30 Days in the Bible, Day 25: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
The Sh’ma is the foundation of a devout Jew’s morning and evening prayers. Traditionally it is supposed to be the last words spoken before sleep at night, and for many Jews they are the last words they speak. It is a reminder that one’s faith is in the one and only God, the God of Israel.
It is also the basic creedal statement of Judaism. Creeds have been used for millennia to remind religious believers of the foundational teachings of their faith in summary form. For the Jew, all other beliefs are dependent on who God is. It speaks of God as one, as the only God, and as the God of Israel. By reciting the Sh’ma, a Jew is reminded of his or her relation to the one true God.
Christians have developed their own creeds over the centuries. They started to appear even in the first centuries, while the Bible was being written. They were recited to remind Christians of the foundations of their faith, and often said in group settings to remind everyone present that they shared a common faith.
Many Christians today still recite the Apostle’s Creed, which is based on basic statements that began to develop in the first two centuries of the church. As a student at a non-Baptist seminary, I would recite this creed several times a week in chapel. It was a constant reminder to me of three things: (1) the basic beliefs of my faith, (2) the faith I share with all Christians throughout the world, and (3) the fact that I follow a faith that is rooted in a long history.
Some Christians are skeptical of creeds. “No creed but the Bible!” is often the cry of groups that reject any creed. Yet we all have our own “creeds,” statements of what we believe. Your creed can be found in the answer to this question: “What do you believe?” The answer you give to that question reflects your basic beliefs.
Creeds have been used as teaching tools in many churches throughout the ages. They do not take the place of the Bible; a creed is only as valid when it is true to the teaching of Scripture. They do serve as an outline of the teachings of Christianity. In one sense, they serve to help us understand our faith in the same way the Lord’s Prayer helps us understand how to pray.
As we study the Bible, we can help ourselves recall its teachings by finding summary statements like creeds and statements of faith that organize Biblical teaching into an easily remembered form. Those statement aren’t our faith, which is found in our relationship to Jesus Christ, but they can help us understand and grow in our faith as they remind us of the truths we have learned from God’s Word.