I had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan before the US involvement there. It was an incredibly rewarding trip in many ways, but I wanted to focus on one of the ways specifically. There has been a lot of talk about the creeds and why they matter or do not matter and most of it has been theoretical and impassioned. I hope to perhaps provide a real world example to the discussion and bring it out of the realm of ideas and place i firmly in the realm of people.
At the time that I was there Afghanistan was not a particularly friendly country to Christians and the Bible was frowned upon and in most places not allowed. Knowing this, I did the only reasonable thing and helped a group to smuggle bibles into the area in the official language of the country. The trip itself was rewarding but the reaction to seeing the Bible was worth the risk in and of itself. O if we in the Western World had a longing and love for the scriptures as they did…but that is a different story.
The villagers that I met had experiences with missionaries who had spread word of the gospel, but few of them had ever seen a Bible, none of them had a full copy (a lucky few had a page or two torn away) and the standard missionary verses were known. (John 3:16, etc) but that was the beginning and end of their Biblical knowledge. Through the translator, I asked how it was that they knew they were Christians if they had not had a proper education in the faith and had no access to the Word of God. They listed the following 12 reasons as how they knew:
- I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
- And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
- Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
- Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
- The third day he rose again from the dead:
- He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
- From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
- I believe in the Holy Ghost:
- I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
- The forgiveness of sins:
- The resurrection of the body
- And the life everlasting.
This was how they knew they were Christian. This is what they had taught others you needed to believe in order to be a Christian. This was the only thing that they had and knew for certain. They went on to provide a brief explanation of which each statement actually meant as well, so it was not simply lines memorized, bu rather the gospel understood. Not only that, but they were happy to share it and over joyed to be able to tell the story. There is probably a lesson there for the western church.
While they were overjoyed and excited to have the full Word of God, it was not so that they could try and find out what they believed, they already knew that, they wanted to find out the whole story from beginning to end. They wanted to fill in the details and to be able to better know the Lord. They knew what they believed, they just wanted to know some more of the details.
There has been some discussion of whether or not the Apostles Creed (and the others) is “seeker friendly”. I know that it was able to be understood by Afghans who were poorly educated at best. There has been some discussion as to weather or not it can inspire faith. I know that it inspired those men, women and children to the point that upon being able to touch the Word of God, the wept for joy. Thy become positively elated when they opened it to see a language that many of them could read. Yeah, that’s right. They were content to be able to touch the Word of God without being able to read it (so they thought). That is how precious it was to them. It was precious because of their belief, and that belief came from the Creed. There has been some conversation about if the creeds are necessary. I know that is all the tribesmen and villagers I met had, and it was necessary for their belief. There has been some discussion as to weather or not one needs to believe all the tenants of the Creed to be a Christian, and to be fair, who is a Christian and who is not is above my pay grade. I will say that if you do not believe in what is contained in the Apostle’s creed, you are well outside the boundaries of what has defined Christianity for centuries and that is a dangerous place to be.
So, do the creeds matter? Are they still useful? Here is what my experiences have shown me. I know that when the somewhat popular Newsboys song “We Believe” is played, that a six year old boy runs to grab his cross and hold it high and sing along and dance like David (except for the no clothes part) because he knows it to be true. I know that the words of the Apostle’s Creed still hold power as they are the story of a loving God from beginning to end. I know that no matter our differences, that the whole of Christianity has traditionally held to 12 rather simple tenets. I know that it was enough for those who had no idea who the Living Christ was and that while we are arguing over it’s usefulness, it is still leading people to new faith and affirming the faith of those whom already believe. I know that if we are to have any hope for true Christian unity that it will begin with the words “I believe” and end with “amen”.