Someone inquired recently about the place, if any, of the Apostles' Creed in the Lord's church. The Apostles' Creed is defined as: "a Christian statement of belief ascribed to the Twelve Apostles and used especially in public worship" [Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.] First, "[t]he so-called 'Apostles' Creed' does not go back to apostolic times." [The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.] Therefore, since its origin postdates the New Testament, the Apostles' Creed, as such, is not of divine but rather of human arrangement. No creed and no summary, irrespective of whether it may accurately represent a portion of Scripture, ought to be allowed to displace the complete Word of God for mankind. Such a displacement of the Word of God falls under the condemnation regarding adding to or taking away from the Word of God (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Second, to use the Apostles' Creed "in public worship" is tantamount to a rote prayer or other recitation that lacks biblical precedent. "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matthew 6:7).
Third, were the Apostles' Creed or any man-made creed thought to say the same thing as the Bible, it would thereby be unnecessary since we already have the Bible. Further, a creed that says less than all the Bible reveals, says too little; similarly, any creed that says more than what the Bible reveals, says too much.
"The Apostles' Creed then, in its present shape, is post-apostolic; but, in its contents and spirit, truly apostolic." [Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.] However, the Apostles' Creed falls far short of accurately representing the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27, ASV). Further, over the centuries, the Apostles' Creed has undergone periodic changes, the differences of which are compared in a list in Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church. Following is a recent translation of a fourth century version of the Apostles' Creed.
I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried; he descended to hell (Hades). The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come 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. [Psalter Hymnal, (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications) Copyright 1989.]
Many religionists suppose that the Apostles' Creed is an ecumenical statement around which different faiths can concoct a loose association of denominational interaction. As far as it goes, little fault could be ascribed to the Apostles' Creed. It acknowledges the triune Godhead, the historicity of Jesus, the cardinal doctrine of the New Testament (our Lord's resurrection), final Judgment, the one church, that Christians (or saints) form a fellowship, redemption is possible, the general resurrection of mankind and an eternal abode. Missing, though, are these (among other biblical truths): (1) There is a failure to distinguish between counterfeit religion and the Lord's church (Matthew 7:21-23; 15:13). (2) One needs to know the character of deity in that disobedience is punished (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) and obedience is rewarded (Hebrews 5:8-9). Every accountable soul needs to understand the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and immersion (Romans 6:3-5). (3) The final Judgment involves sentencing the majority of accountable souls to a devil's hell (Matthew 7:13-14; 25:46) whereas only the faithful will receive a heavenly reward (Revelation 2:10). (4) Christian fellowship is inclusive and exclusive by Divine design (1 John 1:3; 2 John 9-11; Ephesians 5:11).
(5) Forgiveness of sins is conditional upon complying with God's scheme of redemption to activate the grace of God. Faith is necessary to be saved (Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24) and biblical faith derives from the Word of God (Romans 10:17; John 20:30-31). True repentance follows, which is the result of a change of mind that also produces a change of conduct (conformity to the Word of God) (2 Corinthians 7:10; Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3). Professing to others one's conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, logically and biblically follows (Romans 10:9-10). Forgiveness of sins then occurs when one is immersed (Colossians 2:12) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), that is, to have one's sins washed away (Acts 22:16) or to be saved (1 Peter 3:21). Still, one must remain faithful (Revelation 2:10) and on the future occasions of sin repent and pray (Acts 8:22).
The Bible is so much more than the Apostles' Creed, full of necessary information regarding whereby souls can attain forgiveness of sins and learn about Christian worship, Christian service, and Christian living. Nothing more and nothing less can serve us adequately while here on the earth we make our pilgrimage toward the threshold of death and the eternity beyond.
If you should get the opportunity sometime, I surely would like to see your view of Christmas in particular. I hear of considerable goings on within congregations, like an elder wearing a Santa suit and visiting the young classrooms, groups giving Christmas gifts as part of church activities, etc. Frankly, I may be a little too conservative on this issue but I think any congregational activity recognizing Christmas is misleading to the children if nothing else. It seems to me that the church should shy away from such as if poison.
The so-called Christmas festival was introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in the middle of the fourth century. As such, Christmas is over three hundred years too young to be associated with the church about which we read in the New Testament. Therefore, besides its absence from the pages of inspiration, Christmas owes its origin to man and not God. God never authorized a religious observance called Christmas.
A simple dictionary definition of "Christmas" reads: "a Christian feast on December 25 or among some Eastern Orthodox on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday" [Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.] Originally, Christmas was associated exclusively with commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While one's motives to religiously celebrate the birth of Christ may be honorable, nevertheless, the Bible does not impose or even authorize a religious observance of the birth of Christ. We are obligated, though, to commemorate the death of Christ in the Lord's Supper (communion) (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The birth of Christ, biblically, remains among the facts of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Therefore, those who conscientiously endeavor to practice primitive, book-chapter-and-verse Christianity will neither approve nor practice a religious festival not authorized by God's Word, including Christmas. We are bound to seek authority for everything we do religiously. "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Colossians 3:17). As in the expression, "in the name of the law" should a policeman arrest our attention with those words, "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means by the authority of. There is no biblical authority for the religious observance of Christmas.
More recently, Christmas has taken on a related but definitely secular side, through the mythical character of Santa Claus, etc. "Santa Claus" is defined as "a plump white-bearded and red-suited old man in modern folklore who delivers presents to good children at Christmastime" [Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.] Decidedly, the secular aspect of Christmas enjoys a popularity that often dwarfs the religious perspective of Christmas. This has led to a slogan whereby well-meaning, but misguided persons hope to see secular Christmas 'put in its place' relative to the religious observance of Christmas. The slogan goes something like this: "Jesus is the reason for the season." In truth, Jesus has never been "the reason for the season." The Bible does not associate Jesus Christ with the religious holiday of Christmas and neither ought we.
Christmas is also a "legal holiday." Whether that legal holiday derives from and continues relative to religious Christmas or the competing parallel secular Christmas, December 25 is nevertheless a national, legal holiday. I am unaware of any evil that incurs from enjoying that day off with my family. I am unaware of any evil that incurs for the workingman who may be granted that day off from work with pay or who may receive a bonus from his employer.
Personally, I find the gentler disposition of the season overall agreeable and wish people exhibited similar courtesies throughout the year. I don't object to receiving or giving gifts at any time of the year in a secular setting (i.e., birthdays, Santa Claus or Christmastime, anniversaries and just whenever we want to) under social rather than religious circumstances. Certainly, the family of God, regarding our social interaction outside of the assembly, could well and often does fall within our circle of friends among whom we spend time together and may exchange gifts.
Christians, though, ought to observe some clear distinctions between religious Christmas and secular Christmas. We, further, ought to use caution regarding how and where we practice secular Christmas or otherwise enjoy our national, legal holiday. From a purely biblical perspective, religious Christmas has no place in our religious assemblies or in our homes. While nativity scenes (most are flawed with the presence of the wise men) and an emphasis on the birth of Christ in December are not sinful, both may blur that distinction. Though we might take Santa home with us, he has no place in our assemblies.
Religious Christmas does not belong in our assemblies because it is not authorized! Secular Christmas does not belong in our assemblies because it is not authorized! Beyond that, we may need to recognize as a matter of judgment the degree to which secular Christmas and national holidays may be reflected in our homes and social interaction in the family of God. Mankind is given to extremes left and right, much and little, both of which are usually counterproductive.
A brother wrote that he found a wealth of biblical information that refutes the Calvinistic idea "once saved, always saved" (or the perseverance of the saints). How then, he inquired, should he arrange such a vast array of material for a brief, 15-minute presentation. As with any biblical topic, the Bible contains much more information than can usually be presented effectively at one time, even if the time allotted is considerably longer than a quarter of an hour. Therefore, in every case, one simply must select some of the supporting biblical evidence for the current presentation and allow that another time may afford further opportunity to pursue the topic. Besides some future public occasion during which one might visit a former topic, individuals may inquire privately about something that has been publicly taught, at which time the extra biblical resources may be used profitably. The following paragraphs seek to address briefly the anti-biblical principle of "once saved, always saved."
The doctrine of "once saved, always saved" or the plank of Calvinism styled the "perseverance of the saints" is anti-biblical because: (1) It is not taught in the Bible, (2) It is denominational in origin, and (3) It diametrically conflicts with abundant biblical evidence to the contrary. First, we hasten to assure our readers that we do not intend to disparage in the least the sincerity of proponents of the perseverance of the saints. Further, from a superficial reading of some passages of Scripture, it may appear that salvation while on earth has an eternal, enduring quality that cannot be reversed. We are indebted to the resource cited immediately below for a concise explanation of the perseverance of the saints by proponents of the same.
Perseverance of the saints -- their certain continuance in a state of grace. Once justified and regenerated, the believer can neither totally nor finally fall away from grace, but will certainly persevere therein and attain everlasting life. This doctrine is clearly taught in these passages, John 10:28, 29; Rom. 11:29; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5. [Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton's Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.]
The argument for the perseverance of the saints from Scripture references in the above quotation include these verses.
"And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:28-29).
"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
"Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5).
When considered in their immediate contexts, plus the overall context of the Bible, neither these verses nor others can teach the perseverance of the saints (i.e., once saved, always saved). To conclude that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is nevertheless true sets aside the abundant biblical testimony that a saved soul can sin so as to be lost. Considering the many passages that teach explicitly or implicitly that a saved soul can sin so as to be lost, to affirm that the Bible, though, teaches the perseverance of the saints portrays the Bible as contradictory. If the Bible is contradictory, it is unreliable and we have no sure Word of God whereby we can legitimately anticipate our coveted heavenly habitation.
John 10:27 reads: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." The "eternal life," whatever it is in John 10:28, is conditional upon: (1) souls hearing or heeding the Word of Jesus, (2) Jesus acknowledging that those souls have heard and favorably responded to the Word of Jesus, and (3) those souls are practicing the will of Jesus. However, is the reception of "eternal life" also conditional upon saved souls continuing to heed and respond to the Word of Jesus? Second, is the eternality of the "eternal life" the nature of that reward at the conclusion of a life-long heeding the Word of Jesus or something received while one yet resides in this temporal world? In view of other Scripture that place the actual reception of the eternality of the coveted reward after this life concludes, one must view the expression of "eternal life" in John 10 as inclusive of the salvation from past sins and the prospect of receiving eternal salvation at the end of life's road. Otherwise, as we will see, the Bible is contradictory.
Philippians 1:6 addresses the willingness and ability of God to do his part regarding the final redemption of humanity. The verse, though, does not address man's participation in his own redemption, or the lack thereof. No one and nothing can overpower God to prevent him from granting redemption to those upon whom he intends to confer such at the end of time. However, as we will see, man can actually ruin his own eternal future so as not to receive the blessing God would prefer to bestow (2 Peter 3:9).
Far from being a proof-text of the perseverance of the saints, 1 Peter 1:5 implies that "eternal life" is not now a present acquisition, but something to be received at the end of time. The verse acknowledges human participation as well as divine involvement in a salvation that is not received prior to the conclusion of our earthly pilgrimage. Faith is man's part, without which all that is involved in that biblical teaching, one does not actually receive eternal salvation, though he may have had salvation from past sins previously.
Generally, each of the hundreds of warnings to be careful not to sin or fall away is a passage that implies the possibility of apostasy (i.e., that a child of God can sin so as to be eternally lost). Consider, for instance, these verses: 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; Hebrews 3:12.
Many verses of Scripture explicitly warn of the possibility of apostasy by the child of God. One must first be a child of God before he could apostatize, fall away and leave "the faith."
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition" (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
"Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:17).
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12).
Others passages illustrate the possibility of a child of God sinning so as to be lost.
"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:20-22).
To escape the "pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" is to obtain salvation from past sins -- to become a child of God. Resorting to the worldly ways of sin by which one is "overcome" amounts to apostasy, surrendering one's salvation and sinning so as to be lost. So doing, in some way, makes the latter circumstance worse than the lost condition experienced before becoming a child of God. The "latter end is worse."
Some passages give examples of children of God who sinned so as to be lost (i.e., if they did not repent). Simon of Acts 8 is such a one. Proponents of the perseverance of the saints strongly deny that Simon had really become a child of God, since to admit that he had become a Christian and later sinned so as to be lost would undo their contention for "once saved, always saved." However, Simon did exactly the same things the other Samaritans did in response to the Gospel, whereby they were saved.
"But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done" (Acts 8:12-13).
Simon was whatever the other Samaritans were when they and he believed and were baptized. Nowhere does the context intimate that there was any distinction in what the Samaritans did and what Simon did, or that they were saved and he was not.
Verses that exhort brethren to recover fallen brethren indicate that one might apostatize.
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
Passages of Scripture that teach that souls once entered in the Lamb's Book of Life may be blotted out teach the falsity of "once saved, always saved" or the perseverance of the saints.
"And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Exodus 32:31-34). (See Revelation 3:5; 20:12).
Summarized, God saves the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9) and will punish the disobedient (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). In this life, even a child of God may travel between the camps of obedience and disobedience. As long as the Christian yet lives, he may, like Simon, repent (Acts 8:22). At time's end, those practicing faithful obedience will realize the actual reception of "eternal life." ". . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). From every biblical vantage, "eternal life" is conditional and in its fullest sense, a prized reality after time is no more.