Many mainline churches make considerable use of the creeds of ancient Christians. A creed is often stated in worship, and it may be used as a basis for confirmation, i.e. membership. In other churches creeds are not used at all, and the doctrines expressed in the common creeds are open to question. In this essay, we are of the latter mind.
The Apostles Creed is the oldest of the known creeds of the church. It should be noted from the start that all the original apostles of Jesus Christ had died centuries before the creed was written around AD 390, although various brief parts had been used at various times and places from earlier days. One of today’s popular versions is here:
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 the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
This creed makes claims of historical fact that, in fact, may or may not be factual. But, anyway, is accepting the historicity of these events what makes a person Christian? Could not a person who lived contrary to the teachings of Jesus nevertheless believe these claims? Even if every one of the claims were to be factual, we must ask how it impacts our faith. Do we follow Christ because he was born of a virgin and/or because he rose bodily from the dead? Are there not more salient points that should be affirmed about our Christian faith?
Here is a statement of belief (a creed) of my own which touches on those points and is not subject to empirical question:
In only one God of all mankind and of all creation
And that Jesus of Nazareth so embodied God that his intentions were God’s intentions; his deeds, God’s deeds; his words, God’s words; his thoughts, God’s thoughts
And that all people’s responses toward him then and now are their responses toward God.
That Jesus so lives today and forever that his spirit confronts us individuals and all humanity with our sins, guides the penitent in righteous living, comforts the humble in their sorrows, and empowers the willing in their service to God and mankind.
That just as Jesus lived and died and now lives eternally, so all who live trusting in him will die and afterward live eternally with him in the presence of God and in joyous fellowship with all believers who have gone before.
This creed is not dependent on the historicity of the virgin birth, which is not foundational to Christian faith. If we had never heard of the virgin birth, would we not trust and follow Jesus, the Christ? To answer that, we need only note that not one of his original followers referred to the virgin birth as a reason for believing. Indeed, they never mention this astounding claim again anywhere in the New Testament beyond the narratives of Matthew and Luke. Therefore, while I accept the story of the virgin birth as an expression of the human-divine origin of Jesus Christ, I do not necessarily accept it as factual and certainly not as essential to my faith.