Due to the inevitability of religion being imperfect, Christianity functioning as a religion is not perfect. There is no perfect Christian church. And due to this imperfectness, Christians have different ideas on Christianity and are not able to agree with each other on ALL the doctrines and concepts. That’s why there are divisions. That’s why there are plenty of Christian denominations and churches.
But, still, even if there are disagreements, ALL Christian churches share the belief on a set of important doctrines or concepts of Christianity. These important beliefs are the core of Christianity, that if a church does not agree in just one of these, then it is very probable that that church is not really a Christian church even if they claim that they are.
What are these basic beliefs that all Christians agree to? I will use the Apostles’ Creed as a guide to discuss these basic beliefs, since they are already organized and summarized in it.
First, a brief background on the Creed…
The Apostles’ Creed – contrary to the name might imply – was not written by the Apostles or any Apostle. It is known as such because the clauses are in accordance with the teachings of the Apostles. The origin of the Creed is not easily determined. But it is the common creed by the early Christian Church (circa 2nd century A.D.). It had been used during those days for catechisms, as a comprehensive set of reminders, for instructions, for reference, and a material to use when defending the faith against heresy and attacks. Since then, the Apostles’ Creed’s contents were the common denominator of all Christians’ beliefs.
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I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
Christians believe in the existence of God. Not only does the belief in God is established, but three other things about this God are established as truths to be believed: a) the Father person of the Godhead or Trinity; b) He is Almighty – sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; and c) God is the Creator of Creation. In Part 2, I had already discussed extensively about the existence of God and that He had created all things so I don’t need to say much about this.
And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is the Son (or Word) person of the Godhead or Trinity. And that He is the Head of the Church (…our Lord). There are those that say that Jesus was just a mere man, a prophet, a good rabbi, denying that he is God. This claim is unbiblical, and once an organized religion or church say that Jesus is just a man, then it is a clear indication that such church is not a Christian one.
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of Man. He is God incarnated as man. 100% God and 100% human simultaneously (a mystery). As stated in the gospels, Mary did not have any sexual intercourse with anybody when she got pregnant with Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit that put him in her womb.
Why did God need to be incarnated as Man in the first place? He needed to be able to become a Second Adam, a qualified representative of mankind, just as Adam was the representative in mankind’s behalf in Eden. Mankind can only be represented by a Man. As Adam brought curse to mankind, Christ, as the Second Adam, meant to bring hope and salvation.
Suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried
To wash the sins of mankind (or, rather, specifically speaking, His sheep), Jesus took it into himself to be humiliated, tortured, beaten, spat, ridiculed, slandered, abused, and to be crucified and killed on the cross. He endured the hell of a suffering (pun intended) that was meant for mankind as punishment for sin. He became clothed with mankind’s sin. And he took the curse upon him (“Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” as the Scripture declared). And he died.
He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead
Jesus descending to hell is just a matter of poetical semantics. The English word Hell was taken from the Greek word Hades (since the New Testament was written in Greek). Hades might mean Hell, the place for eternal torment, but it can also mean Death or the realm of the disembodied spirits (hell, but the letter “h” in lower case). Death happens when the spirit is separated from its vessel in the flesh, and when Jesus died, his spirit had really left his body (“You’re your hands I commit my spirit”). Thus, “descending to hell” merely means that Jesus’ spirit left his body and passed into the abodes of the spirit. This merely emphasizes that Jesus’ death was as human as it can possibly be; that there was a real death that happened. This is in context with the second part of the clause.
The second part states, “the third day He rose again from the dead.” So, Jesus was under the power of death until the third day. The empathic reality of his death magnifies the empathic reality of his resurrection. Indeed, Christ’s resurrection is very very important. His death would have been meaningless if He hadn’t risen from the dead. Christianity would have, in the Apostle Paul’s words, in vain. The resurrection was an essential part of the completion of Christ’s mission in saving us from our sins. When he rose again, he had gotten victory over death and his claims of being the Son of God and of being the Messiah are affirmed.
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty
Forty days after his resurrection, in plain view of his followers, he ascended to Heaven. Christ’s Ascension completed the Resurrection. Now, He is glorified and honored by the Father. In Men’s custom, being in the right side is the place of glory, honor, and power; therefore to sit on God’s right is the place of highest glory, honor, and power, which Christ now enjoys as a reward for his accomplished mission. And now sitting on the right side of the Father, the Son is now in the perfect position to have His Father’s ear all the time, to mediate and plead for His sheep since he is our High Priest.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead
Christians believe in a “D-Day”. Which is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. There is no exact date stated in the Scriptures on when will it be (“Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not angels of heaven, but my Father only.”). But Christians are instructed to live each day as if it was the last since Christ will come unexpectedly (“like a thief in the night”). During his first coming, he came humbly, born in a smelly manger. But in this Second Coming, he will come in all glory and power. He will come as a Conqueror, with the Mighty Armies of Heaven with him and his saints (the Christians) by his side. He will also come as a Judge of mankind. All humans throughout history shall stand before the Judgment seat, where the righteous – those that are made righteous by Christ’s blood – and the wicked will be separated. The righteous will come into the glorious joy of the Master, while the wicked – along with Satan and his angels – will be dismissed to eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire (Brrr. Always gives me goosebumps when thinking or talking about this).
I believe in the Holy Ghost
Christians believe in the Holy Ghost person in the Godhead or Trinity. Some claim that the Holy Ghost is a mere “energy” or “force” and not God. This is, of course, false and unbiblical. The Holy Ghost is God. He was the promised “Comforter” by the Son, the One that will replace Him as the day-to-day Companion of his disciples, before he ascended to heaven. Christians also believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in every Christian’s heart and works on him and through him.
The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of saints
Firstly, the label of “holy” on the Church means, not because its members are now without flaws, but it is holy because its Head – Jesus Christ – is holy and he had made his Church holy. And someday, the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying process would completely make all of the Church’s members perfect.
The Christian Church is expressed as “The Holy Catholic Church”. This was not intended to mean as the Roman Catholic Church at all. The word “Catholic” means universal. The Christian church is universal, meaning it is not exclusive to any race or culture, which would require submission to an earthly citizenship or cultural traditions as a condition to join, but it is open to every tongue and nation.
Just as the Church being “Catholic” means that it is universal, not dependent on race or culture, it is also universal in the sense that it is not exclusive on any denomination. The Church does not mean as something limited to organization. Indeed, there are plenty of Christian denominations. But the Church means the Christians as a whole. And though Christians are divided by denominations and by their personal opinions and interpretations of biblical doctrine, they are one as a Church, because the Church is the Body of Christ, Christ being the Head. Christians are one in Christ.
The word “saint” means someone set apart, and thus, all Christians, who are set apart for Christ, are saints. And “the Communion of the saints”, means the united, harmonious and sacred fellowship of Christians, regardless of their differences and lack of agreement on all doctrines. All Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ and fellowship among them is very imperative.
Now, considering all the things mentioned above, it also means that a membership to a church does not make you a Christian or grant you salvation. Only with a personal encounter with Christ will one have salvation and be a truly sincere Christian. Thus, any church or religious group that claims that they are the only “true” church and only those that are members of their church will be saved is a sure giveaway that they are not a true Christian church.
The Forgiveness of sins
After the Fall of Man in Eden, mankind was under the bondage of sin. And the consequence of sin on mankind is being separated from God, because being holy, He hates evil and can never associate with it. Because of sin, there is death (“the wages of sin is death”). We might be breathing and walking physically, but in the eyes of God, since we humans are destined for death (and Hell), we are dead already. We are spiritual zombies.
But because of God’s grace and intervention, He had sent His son to save us from our sins (already discussed above). And, by this, Christians believe that Christ is their Savior, by his blood they are cleansed from sin and clothed with his righteousness, making it possible for them to be reconciled and have a personal relationship with God. Moreover, this allowed those that are forgiven to be free from being slaves of sin, allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in them, making them holy, and enabling them to live lives that are pleasing to God.
The Resurrection of the body
As already mentioned before, all of humanity throughout history will stand before Jesus Christ when he returns to be judged. Thus, there will be a resurrection of all dead – righteous and wicked – in general. The resurrection will not only be limited to our souls, but our bodies as well. We will rise with the same bodies that our souls had left when we die. We can never tell how can this be brought about, but in God, all things are possible. There will be two types of resurrection: for the wicked and the righteous. The resurrection for the wicked will be of shame and eternal revulsion. Their bodies and souls shall be thrown to the Lake of Fire, but though their bodies will be annihilated by the fire, their souls or consciousness will remain, and they will suffer the burning for all eternity. On the other hand, the righteous, though their resurrected bodies will be the same as that in which the soul have dwelt in, will undergo transformation into glorious and beautiful spiritual bodies. Christians believe that Jesus is not only the redeemer of the soul but is also “the Savior of the body.” Thus, there will renewal of the body (after its resurrection) as well as the spirit of someone that is of Christ. And, blameless before God, they will be received by Him to enjoy eternity in His presence.
And the Life Everlasting
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Thus, all deserve to die. But because of Christ, instead of death, Christians received the gift of immortality instead.
God gifted life to man for one purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But after the Fall, in which the curse of death replaced the gift of life because of sin’s entrance, man lost this purpose. However, God sent His Son, that through Him, by grace, we would receive Eternal Life, destroying the hold of the curse of death, and we would find our purpose once more. Eternal Life is the great gift in which will enable us to perform the purpose why God had created us: to glorify God and enjoy Him FOREVER. Though Eternal Life will climax once eternity begins, the gift of Eternal Life, however, starts as soon as one receives Christ in his life, and not only after the resurrection. Thus, performing our purpose can start as soon as on that point, which will carry on in eternity. Eternal Life is having the privilege of being able to enjoy the happiness of Heaven, as this immortality will be spent in basking in the overwhelming glory and splendor of God forevermore.
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Take note of the fact that there are churches that claim to be Christian churches but are NOT, and there are those who belong in Christian churches but are NOT Christians. That’s why knowledge of these basic and universal beliefs that are shared across Christianity is useful since it’s an effective determinant if one is a true Christian. A true Christian believes all of these truths. Though believing in all of these is not a “requirement” to get saved or be born again, belief in them, however, is a “proof” that one is saved or born again.
As mentioned several times already, Christians however do not share an agreement on other doctrines. These debated doctrines are “irrelevant”, in the sense that they will never put a Christian’s authenticity as a Christian on doubt, considering he believes in the core beliefs. These separations and disagreements happen because of good ol’ flawed human nature. Humans are stubborn, proud, tend to rely on personal wisdom and ability, and give importance to personal conveniences.
Of course, Christians function with a desire to glorify God and as lovers of truth. So if a Christian does err in some of his doctrinal beliefs, then it is not because he is malicious and intentionally motivates himself to cause confusion or separation, but it is because he sincerely believes that his erroneous doctrinal beliefs are the “truth” and they “glorify God”. And stubborn as he might be in holding on his doctrinal beliefs, if discussion or study will show him that he was wrong with his doctrinal opinions – the Holy Spirit opening his eyes – then he will acknowledge his wrong understanding and would now believe in the true doctrine. Because, again, Christians desire to glorify God and find the truth.
(I think the most popular or “hottest” of doctrinal debates is the “mechanics” of salvation between the Reformed view against the Arminian view. Personally, I believe that the Reformed view is the correct biblical view. That’s why it’s what I will discuss next: Part 4 - “Salvation and TULIP”)