The Apostles’ Creed: An Apology for Regular Use

Here is a post I wrote in January 2018 when I made a shift in our worship service order where Eastbrook began reciting the Apostles’ Creed on the first weekend of each month before participating in communion. As a non-denominational church, we are not alone in rarely reciting creeds. However, here is my apology (in the Classical sense of a well-reasoned reply or thought-out response) for regular recitation of the creed together in corporate worship.

One of the most important ways we announce that we are living by a different story is to rehearse – to say again and again – to declare – that our story is something other than the story of this earth.

There is a word for that in Christian practice and history: an affirmation of faith or declaration in a creed. So, I am going to have us do something different as a church here at Eastbrook. I want to have us regularly declare that we are living by a different story. When we gather on the first weekend of every month and celebrate the communion meal, I want us to take a stand together around the truth of the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. I want us to announce to a listening world that Jesus is Lord and we are living for God’s good life and no other counter claims.

The Apostles Creed is the most widely used and consistently affirmed summary statements of faith within the global church of Jesus Christ.[1] Although its exact origins cannot be traced, the Apostles Creed in its present form is first found in a document from c. 750. The basic concepts and structure of the Apostles Creed is found as early as c. 340 in what is known as the Old Roman Creed.[2] “Teachers as varied as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther have held the Apostles’ Creed remains the best condensed statement of Christian faith and the most reliable way to learn the heart of faith.”[3]

The Apostles Creed echoes the Holy Trinity in its written structure and follows the flow of the biblical narrative. While originally used to instruct candidates for baptism, the creed eventually became part of the service of worship during times of Christological controversy. The creed, whether the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, usually follows the sermon as a responsive affirmation of faith.[4] In many services, this leads into a time of prayer, whether the Lord’s Prayer or the prayers of the people, before participation in communion.[5] This was true even in the early church worship services of the third and fourth centuries: “they recited the Creed before the Lord’s Prayer as a preparation for communion.”[6]

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Why a Preaching Series on the Apostles’ Creed?

You may wonder why we would want to do a preaching series on the Apostles’ Creed. There are many reasons, which I think will become clear as we journey through the series but let me simply state that the Apostles’ Creed offers us one of the best, basic summaries of historic, orthodox, Christian faith. Because of that that, it serves as a helpful guide for faith, life, and worship. Being compact, it is easy to remember and utilize.

Let’s get a little background on the Apostles’ Creed. Although some traditions say each phrase of this creed was written by one of the original apostles, this is not the case. The Apostles’ Creed was developed as a summary of the teaching of the apostles. Like other creeds, it was used at baptism for instruction in the faith, sometimes as a confession of belief declared as we do and other times as faith responses to questions asked before baptism.  

The Apostles’ Creed as we have it today was developed from what is known as the Old Roman Creed from the 2nd century. With some slight revisions over time, it reached the form that we have it in today around 750. 

As with all creeds, or statements of faith, the Apostles’ Creed developed in response to confusion about belief or false theology. It became widely used as a “rule of faith” within western Christianity in Europe around 800. 

There are three main articles, or parts, of the Apostles’ Creed, which are structured around the three persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The first article about the Father is succinct and to the point. The second article about Jesus the Son is longest, because when this creed was developed, the greatest debates focused on the nature and work of Jesus Christ. The third article on the Holy Spirit is short and connected to the life of the church. 

Today, the Apostles’ Creed is widely used across most Christian denominations, at least in the Western Church, and is often held up as one of the three most important declarations of faith, along with the longer Nicene Creed and much-longer Athanasian Creed.

The Significance of Jesus’ Ascension

Edward Bolwell, ascension day, Acrylic Paint on MDF Board; 2017

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,”they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

Today is Ascension Day, when we celebrate the ascension of Jesus to the Father in heaven after His resurrection from death (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life of Jesus with greater significance for our life with God as disciples of Jesus than we usually realize. Here is a traditional collect from the Book of Common Prayer for Ascension Day:

Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven: May our hearts and minds also there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I wrote three posts in 2018 about the importance of the ascension for our faith because of Jesus’ reign as King, Jesus’ mediation eternally, and Jesus’ future return in glory, and would encourage you to join me in considering the significance of Jesus’ ascension.

Read them here:

How Should We Respond to the Uvalde Shooting?

All of us are in saddened and shocked by the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. The latest reports indicate that 19 children and 2 adults were killed by a gunman. In times like this, how should we respond to this tragic situation? Let me offer the following recommendations for us as Christians.

While it may sound trite to some, prayer is the starting point for our response to tragedy. We need to bring our concerns and lament to God. In Philippians 4:6-7 (a portion of Scripture we may all want to commit to memory), Paul writes these words: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” There is no anxiety, concern, fear, or real-life situation that is out of bounds for prayer. We can and should convert our anguish and anxieties into prayer that we bring to God. The Apostle Paul tells us that as we do this God’s peace will powerfully guard our hearts and minds in the midst of our praying. So, in this situation we should pray for the families who lost loved ones, whether children or adults. We should pray for those who witnessed the activity as they struggle to come to terms with this terrible event. We should pray for the community of Uvalde, Texas, as it reels from these experiences. We should lift our lament to the Lord about why this happened and why violence plagues our world. In times like this it is good to pray our concerns back to God.

In times like these pray your concerns back to God.

Ask questions
Psalm 13 asks this question, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Throughout the Scripture, but particularly in the Psalms, we see examples of people coming to God in the midst of their confusion and angst. This gives us permission to ask our questions of angst and concern before God as well. We do not need to be afraid to come to God with our questions. Asking ‘why’ of God may not always give us the answers we want, but I firmly believe that there is no question we can throw at God that He cannot handle. Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus quoted these words while hanging on the Cross, where He took all the anguish of the world upon Himself in a way that impacted His relation to the Father. We may feel stress, confusion, and angst when faced with events like this, and we need to give ourselves freedom to bring our questions of God.

Look honestly at our world
The world we enjoy is a beautiful place. We see the beauty in splendor of creation and vast stretches of the universe that we see in the night sky. When we look at our own lives and in the history of the world, it is also amazing to see tremendous acts of bravery and selfless love that can come in the midst of difficult seasons and broken places. At the very same time, cycles of evil and violence continue to grip our world, bringing fresh devastation and pain such as what we see right now. In times of loss or tragedy we need to look honestly at our world, neither turning a blind eye to the beauty and goodness nor ignoring the pain and evil. As Christians we can live in the truth about these things, grappling with them while not living in denial. Jesus Himself said that it was the truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Talk about it with others, especially our children
One of the most important things we can do during times like this is to talk about it with others, to enter into conversations that help us process through what is happening. This is also true of the children in our lives. It is not helpful to avoid the conversation with our kids because they are hearing about this and probably talking about it with their peers. We need to also talk honestly about the situation with our children in ways that are appropriate for their age. Young children may not be able to have long conversations but may return to the topic again and again. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” We have an opportunity to help our kids grow in their sense of faith, life, and who God is as they grapple with their questions. We should let children ask their questions without always feeling like we must have all the answers. Talking helps us grieve, process, and grow.

Do something about it
A lot of people talk about hugging their children and other loved ones and making the most of every moment after an event like this. That is a great thing and I strongly encourage us to do that. At the same time, as the people of God in this world, we must also do more than that. Yes, we need to pray, ask our questions, look honestly at the world, and talk with people about the situation, but we also need to do something about it. I have said before that this is not the time for the church of Jesus Christ in North America to fall asleep at the wheel. We need to step forward into the midst of the world that is marked by both beauty and brokenness. Jesus did not step back from an aching world but stepped right into the middle of it. Let’s share the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s get to know people and reach out to people. Step into the public sphere in the name of Jesus to make a difference in the situations of individuals and families, but also in your city, neighborhood, and world. Pray for your schools with other parents or community leaders.

When Jesus’ came into the world it was a dark place. John says that Jesus came like a light shining in the darkness that could not be overcome no matter how overshadowing that darkness was. But in Matthew’s Gospel, the birth and early years of Jesus were marked by gritty realities of the broken world. The magi – those kings and astrologers of the eastern world – came to visit Jesus in his early years but returned home without bringing world to the earth ruler of Israel at that time, Herod the Great. Herod – jealous and proud – was incensed by this and reached out with violence.  We read about it in Matthew 2:16-18. When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The light came into the gritty darkness of our world. A world stained by violence, sin and evil. And that light – small as a human life – brought light and life, joy and hope, salvation and eternal life to a world that is quaking, shaking, and shuddering for redemption. May His light and life shine through us. And may the true blessing of God – all His goodness and His greatness – come into our land this season. Because we deeply need it.

World Watch List 2022

Open Doors released the World Watch List 2022, a resource developed “to track and measure the extent of persecution in the world.” Open Doors has been tracking religious persecution of Christians since the 1970s and their approach to the work is well-informed and reliable. Religious persecution affects many religious groups and not just Christians. Still, there has been widespread recognition over the past few years that religious persecution of Christians is on the rise globally.

You can see an infographic of the list below and can read the entire report here.

Here are a few highlights within the overall trends on this year’s list:

  • The Top 10 countries where Christians face the most pressure and violence in the reporting period of the World Watch List 2022 are, in order: Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and India.
  • Afghanistan is now in the #1 position, displacing North Korea, which held that position for the past decade and more
  • In just the last year, there have been:
    • Over 360 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
    • 5,898 Christians killed for their faith
    • 5,110 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
    • 6,175 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
  • • 3,829 Christians abducted