“FAITH FOR THE JOURNEY”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
January 29, 2023
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 NRSV
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are
being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not
God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not
know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save
those who believe. 22 For Jews ask for signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ
crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness
is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
From the very beginning the church has faced conflicts and controversies about what
it believes and teaches. Creeds and statements of faith have been written to try to
define what we believe and what the church should teach. This morning I want to look
at two examples of faith statements. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest
statements of faith developed to guide the faith of Christians. The United Church of
Christ developed a “Statement of Faith,” shortly after the decision to unite four historic
denominations into one. I believe looking at these two examples will help us on sour
The Nicene Creed was written before the Apostles’ Creed and is still considered
central to Catholic teaching. It was written in 325. Part of its purpose was to address a
number of controversies about Jesus. A couple of those questions were, was he fully
human or did he just appear to be human? Was he fully God or did God’s presence
just dwell in him? These questions came about because leaders of the church at the
time believed different things. Rather than accept that believing different things was
acceptable, some wanted to make sure everyone believed and thought the same in
order to qualify as “Christians.” So the Nicene Creed was developed by leaders of the
early church and approved as part of the mass, the Church’s official order of worship.
The Apostles’ Creed includes much, but not all, of the details of the Nicene
Creed. It proclaims that God is “Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and
that Jesus is “Christ, … only begotten son,” and “our Lord.” It affirms that Jesus was
“begotten” from God, “conceived” by the Holy Spirit, and “born of the Virgin Mary.”
These days even these simple phrases are a challenge for some people. Most everyone
agrees that it is a historical fact that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified,
dead and buried.”
One of the phrases that many people wonder about is the very next one. It states
that Christ “descended into hell.” This is not part of the Nicene Creed. It seems to
echo one short Bible verse in Ephesians 4:9 that says Christ “descended into the lower
earthly regions.” Most commentators feel this was added to the Apostles’ Creed to
answer the question about what happened to all the people who died before Christ.
Could they enter into salvation? The implied answer is that in the time between
Christ’s death and resurrection that is where he was, saving the souls of the already
Two other common misunderstandings of the Apostles Creed center around first,
the statement “I believe in the holy catholic church.” Of course it was written before
the Protestant Reformation and the split of the church that followed. The word catholic
became a proper name for one part of the Christian body. But it originally simply
meant “one.” As in, “I believe in one holy church.” Protestant Churches that use the
Apostles’ Creed understand the word catholic to mean not the Roman Catholic brand
of Christianity versus the various Protestant versions. We understand it in the broad
spiritual sense of believing that the church is meant to be one, united in fellowship or
belief in its ideal state.
The second misunderstanding in that same part of the Creed is the phrase, “the
communion of saints.” It does not mean that we believe that dead Christians are
sharing the sacrament in heaven. It comes from Paul’s use of the word “saints” in his
letters that refer to all Christians faithfully following Christ who are living, as well as
those who have died, as saints. The communion is not referring specifically to the
sacrament of bread and wine, but the sharing of a spiritual fellowship, a connection
with one another and with Christ.
The United Church of Christ as a denomination recognizes all these historic
creeds as valuable for teaching about the faith and learning about the history of our
church. We do not use them as tests of the validity of a person’s faith. In other words
we do not demand that, to be a member of a UCC church, or to be a “real” Christian,
that one must confess and believe in these creeds. Another way we say it is we
recognize them as “testimonies of faith, not tests of faith.” We can use them as ways
to learn about the history of our faith and to hear our ancestors in faith testify about
their faith from across the centuries. At the same time, because we value diversity in
faith perspectives and understandings, we do not say that one is not a Christian if one
does not “believe” or “agree” with the creed.
When the United Church of Christ was born, from a union of four separate
historic denominations, leaders undertook writing a “Statement of Faith.” The original
was edited a few times since 1959 to be more inclusive in language as we became
more aware of the power of words to shape our understanding and experience of faith.
In a moment I want to read through it and then comment on a few of the statements.
For me the value of this Statement of Faith is that it echoes a vision of God not as a
heavenly persecutor, waiting to strike down those who fail, but a creating and creative
God who seeks to bring life and guide us in our lives to follow the way of Christ.
My understanding of that “way of Christ” differs from some. I sense that many
people believe in a Christ who is little more than a Christian Pharisee. That is,
someone who, if he is the gate, it is a gate he shuts except for a chosen few. If he is a
door, he is closed unless someone knows the secret password and never violates the
holy rules. I believe in a God who liberates and frees us to live. I believe that the ideal
Christian life is one that seeks to do what is right and just and loving. Rather than
living in fear of damnation and hell, I believe God means for us to live knowing we are
blessed, beloved, and called to invite others to share in those blessings and love. It is
understanding this attitude and belief in a grace-filled and merciful God who “seeks in
holy love to save all people,” that brings meaning to this Statement for me. Let us read
the Statement together and then I will share a few more thoughts:
We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God,
and to your deeds we testify:
You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each
one the ways of life and death.
You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to
us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to
You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus
Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your
servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the
powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his
passion and victory.
You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in
the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life
in your realm which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you. Amen.
The reality is there is much in this that is very orthodox and traditional. At the same time the spirit of it comes from an understanding that this too is a testimony, not a binding test of our qualifications to be saved or be considered a Christian. It affirms God as Creator. It echoes the value that Christ has conquered sin and death. It speaks of judgment - but a judgment based on the call of the prophets, which as we said is measured by our doing what is righteous and just for those who are the most vulnerable among us, and to base our political, religious, and economic systems on these things rather than simply on unchecked profit and unmitigated greed for those who have the power to control these systems.
I am also challenged by its reminder of our call to be part of a church that resists “the powers of evil,” and I hear that not just in terms of personal, private issues but also in the realms of human systems and public life. Finally, I am encouraged that it speaks of God’s presence with us “in trial and rejoicing.” I have believed that is an important element of my faith and experience.
I have included copies of this in the bulletins for you to take home. I hope you will read over it and reflect on it. What do you hear in it that you find encouraging? What do find challenging? What do wish to talk about with someone to understand their understanding and expand your own? This is what should come from this kind of Statement. It should open ways to grow in our own faith. It isn’t intended as a perfect test of faith, remember. It is offered as an expression of faith. Real faith should always be seeking to grow in its understanding of God, of the meaning and purpose of this life God has given us, and in relationships we live in every day.
May God bless us and help us to grow as we live out our faith statements. That is ultimately what life is: our statement of faith. So, I pray this might strengthen your faith for your journey in these days to come. AMEN.