My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 1

My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity

I’m a Christian. The Nicene Creed pretty much defines what this means for me:

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

“Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

“And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Some of you will want to nitpick this Creed, don’t. I’m using it as nothing more than a quick reference defining my faith. My statement that I’m a Christian is not in itself clear unless I fill it with context and that’s what I intend to do.

Jesus Christ was neither a Catholic nor a Protestant. Born into a Jewish family made the man Jesus a Jew. However the divine Jesus, the Christ, stood prior to any definitional religion where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. If you follow the life of Jesus you will in the end find his message transformative. How? Because he took religion back to its original intent, a personal relationship between you and God, everything else just trappings.

Every disciple who walked with Jesus was a Jew. That includes Paul who didn’t meet Jesus until after Jesus’s death, but because he was born to Jewish parents, even though in a Roman province, he held dual citizenship; Jewish and Roman. Here is something interesting; the Jewish religion we know as Judaism didn’t begin until the descendants of Abraham were in the desert being led by Moses to the Promised Land. Note I said “religion.” The people were known as Hebrews, a name given to Abram in Genesis 14:13 before he met with Melchizedek. With the giving of the Levitical law religious rites and practices were formed. We tend to define religion by its formal practices and having to do with a belief in God, or god, or gods, something outside us and above us in being.

We don’t find anywhere in the Bible, in this case the Jewish Bible, religion defined by its demands and practices until Levitical law is introduced. Two things about that: 1) along the way from Adam to Moses we find certain practices loosely defined, such as sacrifice; 2) the Levitical law is more than religion, it has very much to do with reshaping the descendants of Abraham who after living in Egypt so long adopted some of their religious habits that needed to be burned out of them.

If we learn anything from reading the Genesis story from Adam to Moses, God did have expectations of people and we do find real faith at work.

We see those expectations in God’s giving of the Ten Commandments. By way of a modern example it’s the difference between the Constitution of the United States that is only a few pages long and every State Constitution that typically run hundreds of pages. The Founders believed that was enough to shape our behavior, the States didn’t. God thought only Ten commands would be enough, but it wasn’t so he gave them hundreds of behavior codes to help them. The Ten Commandments were to be their definition of religion. The Hebrews took into the Promised Land hundreds of codes to be their definitional religion. Because of that they missed the intent of the Covenant with Abraham found in Genesis 12: 2-3:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

It’s the last part of verse 3 that is crucial: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” It wasn’t them being “them”, it was “them” changing the world, those people Cain found in the east, those people other than that list of names leading to Abraham, those people Noah had to deal with, those people Abraham encountered and his descendants encountered outside themselves, those people not living in Israel. This includes me and you.

When God saw it was time to make a definitional statement The Ten Commandments was that statement:

  1. You shall have no other Gods but me.

  2. You shall not make for yourself any idol, nor bow down to it or worship it.

  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

  4. You shall remember and keep the Sabbath day holy.

  5. Respect your father and mother.

  6. You must not commit murder.

  7. You must not commit adultery.

  8. You must not steal.

  9. You must not give false evidence against your neighbor.

  10. You must not be envious of your neighbor’s goods. You shall not be envious of his house nor his wife, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.

It has been calculated by some that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in the year 1300 BC. Some 1, 300 + years later a group of Pharisees conspired to trap Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” They have all those definitional laws in the Levitical Law, and what they’ve added to it defining for them their Jewish religion. They supposed they were going to befuddle Jesus attempting to pick one law out as the most crucial and then trap him in some idea of contradiction. How did Jesus react?

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40.)

That’s no definition of religion! But interestingly, it is to God. It’s all about God, me, and you, not what we eat, not what we wear, not what building we set aside for so-called worship of God, but us first relating to God then to each other; neither Jew nor Gentile, Protestant nor Catholic, Baptist nor Presbyterian.

When we were little kids—grammar school age—my brother and I on the same Sunday walked down the aisle of the First Baptist Church confessing our faith in Christ. If after that day someone would come up to us and ask if we were believers they would expect, and we would give, this answer: we go to the First Baptist Church. That would distinguish us from the Methodist church down the street and the Church of Christ church on the street where we used to live, and every other church not Baptist.

Peter; James and John, the sons of Zebedee; Andrew; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James, the son of Alphaeus; Thaddaeus, or Judas, the son of James; Simon the Canaanite, or the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, were those cool kids who walked the dusty streets with Jesus. They spent three years in the Jesus Academy much like those followers of Plato and Aristotle over three hundred years earlier who spent time at their feet. I’m sure those following Jesus were thinking in the beginning they were in a Jewish Religion Academy. Three years later it would dawn upon them they were not, they were learning presuppositional Truths that stood before and outside definitional religion. They were thinking they were Jews in a Jewish state among Jewish people now and centuries before them and it was about them. When they finally connected the dots they understood Jesus was pushing them to fulfill “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” They weren’t to take Jewish religion to the world, not even religion but “Love the Lord your Godwith all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, andLove your neighbor as yourself.”

Here is religion as presented by Jesus Christ:

  • We are all created by God

  • We’ve all sinned (rebelled) and come short of God’s glory

  • Sin brings us death (separation from God)

  • However we are redeemed not by our works but by God’s work in Jesus

  • Now we have eternal life with him and forgiveness of our sins

Everything else is trappings, meaning what we observe, what we practice, what we deem important will not get us into God’s Kingdom even though we make them definitional. This means even if you are Roman Catholic, or one of the several Orthodox faiths, or one of the denominations that came out of the Protestant Reformation, none of this is what the Apostles took outside the boundary of Israel into the Greek and Roman world and beyond.