Should We Still Say The Apostles’ Creed?

I grew up in a confessional church, but that is not to say that we were familiar with our confessions. They were those documents that were only made available on request. In such cases, I have little faith in the inquiry of adults, much less children. I left my childhood not being able to express with clarity what it was that I truly believed. But perhaps even worse than poor articulation, was not knowing the indispensable truths about the gospel. My confession then was simple: I am a Christian. And while that was true, it was self-centered and scant.

Compared to my immature confession, we find one far superior in Romans 10:9, “Jesus is Lord”. It was perhaps the simplest and earliest creed used in the early church and is one which does not merely point away from self to the only true savior, but it pierces beyond religion into culture, politics and every area of life. This was not a cheap phrase indicating denominational preference. On the contrary, this creed could cost you your life.

There is another creed which has been universally accepted as a declaration of Christian belief — the Apostles’ Creed. Before the New Testament writings were readily accessible, such a concise presentation of Christian beliefs would have been a useful servant to evangelism and was used as a confessional interrogation at baptism. But should we still be using it today?

Indisputably True

 

When you recite a creed you are setting yourself apart from those who do not. However, across the broad spectrum of churches and denominations, the Apostles’ Creed has always united. While I have used the terms freely up until now, a creed is in fact distinct from a confession. A ‘confession’ dives deeper into the specific doctrines that divide groups while a ‘creed’ expresses precisely what all the associated groups have in common. When we say the Apostles’ Creed we are speaking with one voice across all Christian groups, throughout time, declaring the irrefutable truth of Scripture. As believers we must, with confidence, be able to say it.

But what about the virgin birth? Is it really such an essential doctrine? Is Jesus coming back in judgement, or will just love win? Do I need to believe in the church as well or is Jesus enough?

These are not minor open-handed issues. The virgin birth, the death, resurrection and return of Christ, even the holy universal Church, are essential to the faith and have been throughout the ages. Let’s not be foolish to think that our latest church experience, some new trendy philosophy or societies fluctuating tolerance levels could ever shake that.

Indiscriminately Authentic

While we declare these beautiful truths found in the Apostles’ Creed, we might not always feel very passionately about them. In fact, we may not even be reflecting on the truth we are saying at all. Unfortunately, our culture has pressed us to value sincerity and authenticity above all things. In fact, it unashamedly denies truth every day for the sake of ‘feelings’, and not only as it combats religion but has even turned to deny the science it has so long sponged off. Science and religion must now make way for authentic feelings. What rubbish! I digress.

In response to this I want to first say how much I do value feelings. Feelings are a blessing and a grace, especially when they prompt us to align ourselves with God’s Word. They are a reminder that God is concerned with all of man and not just our minds. In fact, I have found that when information has been accompanied by the appropriate feelings, together they have been a far greater teacher than had the truth come alone. But our feelings are not always faithful. Truth however is always true and the inauthenticity of our delivery cannot touch the authenticity of the truth we declare. We believe the Gospel because it is true, and we declare the Creed because it expresses that truth.While we should always challenge ourselves to be thinking deeply on the words we say, we do not stop saying them if we feel otherwise today, because our feelings do not determine whether the words are worth saying or not.

Indispensably Vocal 

My final point is brief. The Gospel must be said. Truth must be said. The Creed must be said. “Jesus is Lord” is not something just to be believed in the secret places of your heart. You must also confess with your mouth. “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). Words are not the things we only ‘use when necessary’. Spoken words are indispensable both in salvation and evangelism. Just four verses on in Romans we read “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (10:14). You see, audible words of truth being declared individually or together with the congregation is a tradition we have not just received from church history, but from God’s Word itself – “proclaim it from the rooftops” (Matthew 10:27).

Bonhoeffer on Scripture: God’s True and Sufficient Word for Christians

BonhoefferA few weeks ago I started what I hope will be a series of posts developing a robust theology of Scripture. The first two articles looked at the writing of John Calvin: firstly challenging those who set their opinions about God above what he has revealed about himself; and, secondly, correcting the common error of separating the Spirit’s ministry from biblical truth. In this post I am going to do little more than quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer at length and append a few comments. But if the name Bonhoeffer is unknown to you then I encourage you to put this article aside until you have read a little about his life and writing. Below I have arranged four quotations from Bonhoeffer under three headings, two attributes of Scripture and our approach to it.

The Bible is true

Bonhoeffoer wrote, ”We have become accustomed to seeing religion as something that corresponds to a need of the human psyche, something that then satisfies this need. Something that is supposed to lead from the restlessness of our existence to calm, from the mad rush of our lives to tranquility. Something in which, quite removed from our jobs, professions and everyday lives, we can come to our true selves. Then we say religion is something beautiful, something valuable, something necessary for a good life. It is supposed to be the only thing that can make one truly happy in the depths of one’s being. Meanwhile we tend to forget the one decisive question, whether religion is also something true, whether it is the truth. For it could be, of course, that while religion is a beautiful thing, it is not true, that it is all a nice, pious illusion—but still an allusion. And the most furious attacks on religion have been sparked by the fact that people in the church itself have often talked as though the question of truth were only  a secondary question. But whoever so speaks only sees religion from the perspective of human beings and their needs, not from that of God and his claims.”

The Bible is sufficient

“We want to keep this firmly in mind: the word of God, as found in the Bible and as it sounds forth to us in the proclamation of the gospel, needs no decoration. It is its own decoration, its own glory, its own beauty. This is certainly true. But as is especially true of human beauty, the word of God cannot withdraw itself from the decoration of those who love it. As is true of decorating that which is truly beautiful, the decoration of the word of God can only consist of making its own inner beauty shine forth all the more gloriously—nothing alien to it, nothing false, nothing artificial, no kitschy trinkets and no cosmetics, nothing that covers up its own beauty but only what reveals and brings it to light.” Throughout the ages churches have been tempted to update the gospel message (you can read what Paul says about that). Christians have also sought innovative methods to reach people. But I have to agree with Bonhoeffer: Bible teaching has and always will be God’s means of growing his church, numerically and spiritually. The word of God needs no decoration, just faithful proclamation and a commitment to and confidence in the truth.

The Bible nourishes Christians

DevotionalIn an exposition on parts of Psalm 119, Bonhoeffer said, ”There is no standing still. Every gift, every increment of knowledge and insight I receive only drives me deeper into the word of God. For God’s word I need time. To rightly understand the commands of God, I must often ponder their meaning for a long time. Nothing could be more wrong than the kind of intense activity or emotional high that denies the value of hard thinking and reflection. Such engagement with the Bible is also not just the business of those who are especially called to this vocation but the business of anyone who wants to walk in God’s ways. Admittedly, it is often the case that God calls us to act quickly with no delay; but God also calls us to quietness and meditation. So I am often both permitted and required to halt for hours or days over one and the same word until I am enlightened with the right insight. No one is so advanced that he or she no longer needs to do this. No one may believe that he or she has been excused from this because of too many other active responsibilities. God’s word claims my time. God himself has entered into time and now wills that I give him my time. To be Christian is not something that can be handled in a moment, but demands time. God has given us the Scripture, from which we are to discern God’s will. The Scripture wants to be read and thought about, every day afresh.”

Conclusion 

The Bible is true and sufficient, able to make us wise for salvation and also shape us for service (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Bible is God’s means for maturing believers, strengthening faith and correcting error. If we have understood this then it will show in our treatment of the Bible, for we will search and meditate on what God says. An unread Bible is not a sign of being too busy but a statement that hearing from God registers low, if at all, on your list of priorities. It is no wonder that our spiritual growth is stunted. The woman who refuses to refuel her car is not surprised when she has to stop on the side of the freeway. Listen to Bonhoeffer once more, “And those who love this word of God that has sounded forth for two thousand years have not let themselves be talked out of contributing the most beautiful thing they could make as its decoration. And their most beautiful work could be nothing else than something invisible, namely, an obedient heart, but from this obedient heart there springs forth the visible work, the audible song in praise of God and Jesus Christ.”