We Believe: Affirming True Christian Doctrine

Marc Minter
The Apostles' Creed  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What do you believe that is distinctly Christian, and not merely American or Texan?
What Christian beliefs do you hold in common with those Christians who live in Afghanistan or China? How about with those Christians who lived 100 years ago… or 1,000?
What Christian beliefs do you hold that your non-Christian friends, or neighbors, or family members do not?
I guess what I’m really asking is… What are those beliefs or doctrines or truths that every Christian must believe in order to be a Christian?
Back in the 1950s, C.S. Lewis wrote a book, called “Mere Christianity,” in which he set forth an intelligent apologetic for what he thought were the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. He wasn’t interested in defining the beliefs that divide one church from another, but rather in defining those beliefs that divide Christian from non-Christian.
Lewis wanted to argue for those the beliefs that united Christians from all times, geography, and even denominations. He wrote, “The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian ‘denominations’. You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, [or] a Presbyterian...” (Lewis, VIII).
Now, unlike Lewis, I am very interested in helping you understand that you should be a Baptist, and not an Anglican or a Methodist or a Presbyterian… though I have nothing but love for my disordered [1] brothers and sisters in Christ. If we believe the same gospel, then we are citizens of the same eternal kingdom… even if we must be joined to different local churches.
But this sort of talk implies, and even necessitates, an understanding of doctrine that places different levels of intensity on different sorts of biblical teaching. I think it’s crucial for us to remember that all doctrine (all biblical truth) is important, but not every doctrine or truth is important to the same degree or with the same priority.
Lord willing, I will explain this more in point 2 of my sermon today.
Over the course of the next year, I plan to teach/preach through a summary of basic Christian belief, using the earliest-known, standardized Christian creed or confession - The Apostles’ Creed.
Al Mohler described this creed by saying, “The Apostles’ Creed collapses time and space, uniting all true believers in the one, holy, and apostolic faith. This creed is a summary of what the Bible teaches, a narrative of God’s redemptive love, and a concise statement of basic Christianity.” [2]
Today, I want to do a lot of front-work, which will set the table for the doctrinal feast we are going to enjoy (should the Lord give us the time and opportunity). Before we dive into various doctrines or Christian beliefs, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Some of us have never heard of a creed, and some of us have familiarly confessed the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicean Creed, and a few others during church services.
Some of us have an allergy for creeds, and some of us cherish the historic creeds of Christianity.
Some of us wouldn’t have a clue about which words go where in the Apostles’ Creed, and some of us will readily notice that the version we are using is not exactly the same as the most common version in use today.
Since there is such a wide spectrum of experiences and perspectives among us, my goal with today’s sermon is to invite us all to begin in the same place… with the understanding that the Bible is God’s revelation of true doctrines, with a love for the truth God has revealed, with humility and a desire to learn from those Christians who have gone before us, and with a resolve that we will aim to believe and to apply what God has revealed… May God help us.
Let’s read together from Deuteronomy 6, where Moses spoke to the people of Israel about the importance of receiving, of practicing, and of teaching biblical doctrine.

Scripture Reading

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (ESV)
1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules — that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.
3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Main Point

The Bible is God’s revelation of true doctrines, in opposition to false doctrines, which we are to believe and apply.

Message Outline

What is doctrine?
Aren’t all doctrines important?
How do creeds relate to the Bible?
What uses are there for creeds or confessions of faith?
Which Apostles’ Creed are we using?
Doesn’t doctrine divide?


1) What is doctrine?

The word doctrine simply means belief or rule or teaching.
In Deuteronomy 6, it’s the “commandment” (mitswa), the “statutes” (hoq), and the “rules” (mishpat) that “the LORD your God commanded [Moses] to teach” (v1).
It’s not only the content of what the people of God were to believe, it’s also what they were to “do… in the land… which [they were] going over to possess...” (v1).
Further, it’s not only the teaching that was to govern God’s peoples’ beliefs and actions… it was also the content of what they were to “teach… diligently to [their] children” (v7).
They were to teach God’s doctrine “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (v7). They were to teach doctrine so diligently that it would be as familiar as their hand, that it would identify them as much as their own face, and that it would be as comfortable as going home (v8-9).
And the aim or ultimate result of receiving and doing and teaching according to this doctrine or instruction was “that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son” (v2).
This is the pattern throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament and in the New.
In the New Testament, the Bible explicitly commands Christians to learn and to teach “good” or “sound” doctrine.
To Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me...” (1 Tim. 1:13), and, “Teach and urge these things [i.e., sound doctrine]. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ… he… understands nothing” (1 Tim. 6:2-4).
To Titus, another young pastor, Paul wrote, “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
And to the whole church in Colossae, Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ [i.e., the doctrine of Christ] dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom...” (Col. 3:16).
Doctrine, then, is the content of Christian belief.
It’s the stuff Christians believe, which necessarily impacts what they do.
It’s the substance of biblical truth.
But not all doctrines carry the same weight… Some are of the essence of Christianity, and others are not.

2) Aren’t all doctrines important?

Yes, all doctrines are important!
Every truth the Bible teaches is divine truth… it is the word and teaching and doctrine of God!
All of Scripture” is the sum and substance of those words that have “come from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
No, not all doctrines are essential.
All doctrine is important because it is God’s truth articulated, but not all doctrine is equally important. Some doctrines are essential to the Christian faith, some are essential to doing life together among a local church family, and some are not worth dividing over at all.
Theological Triage [3]
Theological Triage is a phrase coined by Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The phrase joins two concepts: one, diagnosing a medical emergency, and the other, the field of theology.
Theological Triage is the art of categorizing theological questions or topics in such a way so as to give priority to some doctrines over others.
First-Level Doctrines
These doctrines divide Christians from non-Christians.
The Triunity of God (Is God one or three or both?)
The true divinity and true humanity of Christ (How do we understand Christ as the unique God-man?)
The substitutionary atonement of Christ upon the cross (How did Christ substitute Himself under God’s penalty for sinners?)
The exclusivity of Christ as Savior (Is there any way for someone to be saved apart from personal trust in Jesus Christ?)
These First-Level doctrines build a fence around Christianity… focusing on the essential content of the gospel.
These doctrines are those I am willing to die for (with God’s help).
To disbelieve or to believe contrary to biblical teaching on any of these points places a person or an organization outside of Christianity... even if he/she calls him/herself a “Christian” and even if the organization calls itself a “church.”
Second-Level Doctrines
These doctrines divide one local church from another.
The authority of Scripture (Is the Bible the final court of arbitration when we have a difference of opinion?)
believer's baptism (What does baptism mean and who should be baptized?)
church membership (What does membership mean and how is membership to be practiced?)
The Lord's Supper (What does the Lord’s Supper mean and who should participate?)
These Second-Level doctrines build a fence for us around each local church.
These doctrines don’t destroy my friendship with other Christians, but they do prevent us from joining the same church and cooperating in church planting and revitalization efforts together.
During our last members’ meeting, we made it clear that we were leaving the Harmony-Pittsburg Baptist Association over some differences on Second-Level Doctrines… and these are the doctrines that form our church unity.
Third-Level Doctrines
These doctrines often divide one Christian perspective from another (especially in the application) without necessarily dividing Christians or local churches.
Specific eschatology (When will Jesus return? What is the millennium? Who is the anti-Christ?)
These Third-Level doctrines do not have to build any fences or divide any Christian brotherhood, but they may provide areas of fruitful discussion and sanctifying application for Christians in fellowship together.
If Christian brothers and sisters are willing and able to discuss these Third-Level doctrines in a loving and patient manner, then these discussions may produce spiritual growth and provide a marvelous occasion for exercising biblical exegesis, faithful living, and humble wisdom.
Fourth-Level Doctrines
These doctrines must not divide at all.
Mohler doesn’t have a fourth category, but I think it’s helpful to remind us that there are some doctrines or teachings which have no clear imperative from Scripture. These doctrines are often accompanied by the most emotional fervor, but they are more an application of Christian conscience than they are biblical instruction or command.
Drinking and/or selling alcohol
Many evangelicals once believed it is sin to drink or sell alcohol (this view is even codified in the first membership covenant of FBC Diana).
Some of us in the room today may have strong feelings against drinking or selling alcohol… but a detailed and conclusive position on this matter cannot come from a clear command or instruction from Scripture, because there is no Bible verse or passage that addresses the drinking or selling of alcohol. There is a repeated and clear warning against “drunkenness” (Prov. 20:1, 23:20, 31; 1 Cor. 5:11; Eph. 5:18), but nothing against drinking or selling.
These Fourth-Level doctrines must not build fences, otherwise we will be attempting to bind the consciences of fellow Christians on matters that God has left unbound.
In fact, dogmatic Fourth-Level doctrines are the very definition of legalism (and the worst form of fundamentalism).
We ought to give one another grace and charity where God gives us all liberty.
Brothers and sisters, we must learn and practice the sensible art of theological triage. This will help us enjoy real unity, it will help us know why we “church” with one another and not with Diana United Methodist or Macedonia Apostolic Church, and it will help us speak with grace and charity when we disagree.
But, some of us might still be wondering why in the world Christians would ever need a creed at all… I mean, don’t we have the Bible? How exactly do creeds relate to the Bible?

3) How do creeds relate to the Bible?

No creed but the Bible!
I love the emphasis this statement places upon the Bible!
Indeed, our ultimate authority for all we believe and all we do is the Bible.
When any statement (written or spoken) conflicts with or contradicts the Bible, we are to submit ourselves to the teaching of Scripture. For Scripture is the very word of God; it is the source of life and wisdom, and it is the compendium of everlasting truth.
But, this statement betrays a misunderstanding of what a creed is and of what the Bible is.
No creed but the Bible” is itself a creed.
This is a man-made summary of belief, which uses words not found anywhere in the Bible.
The Bible itself contains creeds and teaches us to hold to them.
Priority, reception, and delivery of summarized doctrine.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
Probably the earliest and shortest creed is “Jesus is Lord” as opposed to “Caesar is lord.”
In an effort to distinguish between true and false believers, Paul told the church in Corinth that only those indwelt by the Holy Spirit can confess or say, “Jesus is Lord” or “Κυριος Ἰησους” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Various liturgical confessions or creeds.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).
Credo or Creed means “I believe”
The word “creed” comes from the first word of at least two of the earliest Christian statements of belief.
The Apostles’ Creed (at least as early as 200 AD) - “I believe in God the Father almighty...
The Nicean Creed (325 AD, 381 AD) - “We believe in one God the Father, the almighty, creator of heaven and earth...
Creeds, then, are simply a summary of what Christians believe the Bible teaches.
Often, creeds have served not only as a positive summary, but also (and more urgently) as a denial of some particular heresy.
The Bible over creeds, but not to the exclusion of them. [4]
The Bible is the norma normans non normata (the rule that rules and is not ruled).
The Bible is the rule or standard of authoritative truth which has no higher basis, grounding, or authority.
The creeds are norma normata (the rule that is ruled).
Of course, the rule that rules the creeds is the Bible, which is the rule that stands and rules over all.
Creeds, at their best, faithfully and helpfully summarize the Bible’s teaching.
Most of us probably already see benefits and uses of creeds, but let me offer 3 helpful uses.

4) What uses are there for creeds or confessions of faith?

To make clear and concise distinctions (i.e., fences) between groups.
Christian / non-Christian (Apostles’ Creed)
Evangelical / Roman Catholic (Canons of the Council of Trent)
Baptist / Presbyterian (Westminster and London Confessions)
Importantly, our (FBC Diana’s) confession of faith serves as one of the main barriers to joining this church. Only those who submit themselves to the affirmations of our confession of faith can be church members.
To warn everyone of soul-destroying heresy.
The Nicean Creed was formed as a summary statement in clear and precise opposition to the Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus was “like” God but that Jesus was not God.
An expansion of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicean Creed added precision on the person of Christ: [5]
We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
To teach converts, new and old, what they are to believe.
Creeds and confessions provide immediate access to the conclusions of all that the Bible teaches on a whole host of subjects, and the creeds almost always emphasize the most important doctrines.
If you’re a mature Christian, then you should be able to (at least basically) explain why you believe the content of the Apostles’ Creed.
If you’re a new Christian, then you should be spending the bulk of your study time on the doctrines emphasized in the Apostles’ Creed before you decide to be an expert on Daniel’s prophecy of “weeks” or Ezekiel’s vision of “wheels.”
If you’re reading through the Apostles’ Creed, and you come across a statement that you don’t believe or one you haven’t really thought of before, then you would be wise to get with a good Christian friend and discuss what it means to be a Christian… maybe even by talking through the creed together to see if you actually believe what Christians do.
If I’ve convinced you on all points up to now, I still have some hanging questions out there with regard to the Apostles’ Creed in particular… You see, there really isn’t a single version of the Apostles’ Creed, which means I we have to choose one.

5) Which Apostles’ Creed are we using?

The one we’ll be using this year is in your bulletin:
We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.
On 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 there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
We 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.
Historical development
No single author
Unlike the Athanasian, Nicaen, and Chalcedonian Creeds, the Apostles’ Creed was not formed or published by any single person or group.
Not created by the Apostles, but the various phrases of the Apostles’ Creed are a summary of Apostolic teaching.
As early as 200 AD, one Christian theologian referred to “the Roman Creed,” which probably originated in Rome and closely resembles the Apostles’ Creed. The two may well be one and the same, merely going by a different name.
Baptismal confession of new converts
The earliest documentation we have of any of the phrases of the Apostles’ Creed are individual Christian references to the experience of baptism.
In other words, Christians referred back to the questions they were asked as part of their baptism experience.
Question: Do you believe in God, the Father, the maker of heaven and earth?
Answer: Yes.
Question: Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, who was conceived by the virgin Mary?
Answer: Yes.
Slight variation, with much commonality until about 750 AD
Various versions of the Apostles’ Creed, with a lot of similarity, were recited among Christian churches all over the known world of the first several centuries.
It was around the mid 8th century when the Apostles’ Creed was formally adopted and standardized in the version most common today.
Two specific differences, and one very brief explanation
We believe,” instead of “I believe.”
Since the Apostles’ Creed was used by new converts to publicly affirm their own beliefs, “I believe” was and is appropriate.
However, since we plan to use it as a congregational confession during our church services, it is more accurate for us to recite together, “We believe...”
No “He descended into hell
This phrase was almost certainly not in any affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed until 650 AD.
Even when Christians first started including the phrase (and those who have tried to keep and explain it since), they didn’t mean by it what most people seem to understand it to mean.
Even if it does only affirm that Jesus’s body was buried, it is poorly placed and redundant.
In sum, the wording is confusing at best and heretical at worst. It’s inclusion, even with the best interpretation, adds nothing to the creedal statement; but its exclusion removes an unnecessary and unoriginal difficulty.
All Christians do believe in the “catholic” Church, but not necessarily the Roman Catholic Church
“catholic” simply means universal
Even the most convictional Protestants can and do affirm the reality of the catholic Church.
Historically, this is why many Protestants referred to the Roman Catholic Church as the “papists” or the “Romanists,” rather than the “Catholics.”
With these differences and this word explained, I trust that we can all affirm and recite the Apostles’ Creed together on future Sundays when we will study our way through this short-but-powerful creed.
With my last point, I’d like to try to overcome what I think might be the last hanging objection.
That said, if you still have objections to affirming this creed, or if you just want to talk this through with me more, then please don’t hesitate to let me know.

6) Doesn’t doctrine divide?

Yes, doctrine inevitably and rightfully divides.
The Bible is God’s revelation of doctrines, which stands in opposition to false doctrines.
We are to believe and to apply true doctrine, and we are to avoid and stand against false doctrine.
If we don’t hold fast to specific truths and practices, then we will be subject to whoever comes in here with the loudest voice, the most money, or the most compelling story.
Yes, sometimes those who study doctrine become unnecessarily divisive.
Many churches and Christians have had bad experiences with angry or arrogant or legalistic or self-righteous people who gain a little understanding of doctrine.
In my experience, this is almost always a result of lacking love for fellow Christians and others.
If you love winning an argument more than you love your brother...
If you love showing off your Bible knowledge more than you love your sister...
If you love correcting other peoples’ errors more than you love the people who are in error… then your knowledge and talk of doctrine will probably be unnecessarily divisive.
But truth and love are meant to go together.
The Bible teaches us to “speak the truth in love, [so that] we [all]… grow up in every way into him who is the head [of the Church], into Christ… [and] when each part [of the church body] is working properly, [this] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Though doctrine divides, it also results in worship and growth and unity… for those who believe it.
We’ve just read from Ephesians 4, where we are told that spiritual growth and church unity are expressly dependent upon “speaking truth” (v15)… or learning, believing, and applying true doctrine.
And remember the pastoral and the congregational responsibility to “teach” sound or true “doctrine” (Col. 3:16, 1 Tim. 6:2-4; Titus 2:1)
And remember the biblical pattern, which we saw described in Deuteronomy 6… to receive, to practice, and to teach that doctrine which God has revealed (Deut. 6:1-9)… which produces the good “fear” of the Lord (i.e., wisdom and true worship).
All of the New Testament passages of doxology (praise to God) follow on the heels of passages full of doctrine.
After a lengthy discussion of God’s unfolding plan of salvation, loaded with doctrine so rich and profound that Bible scholars are still trying to unpack it all today, in Romans 11, Paul broke out into high prose of praise (which itself includes rich doctrine!).
He said, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11: 33-36).
So let us commit ourselves to knowing what we believe and why, so that we may believe and know the true God (as He has revealed Himself) and so that we may learn to lovingly and humbly walk in His ways.
Or as J.I. Packer says in the introduction of his book on the Apostles’ Creed, “Today, on our own turf, we face pagan ignorance about God every bit as deep as that which the early church faced in the Roman Empire. The [overly simplified] approach is thus not full enough: the whole story of the Father’s Christ-exalting plan of redeeming love, from eternity to eternity, must be told, or the radical reorientation of life for which the gospel calls will not be understood, and the required total shift from man-centeredness to God-centeredness, and more specifically from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness, will not take place. All that the creed covers needs to be grasped and taught, as an integral part of the message of the saving love of God” (Packer, 22-23).


[1] “Disordered” is the old way Christians used to speak of one another when they held differing views on ecclesiology. A true church is a Christian one, and a true church might be rightly ordered or disordered in their administration of the sacraments or ordinances. Baptists believe that Presbyterians are ecclesiologically disordered, and the designation is reciprocated from the Presbyterians as well. However, a false church is both disordered and false, and neither Baptists nor Presbyterians have fellowship with a false church.
[2] See Al Mohler’s introduction of his book, The Apostles' Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits, in blog form here: https://albertmohler.com/2019/03/26/apostles-creed-discovering-authentic-christianity-age-counterfeits
[3] See Al Mohler’s introduction and explanation of theological triage here: https://albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity
[4] Most (probably all) of my Latin theological terms and my knowledge of their substance is attributable to R.C. Sproul. Here is his brief article on the subject of the relationship of the creeds to the Bible: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/norma-normata
[5] See the Nicean Creed and a brief explanation of its content and background at: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/nicene-creed


Holcomb, Justin. Know The Creeds And Councils. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. Print.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015. Print.
Mohler, Albert. The Apostles' Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2019. Print.
Packer, J. I. Affirming the Apostles’ Creed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Print
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