Television is a marvelous thing. I remember a child being mesmerized by cowboys and Indians, and their sidekicks: dogs, horses, female friends, and jeeps. Television has never stopped being something amazing and almost necessary for me because I learn things from programs it presents, from forensics to religion to history to travel to places I’ve never been or will ever see for myself.
I was watching a program on the travels of the apostles after Pentecost. One of the stories that they presented was the story that appears in Acts 8:26-39 that we know as Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was following the instructions of an angel to travel along a particular road. He came across a foreign man sitting in a chariot reading a scroll. Philip went to the man and asked if he understood what he was reading, which happened to be the book of Isaiah. The man, a eunuch and a high official of the Queen of Ethiopia, said that he was unable to do so because how could he understand unless someone taught him. Philip proceeded to talk to the Ethiopian, explaining that when Isaiah referred to the Messiah, he was speaking of a man named Jesus. As they walked along, talking of Jesus, the eunuch expressed a desire to be baptized. He and Philip went into a nearby body of water, and Philip baptized him. Philip was taken away by the Spirit to another land, and the eunuch proceeded on his journey home.
Something about this program got me thinking. The script had the eunuch utter the words, “I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God,” and that served as his profession of faith. The book of Acts reports instead that the Ethiopian remarked that there was some water and asked what prevented him from being baptized. That made me wonder about whether or not Philip had required a profession of faith, and what is sufficient for us to be baptized now?
In the church of my youth, each service would be geared towards the last few minutes when the preacher would come down from the pulpit and stand in the center of the aisle as we sang a hymn, usually “Just As I Am.” Between each verse, the preacher would urge us to open our hearts to Jesus and accept him as our “Personal Savior.” The calling would go on for several minutes before he started the next verse. After the second verse, there would be another pause and encouragement to come forward. The third, fourth, fifth, and even sixth verse followed the same pattern.
He reminded us of our sinfulness and how Jesus had come to save us, but we needed to accept that and be baptized for it to become a reality. Becoming a Christian could only be accomplished by publicly accepting Jesus as a “Personal Savior.” During one Sunday night service, I was immersed in the baptistry at the front of the church. I did what was required: got dunked as a sinner, and walked back up the baptistry steps, soaking wet and able to proclaim that I was now a Christian. I was saved from my sins with a hotline to God to ask forgiveness for any fault, great or small, that I might commit in the future, something like a “Get out of jail free” card.
What came to my attention through the television program was the simplicity of the affirmation of faith the eunuch pronounced. There was no personal savior involved; it was an acceptance that Jesus was the Son of God, and that was all that was necessary to believe. Perhaps the writer of Acts didn’t feel a specific affirmation of faith was required. The formula for such professions would come later as the church grew, and the times became more perilous. Still, the Ethiopian’s statement caught my attention and made me do some thinking.
At this stage of my life, I have pretty much rejected the idea of a personal savior. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I can say the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers more than once at a phrase or two. I can identify fundamental (as opposed to Fundamental) Christian beliefs, recite things like the Beatitudes and a number of the Psalms. I can retell the stories and parables, and explain them with some understanding, but I can’t claim Jesus is purely my personal savior.
I believe that when we say that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world, he didn’t only come for a few people, like his disciples and his followers that came with him on his journeys. He came not only for the Jews, but also the Samaritans, even the Romans, and, as time went on, for the Gentiles who encompassed everybody who was not Jewish. To me, that is a much more significant and more powerful belief than merely claiming a personal savior. Either Jesus came to take away the sins of all the world, or he didn’t come to take away the sins of any. That phrase, “the sins of the world,” makes all the difference to me.
I believe that Jesus Christ was, is, and will always be the son of God. His mission on earth was to teach us how to live in relationship with God and with each other. I would say that that is my statement of faith and the reason I am a Christian.
Each of us has to come to our own statement of faith. As I contemplate my particular statement of faith this coming week, I will be looking deeper to see where I am in relation to that statement of faith, and where I can find God as well as Jesus in it. Give it a try yourself. Make a statement that embodies your belief, not necessarily using the language of the church but rather the language of the heart. See where it takes you.
Image: The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Deacon Philip, by Lambert Sustris (1515-1584), located at the Department of Paintings of the Louvre. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is owned by Dominic, Gandhi and Phoebe, who keep her busy and sometimes highly amused.