What are the fundamentals of the Christian faith?

In our current day, there are few worse things to be called than a fundamentalist. For many, it is the dirtiest Christian cuss-word they can think of. It is as a pejorative and a conversation killer. When we think of a fundamentalist, a couple of stereotypes come to mind:

  • A joyless, angry, fire-and-brimstone preaching, King James-only and hymns-only cranky pants
  • A Twitter theobro who extolls the virtues of patriarchy and theocracy in a way that might make CBMW uncomfortable

The venn diagram is nearly a circle there, friends. Anyway…

Being a fundamentalist is a bad thing, if it means we fit those stereotypes. But there is a sense in which we should all desire to be fundamentalists. Specifically, when it comes to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

So what are those fundamentals?

How do we know what matters most?

The fundamentals of the faith are the defining beliefs that make Christians Christian. The beliefs that, if we were to set aside, we would no longer be recognizably Christian. And you might be wondering where these core beliefs come from. Ultimately, they are all found in the Bible, in at least a nascent form. But over the centuries since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Christians have attempted to clarify and codify these beliefs. And the best place to find the core of the core—the most fundamental of the fundamentals—are in two creeds:

  • The Apostles’ Creed
  • The Nicene Creed

These two creeds are among the earliest formulations of Christian doctrine. Having been relied on for centuries, these creeds are valuable for any discussion of fundamentals.

The Fundamentals According to the Apostles’ Creed

So how does the Apostles’ Creed define the fundamentals of the faith? summarizes the fundamentals this way:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

This creed describes several of the most important beliefs we hold to. Christians believe that God himself is the maker of heaven and earth and the author of salvation. We believe that he exists as Father, Son, and Spirit—distinct yet one. We believe Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. We believe Jesus was crucified and rose again, and now sits at the right hand of God, from which he will return to judge the living and the dead. Christians believe in the importance of the church, both universal and local, and the future promise of the resurrection to new life in the new creation. In other words:

  1. God as Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  2. The virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The atoning death, resurrection, and eternal lordship of Jesus
  4. The centrality of the church (as what we are saved into)
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)

These are not small matters, y’all. They are absolutely essential. (And for a helpful resource on this creed, check out this book by Ben Myers.) But the Apostles’ Creed is not the only one we should learn from.

The Fundamentals According to the Nicene Creed

Like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed offers a similar exploration of the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Here’s the creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

From this creed, we see the following beliefs as being essential:

  1. God’s nature and character
  2. Jesus’ virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The work of Christ (perfect life, atoning death, resurrection and eternal lordship)
  4. The Church and our one baptism
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)
  6. The authority of the Scriptures (for all of this was “according to the Scriptures”)

In other words, it is very similar to the Apostles’ Creed, but with a couple of differences for intent, as well as making explicit our belief in the authority of Scripture. (Also another book to help you explore this creed is this one by Philip Carey.)

Holding fast to what is most important

Later groups would again redefine or clarify these fundamentals. It’s possible to condense them to as few as three points (as I offered in my book, Contend). It is equally possible to expand them to upwards of 90 essential (which was part of a project I’m revising now). Where we choose to narrow down, it tends to be in relation to Jesus specifically, such as highlighting the historical reality of his miracles, the miraculous nature of his birth and his bodily resurrection—all the stuff that tends to be heavily under fire in our day and in every era.

But no matter how we define the fundamentals, our definitions frequently come back to what we see in the Creeds. Everything comes back to these six points we get from these two ancient creeds.

And this is what we have to remember: without these key truths, there is no Christianity. 

We need the Trinity, as confusing as it can be. We need the true gospel message—including all the sticky bits that make us seem like weirdos (because, y’know, they’re weird). We need the Church, both the reality of the universal invisible body and the local communion of the saints. We need the promise of Christ’s future judgment and final victory over sin and death as it’s what gives us hope. And we absolutely need the Scriptures—in all their inspired, inerrant glory—because without them, we have no clue about any of this stuff at all!

These are the fundamentals of the faith. 

And if believing these things is what it means to be a fundamentalist, sign me up!

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.