Two hundred years after Jesus’s ascension, Hippolytus wrote about the ritual of baptism as practiced by the first generations of Christians. Their “I believe”s told a story.
When the person being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say: “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?” And the person being baptized shall say: “I believe.” Then holding his hand on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say: “Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?” And when he says: “I believe,” he is baptized again. And again he shall say: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy church, and the resurrection of the body?” The person being baptized shall say: “I believe,” and then he is baptized a third time.
Then the Apostles Creed was penned. The oldest version we have is dated 542 AD. Our modern English translation reads…
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.
Then, in 381 AD, the Nicene Creed was written, another variation on the Christian plot.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Something central to the life of Jesus was left out.
Where is good news to the poor? Where is the healing of sickness, release from poverty, the unshackling of the oppressed? Where is the kingdom, God’s deliverance dawning here and now?
Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News (or gospel). 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Mark 1:14-15
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:16-20
Jesus didn’t just speak about justice. He did justice.
Deliverance of the poor into enough.
Deliverance of the oppressed into freedom.
Deliverance of the outcasts into community.
Deliverance out of violence into equality.
“Go and do likewise,” he said. And before leaving the planet Jesus commanded his disciples to go make disciples of all people, baptizing them and “teaching them all that I have taught you.”
But just two hundred years after that command was given, the story had changed. His story. And our story.
Between “born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontius Pilate” the life and teaching of Jesus went missing from the “I believe” of Christianity. And with it justice – deliverance now for the poor, exiled, oppressed and abused. For many followers of Jesus, justice has been optional, though highly praised when spotted in the lives of saints, missionaries and other radicals. Optional.
in America today, “justice” is a buzz word on the lips of many young Christians, authors, rockstars and mom bloggers. But is this newly popularized brand of justice the same as that taught and practiced by Jesus?
I’d like to spend some time writing about Jesus and justice here. Interested?