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I 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; He descended to the dead; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.


What Do You Believe?

INTRODUCTION: The new movie God’s Not Dead 2 came out last weekend. Go see it. The movie is about whether we as Christians have the right to express our faith, our beliefs, in the public arena. I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I will only tell you two things about the credits. First, stay all the way through the credits; don’t leave during them because the movie isn’t over yet. Second, in the credits there is a section where it says that the movie is based on court cases where people were put on trial for their faith. It then lists a dozen or more recent court cases in which Christians had to defend their religious liberties. The producers of the movie state that in the two movie’s credits they cite “about 50 different court cases that are dealing with similar issues right now.”[1]

All the Scriptures I read this morning have to do with belief in one way or another. They ask the questions “Do you believe?” But let’s be clear on this. All those court cases cited in the God’s Not Dead movies are about the faith of Christians. I have never heard of an atheist professor being brought to trial for sowing the seeds of doubt into our young people. I have never heard of a yoga practitioner being sued for teaching yoga, a form of Hindu religion, in public schools. I have never heard of a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu or even a Satanist ever being chastised for talking about their religions in the public arena. Yet all those people who are not being sued or tried for their faith do believe something.

So it’s not enough to believe, for as James says (in the Pastor Michel paraphrase), “You believe in God – well whoop de doo! Even the demons believe that —and shake in their boots!” You see, those Scriptures I read also raise the question, “What do you believe?” Of them all, the key verse, which also figures in the movie God’s Not Dead 2, is, “Who do you say that I am?”

In the late 1980s only “13% of U.S. adults expressed serious doubts about the existence of God. … 30% had serious doubts by 2014, more than twice as many,” according to the General Social Survey.[2] Yet that same study showed that while 70% of Americans believe in God (in some form or other), 80% believe in an afterlife.[3] (Some people want the perks of religion without the responsibilities of it.) In the DVD we showed Tuesday evening on heaven, one woman was asked if she believed in heaven. Her answer was, “Of course there is a heaven, but also I do believe in aliens. … Who will go [to heaven]? That’s not my determination. That’s the universe….”[4] Or as a “man on the street” said in an interview I heard years ago, “I believe in God, but I try not to let it affect my life.”[5] It’s not enough to believe; it really matters what we believe.

Today we will begin regularly using an updated version of the Apostle’s Creed in our worship. This has been studied, prayed about, and approved by the Session. They asked me to explain to you why we are making these changes, though we are not changing the content of the Creed, merely clarifying the language. Essentially there are three things we will be saying differently.

I.           First, we will refer to the “Holy Spirit” instead of “Holy Ghost.” This is important because people in our society, especially younger people, do not understand the word “ghost” the way previous generations did. To most a ghost is an apparition of a dead person. They think of hauntings, séances, horror movies, Ghost Busters, or perhaps Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The word that is used most often in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit is pneumatos. There are 97 occurrences of that word. There is a place in the Scripture where the disciples think that the Jesus they see is a ghost – when He was walking on water as reported in Matthew and Mark. But guess what? In the Greek, it is a different word – phantasma – than the one used for the Holy Spirit.

Our change to using “Spirit” instead of “Ghost” is no different than our using the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version of the Bible both of which refer to the Holy Spirit rather than the Holy Ghost. It is simply more understandable.

II.         Second, we will be saying “descended to the dead” instead of “descended into hell.” This will make what we proclaim both Biblically and theologically accurate. Let’s look at what the Bible actually says about what happened to Jesus after His crucifixion. We can start with Jesus’ own words on the cross to the thief: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Notice Jesus said He would be going to Paradise, not Hell. Paradise, also referred to as the bosom of Abraham, is one section of the abode of the dead. Jesus gives us a description of that place in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. There is a place of punishment described in the abode of the dead, or Hades, separated from Paradise by a deep chasm, but it is not called Hell. It is only referred to as a place of “torment” or “anguish.” In the Bible, Hell is another place altogether (and has a different name in the Greek – Gehenna) which is described elsewhere. But Hell and Hades are not the same place, nor is Hades a polite way of saying Hell.

Someone might ask, “But I heard that Jesus went to preach the gospel to those in hell?” Again, that is not what the Bible actually says. What we are told in Scripture is that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison….” (1 Peter 3:18-19) This “prison” was Hades, the temporary holding place until the last judgment. (See 2 Peter 2:9) Hell is the name of the eternal abode of the damned, also described as the lake of fire.

You may have heard it said that Jesus went to Hell and suffered there for the sins of the world. This is a contemporary heresy that is found nowhere in the Bible. On the contrary, just before He died on the cross, Jesus said to the thief, “It is finished,” (meaning mission accomplished, bill paid in full, the work is done), and it says in Hebrews 10:10, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 9:28 also tells us, “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” And we already quoted 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….”

No matter how you slice it, the Bible never says that Jesus “descended into Hell.” So why is it in the old versions of the Apostles’ Creed that way? It is simply a translation error; no more than that. That is why some churches leave the phrase out of the Creed entirely or replace it with the phrase we are using or one similar.

III.        Finally, in the version of the Creed we will be using we will say “Christian Church” instead of “Catholic Church.” Probably most of you know that the word “catholic” actually means “universal,” meaning it is open to any who profess the name of Jesus as Savior, at least when it is spelled with a lower case “c.” However, when it’s spelled with an upper case “C,” the word usually refers to the Roman Catholic Church. The problem with the Creed as it is printed in our 1955 red hymnal is two-fold.

First, for some unknown reason the publisher printed the word with a capital “C,” suggesting the Roman Catholic Church with which we, as an Evangelical and Reformed congregation, have many theological differences. Second, like “Holy Ghost,” the word is not understandable to many people today who do not know its meaning. They see “catholic,” and whether it is upper or lower case, they think “Roman Catholic Church.”

So, to avoid any confusion and to make it understandable, we can say “Christian Church.” This proclaims its universal nature (that it is open to any who profess the name of Jesus as Savior), and includes all denominations that are faithful to the gospel within the true Church. Simply put, to use this language more clearly reflects what is actually meant in the Creed.

CONCLUSION: Does it matter? Do we need to make these changes in the language of the Creed? I am convinced we do.

Right now National Geographic channel is running a series called The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. (Other than his self-professed interest in the subject, Mr. Freeman’s credentials to host this program are that he played God in two movies – Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty.) The series operates on the assumption that any idea of God is valid and all these ideas are equally true. This is contrary to the Word of God which tells us that there is one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. But our society has a Chinese restaurant mentality toward religion in general and God in particular – pick what you want from column A and something else you want from column B; leave off anything you don’t like. As one young man said to me, “I like a church that lets me relate to God on my terms.” We need instead to be relating to God on His terms, as revealed in Scripture.

We need to be clear about what we believe. We need to plainly state what we believe and not say things that we do not believe or that are false. We need to proclaim our beliefs in a way that is understandable to all people, not just to those of our culture, generation, or social group. The Session has not taken this action lightly or to upset anyone or to offend anyone. We have taken it so that we may clearly convey our faith, our beliefs, before God and the world.


[2] Maggie Fox, Fewer Americans Believe in GodYet They Still Believe in Afterlife, March 21, 2016,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Heaven: What God Has Prepared for Those Who Love Him, CBN, © 2016.

[5] CBN, date and source unknown.

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