Lesson 1 - Why We Believe What We Believe





When Jesus Christ came to the earth, he called to himself disciples with whom he spent three years.  During that time, he taught them through both his words and his actions how to live in accordance with the commands of scripture.  He also taught them the extent to which his own life was a fulfilment of that scripture, ultimately leaving them with a new command – to love others as he had loved them.  Through that commandment, they would successfully could keep all of the intent of the law.   Upon his resurrection, just prior to his ascent into heaven, he left them with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to go and make disciples, teaching these new disciples to observe all the things that he had taught them.  What he had taught them, however, was the extent to which he, Jesus Christ, was a fulfillment of all of the promises of the Old Testament.  Those promises came from the One True God.  However, not everyone believes in the One True God and therein lays the importance of studying Theology.


In The Beginning…


Scripture begins with an assumption – “In the beginning God…” In other words, our Bible assumes the existence of god.  More than that, inherent in that assumption is further assumption that our God is the One True God.  The first thing scripture tells us is that one God created everything (the heavens and the earth).  From there, scripture goes on to tell us how man rebelled against God’s authority and how God put a plan in place to redeem mankind from the inevitable punishment associated with that rebellion. 

However, in his rebellion, mankind often chooses to not only rebel against God’s authority, but to create different gods or even to disavow his very existence.  Even amongst the faithful, we must all admit that from time to time we have doubts as well.   

If God doesn’t really exist, then the foundational assumption of the Bible is flawed and we have no reason to believe anything it says.  Therefore, our very first order of business is to address the question that sometimes crosses all of our minds: How do we really know that God exists? 

There is an entire branch of study of Theology called Philosophy of Religion that deals with questions just like that one.  While most of us accept by faith that God exists, it is important to know that our faith is not entirely blind.  There are numerous rational proofs for the existence of God that we can rely on to support our faith.  It may not help us win a debate against someone who is determined not to believe in God, but it does provide you some level of defense against their claims.  Therefore, it is important to at least be familiar with these proofs.


Rational Arguments for the Existence of God


Over the centuries, the existence of God has become a major discussion in the philosophical discussions, with various historical Philosophers offering proofs both for and against his existence.   The truth is, we can never PROVE that God exists.  As a result, atheists basically accuse all believers of being ignorant or irrational.   However, just because we cannot definitely prove that God exists does not mean he doesn’t exist as the atheists would claim – nor does it mean there is not rational support for his existence.  The argument FOR the existence of God, while still not concrete, definitive proof, show that we are not being irrational or ignorant to believe in the existence of God.  These arguments typically fall under one of 5 categories:


Teleological.  God must necessarily exist through observation of both order in the universe as well as indications of a cosmic design within the universe.  Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament sheweth his handywork.” It is amazing that the more we learn about the universe, the more we (as believers in God) see the hand of God at work in its creation.  It is equally amazing how those who choose to reject God are blinded and cannot make those same observations.


Cosmological.   This argument says that God must necessarily exist because ultimately there must be a prime mover that causes all things to happen.  Everything is cause by something else.  Nothing happens without something else having caused it to happen.  Everything can be traced back to something.  But what was the first thing that started – or caused – everything else to happen?  That was God.


Pragmatic.  This argument says that God must necessarily exist because of man’s intrinsic (a priori) understanding of morality (right and wrong).  Because we understand there is a right and there is a wrong, there must be justice to punish the wrong.  Romans 2:14-15 says “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;).”  Therefore, it makes pragmatic sense to believe in God rather than face the potential consequence of Hell.


Ontological.  This argument says that because we can conceive that there must be something greater and more perfect than human existence and experience, that something – which is God – must necessarily exist.


Transcendental.  This argument says that God must necessarily exist because without the Christian worldview of God, one cannot otherwise speak rationally of right and wrong.  In other words, if God does not exist, why should we even be concerned about morality.  If there is no God, then each one is free to do whatever he wants in the time he has.  If we insist that morality is important to society, we are by definition implying that a higher power that gives authority to that morality must necessarily exist.


There are numerous resources available online and elsewhere to give you more detail and background on these arguments. None of them, however, actually proves that the God that we know of is THE God of the Bible; nor do they in any way lead us towards a faith in Jesus Christ.  All of that depends upon our belief in The Holy Bible.  That issue we will address in Lesson 2 of this course. However, for this course, we will go forward with the assumption that God exists and spend this lesson looking at how we came to our orthodox Christian beliefs and practices concerning Jesus Christ.



The History of What We Believe


We believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world.  We believe that he is the Son of God come into the world to sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of sins.  In so doing, we believe that he fulfilled all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament.  As such, we worship him.  We preach his gospel.  We have established entire confessions of faith surrounding him.  How did we get to these beliefs?


The Teachings of Christ


Before the actual gospels were written, the teachings of Christ were taught by word of mouth.  According to early church tradition, the first person to write down these teachings was the Apostle Matthew, who supposedly wrote down the teachings of Jesus in the Hebrew language.  According to tradition, those early writings of Jesus’ teachings were used as a kind of “catechism” for discipling new believers. Scholars believe that later Matthew took these teachings and combined them with the writings of John Mark (The Gospel According to St. Mark), which is where we get the Gospel According to St. Matthew.    We know these teachings as the five “sermons” found in Matthew:

1.     The Sermon on the Mount – Christian Living (Mt 5)

2.     The Mission Discourse (Mt 10)

3.     Jesus’ Parables (Mt 13)

4.     Church Life and Order (Mt 18)

5.     Olivet Discourse – Last Judgment (Mt 24)


Portions of each of these “sermons” are found in some of the other gospels, but it is Matthew who organizes the teachings of Jesus into this most useful fashion.


The Early Revelations of the Holy Spirit


Even with the ascension of Jesus, God’s work of revealing the mysteries of the gospel – those things hidden before Christ’s advent - was not complete.  Jesus says in John 14:26 that “… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  

When Jesus left the earth and returned to heaven, God sent us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has many roles in the lives of believers, but one of these roles is the revelation of God’s truth.  During this early church period of time, the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to write down this truth so that it would be preserved for all believers everywhere.  Some of these writers, such as Paul and John, received direct revelation from Jesus, but all were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit confirmed and enhanced their understanding of what they learned by living with and witnessing the life of Christ.

A portion of the mystery of the gospel of Christ – in particular that of the availability of salvation to the gentiles - was actually not revealed until after Christ ascended into heaven.  Paul says in Ephesians 3:4-7


Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.


Until Jesus appeared to Peter in the vision of the sheet descending from heaven and told him all foods were clean (Acts 10) – followed immediately by his visit to Cornelius’ house – the idea of gentiles becoming saved was not even considered.  Even after those first converts, it was not until Jesus himself appointed Paul as an apostle to the gentiles that any significant efforts at making disciples among the gentiles existed.  These efforts, revealed through the Spirit, helped us understand the truth that salvation is available to all men.


Paul’s Statement of Faith


Unfortunately, as is indicated in several places in the New Testament, false teachers have tried to introduce error into the doctrine of the church since its beginning.  As a result, it became necessary to carefully and clearly lay out the principles of exactly what we believe with respect to the gospel.  This is precisely what the Apostle Paul did in his own personal statement of faith – or rather his statement of the gospel – in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, which says


For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.


Although not what one would consider to be a full, traditional statement of faith, there is no clearer summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ than these simple verses.  We all ought to refer to it often as a reminder of the simplicity of the gospel.


Ireneus’ Rule of Faith


At the end of the first century, Ireneus the Bishop of Gaul had written a book called “Against Heresies.”  In that book, he developed and published one of the first full statements of faith that has become known as Ireneus’ Rule of Faith.  It reads as follows:


The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [belief in] in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.


Ireneus’ Rule of Faith is probably the earliest known extra-biblical statement of faith.  It goes slightly beyond a mere statement of the gospel to a statement of God’s purposes in the gospel.


The Apostle’s Creed


By the end of the 2nd Century, the early church had developed a statement that was regularly recited at church gatherings to declare their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Tradition has it that each of the twelve Apostles contributed one line each, but no one really knows how/when it originated.  It reads as follows:


      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 into hell. 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 saints,

      the forgiveness of sins,

      the resurrection of the body,

      and life everlasting.



As its name states, these verses are more than just a statement of faith, they represent a creed.  Throughout the centuries, many new Christians have been taught the Apostle’s Creed as representing the most elementary essentials of the Christian faith.  Nearly 2000 years later, the Apostle’s Creed is still recited regularly in many churches around the world.  The Apostle’s Creed is, without question, the single most concise statement of the orthodox Christian faith.


Early Church Councils


In the early days of the church, whenever there were disagreements over interpretations of faith, they didn’t split off into factions and form new denominations.  Rather, they gathered together into councils, debated, prayed, and even argued – sometimes over the course of years – until a prayerfully considered consensus on the issue had been reached.   This is not entirely without expectation or perhaps even design.  1 Corinthians 11:18-19 says “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”   Paul was not saying heresies were good, and other modern translations clarify that he meant divisions or disagreements and not exclusively heresies.

Indeed, whenever humans are involved, there will be disagreements. Even in the 1st Century, there were disputes in the Church.  The entire book of Galatians is about Paul’s confrontation of heresy in the church.  Whenever such disagreements would threaten the unity of the church, the leaders would gather together to address the root cause of the division.

One could argue that the very first such council occurred in Acts 6 when the end result was the appointment of deacons, but since that crisis did not specifically involve an interpretation of faith, it is not generally considered a church council.  The early church councils that are typically recognized for their significant contribution to our orthodox belief system are as follows:


1.              Council of Jerusalem (AD49 - Gal 2:11-12; Acts 15:1-2) – established that salvation comes by grace through faith alone and that conversion to Judaism in whole or in part (and most specifically circumcision) was not required for salvation.

2.              Council of Nicaea (AD 325) – repudiated the Arian heresy that denied the divinity of Jesus and resulted in the establishment of the Nicene Creed, which is the definitive orthodox statement affirming the existence of the Trinity.

3.              1st Council of Constantinople (AD 381) – reaffirmed and slightly modified the Nicene Creed.

4.              Council of Ephesus (AD 431) – repudiated the Nestorian heresy that claimed Jesus was 2 people – one divine and one human – and which also taught that Jesus was born human and infused with divinity at his baptism.

5.              Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) – repudiated the Eutychian heresy that taught Jesus was a fusion of divine and human – neither fully man nor fully God but rather some combination of the two; the council resulted in the Chalcedonian Creed, affirming that Jesus was fully God and fully man.


Each of these councils in their own right established and/or affirmed critical aspects of our orthodox faith.


Early Church Traditions


In the beginning, there was only the church.   Around the 10th Century, debates over the authority of the Pope led to the great schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and then ultimately the Protestant Reformation. 

Over the years, the early church solidified many traditions that virtually all Christians - catholic, orthodox, or protestant - observe today.  Some of those include:

1.              The Lord’s Supper - originally, the commemoration that we think of as the Lord’s Supper was observed at almost every meal and certainly at the joint meals (Love Feasts).  It was the early church that declared it a sacrament and incorporated it into official liturgy.

2.              Holidays – almost all of our Christian holidays originated from early church (and especially the Roman Catholic Church) attempts to “redeem” pagan holy days.

3.              Latin Vulgate – the preservation of the scripture owes a debt of gratitude to the Roman Catholic Church, which took on the responsibility of protecting and maintaining scripture. The “textus receptus” (or received text of the Holy Scriptures) still has a huge influence on our modern translations of the Bible – and is the primary  basis for the King James Version English Bible.

4.              Pedo-Baptism – Although many protestant churches have replaced infant (or “pedo”) baptism with believers (or “credo”) baptism, many denominations still practice this ceremony.

5.              Sacraments – It was the early church – and ultimately the Roman Catholic Church - that established the seven sacraments.  While none of the protestant denominations still observe all seven Roman Catholic sacraments, some still consider communion and baptism to be sacramental, while others view them as ordinances.


Regardless of your denomination, it is important to remember that a significant portion of your traditional orthodox beliefs and traditions originated through the early church and, in particular, the Roman Catholic Church’s application of scripture to everyday life.  To the extent we (that is, our individual denominations) have deemed these practices to be in line with scripture, we have chosen to keep them as a part of our beliefs and traditions.


The Protestant Reformation


Just as the Roman Catholic Church contributed much to our traditional beliefs and practices, the Protestant Reformation also served to refine our beliefs. Over time, the Roman Catholic Church, mainly as a result of some corrupt Popes, began teaching errors and even heresies that forever altered the teachings of the church.   One of those was the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church.  Over time, even the Catholic Church itself realized its errors and reformed itself.  However, in 1517, as a response to the selling of indulgences and a number of other errors he believed to exist in the Catholic Church, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church.  From those theses came a foundation of reformation that changed the face of Christianity and established critical beliefs that are different even from modern Catholicism.  That foundation is often called the 5 Solas (from the latin word “sola” meaning ONLY) and represents the heart of all protestant beliefs.  They are as follows:

1.            Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) – Only by the grace of God are we saved as opposed to any human effort (Eph 2:8-9).

2.            Sola Fide (Faith Alone) – Only through Faith are we saved as opposed to works of any kind (Eph 2:8-9).

3.            Sola Christus (Christ Alone) – Only through the work of Jesus on the cross is salvation possible (Acts 4:12).

4.            Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) – Only the scripture (as opposed to the Pope) has the authority of the Word of God as opposed to the Pope – or even Church tradition - having authority equal to scripture.

5.            Sola Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) – only God is worthy of our glory as opposed to the pomp and circumstance of the church.


In response to these principles, the Roman Catholic Church gathered over several years at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to condemn Protestantism, to repudiate salvation by grace alone, and to establish the Roman Catholic Church as the ultimate authority for interpreting scripture. Over time, the Roman Catholic Church made many of its own internal reformations.  However, when Protestants and Catholics are placed together today, there are still serious disagreements about these five foundational beliefs.


Protestant Disagreements


The Protestants could not agree on everything either. There were a number of significant differences of agreement during the Reformation that ultimately resulted in the formation numerous denominational structures.  Without getting into significant details on each, some of those disagreements are as follows:

1.              Predestination vs. Free Will – this disagreement centers around the extent to which we as humans have any free choice in whether or not we are saved.  The two sides are generally divided into followers of John Calvin (Calvinism) or Jacob Arminius (Arminianism).

2.              State-sponsored church vs. religious liberty – this disagreement centers around whether the government should run the church or whether the church should be free to run itself.

3.              Pedo Baptism vs. Credo Baptism – this disagreement centers around whether it is appropriate to baptize infants or whether baptism should be the result of one’s public confession of Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.

4.              Transubstantiation[1] vs. Consubstantiation[2] vs. Symbolism of the Lord’s Supper – this disagreement centers around the nature of Communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, etc.).

5.              Centralized church leadership vs. congregational church leadership – this disagreement centers primarily around church structure and whether the church should be led by bishops, a presbytery, or through congregational rule.


Although it is sad that such disunity still exists amongst the universal church, these varying beliefs are held strongly by those who hold fast to them.  Fortunately – for the most part – we have come to acknowledge that the vast majority of these differences are not essential doctrines to our salvation.  Therefore, while we may distinguish ourselves by them, we still maintain our ability to be in Christian fellowship with each other.


Protestant Confessions of Faith


In order to clearly establish our position on such beliefs – and not just these, but all of our essential and secondary beliefs – most protestant denominations have established their own Confessions of Faith.  Many of these have very important historical significance, including:

1.              The Augsburg Confession of Faith (Lutheran – c.1530)

2.              The 39 Articles of Religion (Anglican – 1571 – influenced John Wesley)

3.              The First London Baptist Confession (1644 – Calvinistic in nature)

4.              Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian – 1646 - Calvinist)

5.              A Declaration of Peoples Called Anabaptists (1659 – non Calvinistic)

6.              Methodist 25 Articles of Faith (1808, originally stated by John Welsey in 1784)

7.              Baptist Faith and Message (latest version is 2000).


In many cases, we owe the concise statement of our beliefs to the people who have worked so hard to create such statements as these.  We may agree with parts, disagree with other parts, but the work of the saints that preceded us have greatly shaped our understanding and interpretation of scripture.


Lesson 1 Addendum – Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds


Because of their importance to the orthodox Christian faith, these creeds are reproduced here for you to review.  Note how both of them clearly lay out the fundamentals of the faith.


Nicene Creed (circa 325 AD with minor modifications later)


We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.




Chalcedonian Creed (circa 451 AD)


Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

[1] When blessed by a priest, the bread and wine become the literal physical body and blood of Christ.

[2] The bread and the wine coexist with the body of Christ in mysterious way.