Key text: “There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Lesson objective: To understand that God has called his new covenant people (the church) to live out in a worthy manner our unity in Christ, which is expressed in early creedal formulas that are Trinitarian, gospel, and/or Christological in character.
Introduction: Creeds have been an important aspect of the life of the church from its beginning down to our very day. The early church formulated several of them and they are now part of Holy Scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16). Ephesians 4:4-6 is an early Trinitarian credo. These concise creedal formulas contain the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. These statements were most likely used on to instruct baptismal candidates on the essential matters of the faith. They were also used to help distinguish essential Christian beliefs from pagan and heretical teachings. In this way these creeds helped establish a belief system that helped believers tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.
After the completion of the biblical canon, the life of the church continued to express itself in Trinitarian terms. Each local church formulated its own short creed based on a general rule of faith, which summed up salvation history. One such creed that has kept its universal appeal is the one known as the Apostles’ Creed. Although not formulated by the original apostles, it is an example of similar creeds that flourished early on in the life of the church. Our present Apostles’ Creed, after several additions, did not reach its standard form until approximately A.D. 700. Here is an earlier Greek text of the Apostles’ Creed (Marcellus, A.D. 340):
I believe in God the Father almighty.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was born by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary;
Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried;
The third day he rose from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father,
From where he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit,
The holy Church,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And life everlasting.
This succinct format incorporates into creedal form at least 12 basic beliefs of the Christian church. This is one way of bringing unity to the body of Christ. Scripture itself sets certain creedal parameters to test if a belief is truly of the faith or not. More extensive statements are required to delineate other points and check against other heresies, and the church has formulated these as well. Yet, the simplicity of scriptural creedal formulas has a freshness all of its own, and they are indispensable in the outreach and missionary endeavors of the church.
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 4:1-6
a. What does Paul urge his readers to do? v. 1. What does Paul mean by “calling”?
b. What four worthy mannerisms are mentioned? v. 2. Why these four?
c. What else does Paul ask them to do? v. 3. What does Paul mean by: “keep the unity of the Spirit”? Note: Paul is speaking of the fruit of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, that is, the peace of his reconciliation to be lived out by the church in the here and now.
d. What three elements make up the first part of the creed? v. 4. What does each one mean, and in what way are they related to each other? See Ephesians 1:18; 2:14-18.
e. What is the second triad of the creedal formulation? v. 5. What does each one mean, and in what way are they related to each other? See Romans 6:3; 10:9.
f. What is the seventh part of the creed? v. 6. How is this one related to “one Spirit” and “one Lord”? See 1 Corinthians 8:6; 12:4-6.
2. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
a. What very early Christian credo did Paul receive and pass on? v. 3. Note: This passage is the earliest creedal formulation of the gospel. It is among the first of early Christian oral traditions, coming even before Paul’s conversion.
b. What two other essential components of the gospel are in this creed? v. 4. Were these matters foretold in the O.T. Scriptures? Cite at least two O.T. passages that support these claims.
c. What witnesses are offered as proof that the gospel events (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus) took place? v. 5.
d. How many other witnesses confirmed that Jesus had risen from the dead? v. 6a. At the time of Paul, were these eyewitnesses dead or disappeared and no longer available for questioning? v. 6b. What is the significance of this?
e. What other appearances did Jesus make, and to whom? v. 7. At the end of this short gospel creed, what final item does Paul add? v. 8.
3. Philippians 2:6-11
a. This passage is apparently an early Christian hymn, that is, a liturgical creed outlining what the early church believed about Christ. Who is in the very nature of God? vv. 5-6a. Explain what it means to be in the very nature of God.
b. Although equal with God by his very nature, why did he decide not to hold on to his glory? vv. 6b-7. Explain the Incarnation. [now that’s a tall task!]
c. To what extent does Jesus’ humiliation on behalf of humanity reach? v. 8. Why?
d. What exaltation does Jesus receive for his messianic sacrifice on behalf of sinners? v. 9. What is he given? Note: This is not something brand new for Jesus, for he is and has always been God; rather, it is a return to the glory he had before his humiliation in becoming human. Now, however, he is the triumphant Messiah. See John 17:5.
e. What happens when this Name is called out? v. 10. From whom does he receive worship?
f. What name is every tongue to confess? v. 11. Note: The name “Lord” is kyrios in Greek, and corresponds to adonai in Hebrew, which is a reference to the Tetragrammation: YHWH. Jesus is worthy of worship because he shares his Father’s name, for they are one in divine essence (nature), although they retain distinct personhoods.
g. In the following briefer creedal formulation, can you identify Christ’s stages of humiliation and exaltation? 1 Timothy 3:16. Explain.
Respond to the following questions:
1. Many contend that brief summaries of the Christian faith are only watered-down versions designed to attract everybody and anybody with no real convictions. Others say that longer statements of faith are designed to keep away as many as possible unless they think exactly alike, like an assembly-line church. What is your own assessment?
2. Others say that creeds and statements of faith do not promote unity, but to the contrary, they are the main cause of divisions and disunity in the church. What do you say?
God has called us to live in peace and unity as much as possible in this fallen world. And while there is room for disagreement within the church on nonessential matters, the gospel truth of Christ’s reconciliation is the only basis for unity in this age or the next. Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen.
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo