By Andrew Smith
From time to time over the centuries, the followers of Jesus generate statements of belief. These creeds are often in response to a question.
The first profession of this type was in response to a question from Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” When Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” it was a confession of belief.
Later, the followers of Jesus would face questions posed by believers and non-believers alike. Careful answers were crafted in the form of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed
These statements stand, centuries later. But there are new questions, posed by new events and new situations.
Jesus’ followers have answered with new creeds. In the 1500s, they wrote the Augsburg Confession to answer questions about the Roman Catholic church and the Reformation.
In the 1900s, the world experienced a new horror: political totalitarianism. Industrialization and technology made it possible to pursue warfare and genocide on a massive and terrifying scale.
People struggled to make sense of this fearful reality. Are Jesus’ followers required to cooperate with a government bent on mass killing? Is Jesus master over all areas of life, including political, legal, and military? Do His followers have to reshape their message to please the government, even an unjust government?
Prayerfully studying Scripture, the people of Jesus worked to speak God’s truth to ugly realities in a new century. One result of these efforts was the Barmen Declaration of 1934.
Those who wrote this text – Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Asmussen, and others – knew that they were not only endangering their lives by opposing fascism, but even more: they were practically signing their own death warrants.
Those who wrote this text were signing their own death warrants.
Creeds are sometimes the products of great courage.
The Barmen Declaration made it clear that Jesus’ followers could not, and would not, cooperate with the totalitarian dictators of the era. The written Word of God was superior to the rantings of tyrants.
Inspired by this and similar documents, many sincere believers risked – and sacrificed – their lives, working to protect the victims of oppression. Creeds are for mutual encouragement and inspire people to action.
But that was almost a hundred years ago!
We’re already in a new century. Which new questions arise from the current era? Which answers will the people of Jesus be called upon to give?