:7). David asked God to “create” in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). Isaiah promised that God would create a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17). [1]

Belief in the truth of this one simple yet utterly profound verse hangs all the validity of the entire Bible and serves as the basis for a belief in creationism. If we cannot believe this one simple truth, then nothing else is relevant. If we cannot believe the veracity of this one simple statement, then the entire rest of the Bible is merely words with no lasting meaning. B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Henry Morris, President of the Institute of Creation Research, writes, “This simple declarative statement can only have come by divine revelation. Its scope is comprehensively universal, embracing all space (heaven), all time (beginning), and all matter (earth) in our space/time/matter cosmos. B’resheet 1:1 speaks of creation ex nihilo (Latin for “from or out of nothing”); only God could originate such a concept, and only an infinite, omnipotent God could create the universe.” [2]

Yet, in the second century, Messianic teachers struggled to define their beliefs and commitments in opposition to popular rival teachings. The prevailing cultural mood was one of deep spiritual pessimism. Members of the educated class took it for granted that the physical world was inherently evil and irredeemable. They yearned to escape from the world of the flesh and to experience spiritual enlightenment.

The Messianic baptismal confession developed, in part, in response to such world-denying doctrines and the broader culture of despair that had engendered them. Right from the start, Messianics were marked by their positive stance toward creation. John’s Gospel begins by retelling the creation story: “In the beginning …” (John 1:1; Gen 1:1). The followers of Yeshua believed that in Him, they had encountered the enabling source of creation. They had come to know the One through whom all things came to be (John 1:3). Looking into the face of Yeshua, they had seen the blueprint of reality and had come to understand God’s good plan for the whole creation.

It is often said that creeds are narrow and intolerant. But in the ancient world, the truth was precisely the opposite. It was the Messianic creed that took a stand on behalf of creation. It was the creed that said No to those doctrines that condemned creation, disparaged the body, and sought escape from the world of the flesh.[3]

As a side note, my wife’s small group got into a discussion of the word “heavens” in Genesis 1:1. So I did some research in my digital library (Logos) and found some interesting stuff. I have attached the PDF version of the one document that was the most comprehensive here if you are interested.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament.

[2] Scientific Creationism by Henry M. Morris, Institute of Creation Research, Masters Books

[3] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 2

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 1 [1]

In this post, we will take our first look at the entire Apostles’ Creed and learn some background information. In further posts, we will parse it to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

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 the life everlasting. Amen.

The ancient Kehillah was founded on basic biblical teachings and practices like the Ten Commandments, Baptism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Supper, the Disciple’s Prayer, and corporate worship. These basics of the Christian life have sustained and nurtured every generation of the faithful – from the Emissaries (Apostles) to today. They apply equally to old and young, men and women, pastors, and Kehillah members. For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness ~ Galatians 3:26 (CJB)

The Messianic faith is mysterious not because it is so complicated but because it is so simple. A person does not start with Baptism and then advance to higher mysteries. In Baptism, each Believer already possesses the faith in its fullness. The whole of life is encompassed in the mystery of Baptism: dying with Yeshua and rising with him through the Ruach to the glory of God.

The Apostles’ Creed comes from Baptism. It is a pledge of allegiance to the God of the gospel – a God who is revealed as Father, Son, and Ruach; a God who is present to us in the real world of human flesh, creating, redeeming, and sanctifying us for good works.

It is often said that creeds are political documents, the cunning invention of bishops and councils trying to enforce their understanding of orthodoxy. In the case of the Apostles’ Creed, nothing could be further from the truth. A council did not create it. It was not part of any deliberate theological strategy. It was a grassroots confession of faith. It was an indigenous form of the ancient Kehillah’s response to the risen Messiah, who commanded His Emissaries to “go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh ~ Matt 28:19 (CJB).

Later generations of believers sometimes said that each of the twelve Emissaries had written one line of the creed – hence the name “Apostles’ Creed.” It is a charming legend that conveys a profound truth: that the baptismal confession is rooted in the faith of the Emissaries and ultimately in the word of the risen Christ himself. [2]

Click here for the PDF version.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

[1] Because it is so familiar to me, I am using the creed that I learned as a child.

[2] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 1

Introduction

As indicated in my last post, I feel led to do a brief survey on the Creeds of the Kehillah. As some of you already know, kehillah is Hebrew for “community.” I prefer that term to “church” in describing the gathering of Believers of the faith. We are not a building!

As stated in my About the Author page, my mom always took me to church as far back as I can remember. We were Episcopalians, and I developed a deep sense of respect for the church. I loved the liturgy and always asked to stay in the big people’s service rather than Sunday School. Consequently, I became very familiar with reciting the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer services and the Nicene Creed at Holy Eucharist (Communion) services.

No longer attending those services and doing some “church-shopping” whenever we have moved has led me to believe that not many current Believers are even familiar with the ancient creeds. It seems that most Kelillahs are now content with posting Mission Statements or What We Believe position papers on their websites.

So, what is a creed? It has been defined as the written body of teachings of a religious group that that group generally accepts. Creeds are intentionally catholic. [1] They may bear the marks of their particularity and a specific perspective and place. However, the primary intention is to state the faith of a partisan group and the one holy catholic church.[2]

The following is a list of the ancient creeds and confessions of faith. This series will only explore the creeds because the confessions are generally tied to specific denominations.

Historic Creeds

The Apostles’ Creed

The Nicene Creed

The Symbol of Chalcedon

The Athanasian Creed

Historic Confessions and Statements of Faith

The Belgic Confession

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Canons of Dordt

In my next post, we will begin to examine the Apostles’ Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Remember that lower case “catholic” means universal and not Roman.

[2] Leith, J. H. (1992). Creeds, Early Christian. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 1204). New York: Doubleday.