Creed of the Apostles: Introduction

Having closed one blog I am transferring some of my sermons to this new location. I have preached sermons on the Apostles Creed on several occasions. This is aqn introduction to this Creed of the Apostles delivered in August of 2013.

“THE CREED OF THE APOSTLES–INRODUCTION”
The Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church
August 4, 2013

GENESIS 5: 1-5
Adam’s Descendants to Noah and His Sons. This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind,* he made them* in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’* when they were created.

When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

II CORINTHIANS 5: 16-21
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I. WHAT IS A CREED?

We open the worship bulletin. We walk through the liturgies and prayers. We sing the hymns. There are very few surprises when it comes to what we expect to come next in the flow of worship.

I am sure that if we were to forget to sing the “Gloria” following the Assurance of Forgiveness or forget to pray the Lord’s prayer, someone would soon bring these oversights to my attention!

Truly, we are set in our ways. And I fear that even the most seasoned of us, the most mature among us may get so wrapped in the process of worship that we may forget or lose touch with why we say what we say; or why we do certain things in various ways; or why we gather to worship in the first place.
This morning we will look at the Apostle’s Creed as an example. We recite this creed every eight to ten weeks. We really don’t want this creed and what it says to become so regular or frequent a tedious exercise that we forget what this creed says to us. There’s a lot of content to think about in this short creed. I memorized the ecumenical version of the Apostle’s Creed when a teenager. Many of you have memorized the traditional version. Personally, I find it helpful to actually read the creed so that we visualize the words and contemplate the meaning so it doesn’t just become a task of reciting what we memorized at a young age. In any case, do we really think about what we are saying when reading or reciting this creed?

The question sometimes gets asked: Why do we recite or read this ancient creed? What purpose do creeds serve? Is the Apostle’s Creed something we recite simply because we’ve always done so? Why is it so important as Presbyterians to have creeds when our brothers and sisters down the street in different churches don’t use the creeds at all? These are all good questions!

So this morning the questions: What is a creed?
Why is this ancient creed, the “Apostle’s Creed”, so important?
What does it say? What does it mean? {I can at least try to reflect with you on some of these questions.}

In general terms and in a secular context, a creed is a code of belief or an authoritative statement of key principles of belief. In the context of our being a Presbyterian church the “Apostles Creed” is an ancient and authoritative and historical codification of the basic things we believe as Christians. In order to enter into a deeper understanding of the meaning of this creed, we must first turn to the most important book ever written that is the backbone of the creed: THE BIBLE.

II. THE APOSTLES CREED GROUNDED IN SCRIPTURE

First point: The Apostle’s creed emerges from and is grounded in scripture. Now another question is sometimes asked: Where can I find the APOSTLE’S CREED in the Bible? The fact is this creed in the format we know it is not in the bible. At the same time everything we say in this creed comes from scripture.

We start with our basic belief in our church that the words of scripture were inspired by God and written down over a rather long period of time by those who truly believed God was speaking to them and through them. It is also our belief as Presbyterians that God speaks to us through our reading scripture keeping a connection alive between the original authors and who we are living in the context of this world today.

The problem is this: The Bible is big and complex and often hard to understand. There are 39 books in the Old Testament covering thousands of years of human history prior to the birth of Jesus. There are 27 more books in the New Testament covering the birth of Jesus through his resurrection and establishment of the early church. And the Apostle’s creed is just 113 words!

Generally speaking, the Bible contains thousands of pages from different authors writing from different historical perspectives in different cultural contexts and periods of history. They all believed they were inspired by God to be writing what is now translated and recorded in this holy book. And this fact: with this many authors writing from different perspectives, there are bound to be inconsistencies.

So how do we interpret scripture with confidence that we what are reading is truly the “Word of God”? An important question for me in reading scripture: What are the key themes or concepts that can be found in all the writings of the Old and New Testaments – consistent themes and theology – that can be applied to our daily lives?
III. THE FORMATION OF CREEDS

So why all this discussion on the BIBLE in a sermon on the APOSTLE’S CREED? Simply, the early church leaders felt the need to “codify” the key principles or themes or concepts found in these thousands of pages. In other words, like writing a book report an abstract: how do we summarize these thousands of pages into 113 words in addressing our current issues and concerns?

Back in the first century, as bible stories were first formulated and written down, there was a need to organize or ‘codify’ what we know and believe about Jesus. In other words, we take the four gospels and ask? Can we summarize what these four books written by different authors have to say? The end result: The Apostles Creed that evolved to become around the 8th century what we have now. And by the way, the other longer creed we recite from time to time, the Nicene Creed, is actually older than the Apostle’s Creed and serves the same purpose, codifying in abstract form what is found in all the gospels.

Of course Presbyterians always make things more complicated. We have found that we cannot contain all the things we believe to find in scripture to just 113 words! In the Presbyterian church, in placing scripture next to very real human issues as we experience them in our world, has brought about the writing and approved over the years of a total of nine different “Creeds” or “Statements of Faith” or “Declarations of Faith” that help us interpret, in the context of the world in which we live, holy Scripture. In the Presbyterian Church we believe these “CREEDS” or “Confessions” to be so important that they have become part of the “Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA)”. They have become so important we call ourselves a “Confessional Church”. Even when ordained, officers of the church—many of you—have been asked and answered this question:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

The confessions are “reliable expositions of what scripture leads us to believe and do.” In our tool box of resources in living our lives we have the Bible. We also have reliable, codified statements to help us interpret scripture – the Apostle’s Creed and this Book of Confessions.

Several weeks ago I preached on the authority of scripture. It is through the creeds we discover, with confidence, what we believe to be acceptable and true. As a Presbyterian pastor, I have a lot of confidence in what scripture says because the church has adopted these creeds and confessions. Much of the hard work has already been done in searching for the “truth” to be found in scripture.

IV. A FEW FACTS ABOUT THE APOSTLE’S CREED?

A few facts about the Apostle’s Creed: The original apostles or followers of Jesus did not write this creed. Rather, I can imagine Peter saying verbally to his friends over and over again: “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth,” and Andrew saying, “And don’t forget Jesus Christ is God’s only Son our Lord.” Then James jumping in to add something else….until, verbally, the creed is born. Then after years of verbal tradition, these “kernels of truth” from the perspective of a number of people were written down….giving us what we have today known as the Apostle’s Creed.

Though this is an imaginary scenario in how this creed was actually written, it does point to the truth that this creed does indeed express, in all probability, the essential components of faith held by the earliest of followers of Jesus—his apostles–key spiritual leaders and faithful followers of Jesus Christ. And they reached the point of wanting to confess / codify if you will, their fundamental beliefs at the time in which they live. There are now in the modern world some questions we ask about certain aspects of the creed, like the Virgin Birth—what was that all about? That’s a sermon for another day! The creed, like scripture, is not infallible. It is up to each of us as believers who read the scripture to determine: WHAT IS THE TRUTH?

Something that’s very important in reading the confessions and creeds of the church: a common outline is in a TRINITARIAN FORMAT – God is known to us in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a formula we find in scripture. Early church leaders developed this doctrine of the TRINITY based on their comprehensive understanding of how God is revealed to us in our humanity – in human terms – God in three persons.

How do we know God? Through God as Father/Parent/Creator; God as Jesus Christ the Son of God; and God as the wind blowing in our midst as Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the trinity has become so important that it has permeated everything we do in the modern church.

V. Conclusion

Finally, I hope two things will come to mind when we read or recite the Apostle’s creed in applying these words to our day-to-day lives:

1. The Apostles Creed is an important way for us to interpret scripture. In its simplest form: What are the most important beliefs that come from the Bible? Look to the Apostle’s Creed for an answer.

2. Second: Remember we know God in three ways and in three persons in the Godhead: As FATHER and SON and HOLY SPIRIT.

Let’s always remember that God is known to us through Jesus who walks with us as the Living Christ present in all aspects of life….ending this message with the same words used in our worship Introit:

“We give You glory, Lord, Your majesty adore, You Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we bless forever more.” (I Love thy Kingdom, Lord, No. 441)
.
I invite you now to share in the Ancient Creed of the Apostles written in a liturgical way….as found in your bulletin: THE APOSTLE’S CREED.

AMEN

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