Another Gospel?: 5 Days to a Firm Faith

Day 3 of 5 • This day’s reading

Devotional

 What did the earliest Christians believe? 


As I began to work through my doubts and piece together what was true about Christianity, I wanted to understand what those people who witnessed the life and death of Jesus believed. The first Christians didn’t have an embossed leather New Testament sitting in their laps when they gathered for worship like many of us do today. In fact, Paul’s letters weren’t even written until about twenty years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection. So I wondered, How did people understand their faith and identify with one another? I learned that creeds became an important form of communication to keep those first-century believers on the same page.


Many Christians are unaware that our New Testament contains dozens of creeds that are hundreds of years older than their more famous counterparts. In fact, all of today’s Scripture readings are examples of these ancient creeds. Some early Christians were literate; others were not. Creeds were an easy way to summarize and memorize their essential beliefs.


The earliest creed in the history of Christianity is probably the one found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Most scholars, even liberal and skeptical ones, say that this creed first began circulating as early as three to seven years after Jesus’ resurrection.


This creed sums up what the earliest Christians believed:


1. They believed that Jesus died for their sins. At the core, they believed Jesus had died to save them from their sins—that he died in their place. He wasn’t simply killed by an angry mob for speaking truth to power.


2. They believed that Jesus was buried and raised from the dead. Without the resurrection of Jesus, you don’t have Christianity. It’s that simple. Paul says it plainly later in the same chapter, when he connects the Resurrection with the Atonement. He writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV).


3. They believed that Jesus’ atoning death, burial, and resurrection were inseparable from the Scriptures. Essential to early Christianity was a belief that the Jewish Scriptures were the Word of God.


This wasn’t some kind of “What does Jesus mean to you?” mushy oatmeal faith. It centered on history and the evidence of eyewitnesses to an event—the Resurrection. Along with these beliefs, other early creeds (such as those found in today’s readings) affirm the deity of Jesus.


This is where we must begin. Christianity is certainly so much more than this, but it can’t be any less. Any version of Christianity that eliminates the Atonement mythologizes the Resurrection, lowers the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, or denies the deity of Jesus is not real Christianity.


Let’s reflect on the truths of God, which are eternal, not progressive, as we pray Psalm 119:159-160:


Father,


See how I love your commandments, Lord. Give back my life because of your unfailing love. The very essence of your words is truth; all your just regulations will stand forever.


Amen