Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Church will cease to be the Church if She does not confess Her Creeds

American Evangelicalism, non-denominationalism, and “emerging church” movements have nearly left behind the catholic, historic, and ecumenical creeds of the church: namely the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. They are not a regular part of Sunday worship, nor do they hold a central place in family prayer life. American evangelicalism is therefore acreedal. It is held that these timeless creeds are divisive rather than unifying – dull antiquated forms of worship that lack true spiritual and emotional zest. A common rally call is “deeds not creeds.” Human action is therefore pitted against a common confession. Christ’s pure doctrine is not what saves but rather living for an abstract, disconnected, aloof, sovereign, and lofty God of majestic heights.

Today’s spirituality is marked by a rigid two-way personal relationship with Jesus. It is less about the larger community – the whole body of Christ – standing outside of space and time. What is interesting is that most evangelicals will give assent to the historic creeds but do not like to be “bound to them.” It is understood that the church is flawed and that creeds ought to be up for debate and re-working to be more “inclusive” to invite “other points of view.” There is very much an unwillingness to engage the historic church - more appealing is the desire to topple the church and in our vain imaginations to manufacture something new into existence. For a confessional Christian to say “Christians since the Holy Apostles have always believed this – and we believe this until Christ’s return” is simply not sufficient for an enthusiast. It is held by the emerging church movement that Creeds simply do not animate the human heart toward God – and feel insipid and uninspired.

Another source of discomfort with the historic Creeds of the church is that American social-political culture simply has a problem with authority. It is a difficult and unnatural thing for an American to bind oneself to a creed. The authority of a historic creed undermines one’s sense of personal spiritual entitlement or the more imaginative personal and creative link between “Jesus and me.” The Creeds define God as revealed through the Holy Scriptures and also define every aspect of our very lives and relationship to God – whether it be wrath or sweet deliverance at the foot of the cross.

In place of the historic Creeds, a new creed has been appraised by evangelicals as sufficient. It is this: “I believe in the Bible.” Yet, believing in the bible is not enough - for the human imagination can make it say or support anything to ones liking. For example, Jehova's Witnesses "believe in the Bible," Buddhists "believe in the Bible," even Muslims "believe in the Bible." The Church is served through Pastors and the Holy Spirit who carry-out and give God’s teaching. Christians must open themselves to the consistent witness to the Holy Scriptures, the basic teachings of the church – and this begins with the Creeds. Knowledge of the Trinity, the work and mission of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the marks of the church is not initiated by “knowing,” “doing,” or “thinking” but rather “confessing,” and “receiving.” We must simply confess. Confession is the rock by which Christ carries out his ministry with the Holy Spirit. The ears and mouth are the organs of faith whereby Christ enters in - and in faithful response the human lips confess and build one another up through spiritual hymns and Psalms. If the church does not confess Her Creeds she will be lost in a web of lies and doctrinal chaos. We must confess the unchanging truth of Christ crucified.
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
The starting place for Luther is God as creator, who creates ex nihilo who provides for creation. He daily and richly provides all things to support this body and life and delivers us from danger out of sheer generosity (“without any worthiness in me”). The explanation to the Creed is that God does not wander at the peripheral regions of heaven but invades our low estate with his gifts. God incarnates himself into creation and graciously governs, sustains, redeems, and sanctifies. He preserves our bodies with drink and food and all that is needed to sustain daily life. God does this because of his very nature – that of divine goodness and mercy. In this way, God works actively through that which is created – through creaturely means to carry out his good and gracious will. This is a vitally important understanding in light of the advent of Christ and the second article. For all creation is made new through creaturely means – through water, body, blood, and the preached gospel.
"And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead."
 This Gospel flows forth from the second article – that in the pits of sin and death Christ comes and snatches us from the depths of hell. Luther’s introduces this article in terms of the fallen sinner and his bondage to death and sin, “So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had deserved.” Prior to Christ there was no “counsel, help or comfort.” The sinner’s needs are addressed as a “lost and condemned creature.” Luther’s completes his explanation to this article by noting that all preaching, salvation and “happiness” are drawn from it, “It is so rich and complete that we can never learn it.” It is the article of the incarnation of God in the virgin’s womb – Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. The church boldly confesses here that she is taken captive by Jesus Christ in this article – she finds protection and shelter in the forgiveness of sins.
"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen." 
In the third article the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is that “He leads us first into his holy congregation and places us in the bosom of the Church. Through the Church he preaches to us and brings us to Christ” (para 37). We can likewise say that the Third Article establishes the decisive way that Christ enters into our lives and takes possession of us – so that we may confess “I believe!” The Holy Spirit therefore, carries the Word proceeding from the mouth of God into the world to do its work – namely the giving of gifts and creating faith. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens through Christ’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit bring us to Christ to receive his gifts: namely the forgiveness of sins which is delivered through the holy sacraments and Absolution. The Holy Christian Church is not simply the bricks and mortar that shelter a particular gathering of Christians but is rather the universal, catholic church – existing outside of space and time – resting eternally in God’s peace. In the Large Catechism Luther describes the meaning of this gathering of the faithful, “For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another” (Gal. 6:1-2). This movement from redemption to faith active in love toward others is central to the Creed. It shows that redemption is not about me for Jesus but rather Jesus for me and therefore me in him and for everyone. For Christ does not create, redeem, and sanctify as set forth in the Creed in an isolated relationship between him and the lost sinner. He forgives and grants eternal life to “all believers in Christ.

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