We believe in one God, God the Father the Pantocrator who created heaven and earth, and all things seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. And on the third day He rose from the dead, according to the scriptures, ascended to the heavens; He sits at the right hand of his Father, and He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-Giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And in one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the coming age. Amen.
In the practical application of theology, I like to categorize things into different levels. I’m a sucker for structured hierarchies and taxonomies. Heh heh.
First: The core of faith and theology, the Gospel, the parts that are essential to salvation itself. If you don’t believe these, then you have a false gospel and aren’t saved. These are very minimal, in my mind, and can be summed up essentially in the Apostle’s or the Nicene Creed. I have here quoted the Coptic Orthodox version of this, which I personally prefer for matters of style and completeness.
When the terms are understood (like ‘catholic’ in its old sense meaning universal, as in, not geographically located to one nation, but open to all peoples, nations, languages, classes, and sexes; ‘pantocrator’ meaning ruler or holder of all; and so on) it is very complete and exhaustive for this level. This is where the cults start to be distinguished from the true orthodoxy, and also where our fundamental unity in Christ is found over and above denominational differences. This is the common ground upon which all else is built. If you believe this and are committed to it (in the true sense of belief), then you are a part of the Body of Christ. Period. Full stop. You are a brother, and thus worthy of all privileges and blessings of that station. Such as an extra measure of loving charity from one’s fellow believers (Galatians 6:10 “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”).
Second: The essentials of the faith. These are foundational and have far-reaching implications for the rest of your exploration of the truths of God and for life itself, but are not necessary for salvation. Belief in the infallible and eternal authority of Scripture from its first verse to its last, for example, is a big one. There are many sincere Believers who do not agree with that, and go astray in their theology, but are still saved. This is mostly to do with hermeneutics, and about how to approach Scripture and God and less about content.
Third: The pillars of the faith. This is where those beliefs go which people have been fighting over for millennia viciously because they are Very Important, and yet which in my belief they shouldn’t be fighting about. Not because they aren’t important, but because they are so important. There’s no learning in fighting. We are still Christians, and so we still have a common ground and common foundation in the first two categories. So we should be learning together and exploring these questions together rather than at each others’ throats. Anyway, this where things like infant baptism, predestination and free will, the age of the earth, creation ex nihilo, and things like that are categorized.
Fourth: The practical theology of day to day life. These are things like whether or not kosher laws apply to modern Christians, modest dress standards, what version of the Bible is best, clean speech, Church government practices, whether or not Christians should be involved in politics, whether we should drink or not, whether or not smoking is okay, how divorce is handled, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and so on and on and on. These are really really important aspects of theology. Critical topics! These are about “how then shall we live” and the nuts and bolts of the Christian life. I personally think that most theological study should center right here. The earlier categories should be established and then explored further, but cease to become immediately profitable to our day to day life as followers of Christ once they are understood and internalized, which should happen relatively early in our saved life. This tier should consume us as we strive hourly to become more like Christ.
Fifth: The relatively frivolous aspects of theology. Things that are more trivial. Interesting and academic and useful for understanding the earlier categories better, and certainly profitable for study, but not really as vital or as important as the others. Definitely not anything to fight about! I would actually put eschatology here. * winces * Some eschatology anyway. Not all of it — some eschatology is in the first category! Unfortunately, a lot of seminaries and sermons spend way too much time in this category, which results in “much knowledge puffing up” people.
What practical use are these categories? Well, for one thing, listing them out like this in our minds, and sorting through our beliefs and assigning them to their relative places, really helps us to prioritize and choose our battles. It puts our pride aside and helps us climb off our hobby horses and realize what’s really important. It reminds us of how much we actually have in common with that person we are yelling at and excommunicating. Also, it helps us to formulate exactly to what degree “unequally yoked” applies to our current situation. If I am going to marry someone, I want to be unified with her completely all the way up through the third tier, and a great deal of the fourth as well. If I’m going to be best friends with someone, I might only need to agree with the dude on the stuff in the second tier. If someone is a mentor and a teacher, I might want to make sure we are in agreement all the way through to the fifth tier! Or not. But it’s good to think through these things and know where you (and your friends, sometimes, and your suitor, definitely) stand on them.