I invite you to think for a moment: What is the purpose of bark on a tree?
First, it’s there to protect the tree from outside forces such as fire, insects, animals, and diseases. Second, bark defines a tree and distinguishes it from other plants. Some trees have smooth white or silver bark, while others have course, even prickly brown bark. Arborists –tree experts– identify species of trees by leaves, needles, shapes, fruits, and even bark.
So what does this have to do with worship?
It’s very important that we worship God not only from our hearts but also with our minds. This means we must understand and worship God in the light of His Truth rather than in human myths, misunderstandings, and misguided viewpoints of God and His Word. The early Christian church understood the importance of accuracy in their beliefs even as some people and outside movements unsuccessfully tried to warp and re-invent Christian beliefs to fit their own false viewpoints. Statements of faith, also known as creeds, were written to inform early believers of what is true about God and protect them from what is not. Here is an example of an early creed of sorts, written by the Apostle Paul in the face of challenges to the church, to inform his readers of the reality of Jesus Christ and his resurrection:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me…”
1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 (NIV Bible)
With growth in the Christian Church and ongoing attacks to its beliefs, over time more detailed creeds were developed, such as the Roman Creed of the 2nd Century:
I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh, the life everlasting.
Later, The Nicene and Apostles creeds were written by a group of church leaders to defend against false claims that Jesus was not fully God, or that he was only a created being, or even that Jesus was not really a man.
There are people and worldviews today that seek to undermine the very foundations of Christian beliefs. Our creeds and statements of faith, like bark, are there to protect the Church from spiritual attacks, diseases, and outside threats to the biblical beliefs of true followers of Jesus Christ. Creeds also set us apart from other worldviews and religions.
But there’s a caution: the mere knowledge of or speaking of a creed does not guarantee that we have put our faith in God. Here’s how James put it:
“You say you have faith, for you believe there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this and tremble in terror.”
James 3:19 (NIV Bible)
Like the sap of a tree, the lifeblood of a Christian is found inside: the living presence of God. More on this next week.
Blessings to you! Chris