Belief, Mystery, and the Holy Spirit
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
As we continue our exploration of the traditions of the church through Martin Luther’s Catechism, today we take a closer look at the Apostles’ Creed. Creed. We greet this word with arms wide open, seeking to understand the meaning behind it claims. The word “creed” comes from the latin “credo” which means, I believe. Each stanza begins with this phrase, I believe and the follows a Trinitarian form, addressing God the three in one.
As part of our heritage as the church, we need a frame of history to help inform the tradition of creeds. The creed does not explicitly come from the bible as a whole, but was created and utilized by the church to speak to the essential faith found in the bible. The Apostles ’ Creed is one of three Creeds that hold authority in the Lutheran church. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds came along a couple hundred years after the Apostles creed in order to respond to differing claims about Christ and Christ’s church. We are not quite sure where the Apostle’s Creed originated from, but it is held that it summarizes the earliest teachings of the early church. It was originally even simpler in form than the version commonly used now and that which we confess in worship here.
Each of the creeds seeks to articulate what is true, what is common among us as Christians in a world that seems so scattered. We, the church, continue to wrestle with how hold fast to what is essential in a pluralistic society of diverse beliefs while acknowledging that there is still room for discovery. The creed reflects an understanding that from the early church to now - there would not be uniformity, but a sense of unity, a commitment that there is something substantial that we can proclaim together. Here we have a clear and simple, concise articulation of the teaching of the church.
These teachings ground us and shape our identity. That why the creed is a part of our baptism liturgy, where our identity as child of God is proclaimed and embraced. It’s not a magical set of secret words, you can find them for yourself in our hymnals. Toward the front, on page 229, you will find the celebration of baptism which includes a series of questions for those about to be baptized, their family, and the whole assembly gathered there. The response to those questions are the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. This helps us understand the intended use for the creed not as a mere litmus test for membership, but as we understand baptism to be a way of life rooted in the gospel of Christ, so the creed points us to the nature of God’s being so that our being is attuned to its creator.
So as we noted before, the Apostle’s creed essentially consists of three parts, what are called the three articles, each addressing a particular person of the trinity. Father, son, holy spirit. or…as they function in the world, could also be rightfully known as Creator, redeemer, sustainer.
excerpt from Martin Luther's Small Catechism:
The First Article: On Creation
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
What is this? or What does this mean?
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
The Second Article: On Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's 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 to the dead [or, "he descended into hell," another translation of this text in widespread use]. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
What is this? or What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
The Third Article: On Being Made Holy
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What is this? or What does this mean? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
The word "catholic" in the last article of the creed is lower case for a reason. It doesn't refer to the Holy Roman Catholic Church (even though Martin Luther was actually Catholic), but it in this use it means "universal." There is one church, one body of Christ, no matter how many times we try and divide ourselves.
The creed can easily devolve into a sanctimonious gate that separates a righteous “us” from a heathen “them.” We have an ultimate truth and we’ve got in on lock, so get on board or get out of our way…or… unless you believe like I believe…you can’t sit with us. While there is value to , such perspective has turn the creed from a confession that proclaims I believe in God and instead reflects a heart that really asserts “I believe in me.”but the apostle Paul reminds us that belief is, in fact, not about us, but about God.
1 Cor 12:3 –“Therefore I inform you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
As Martin Luther reminds us…none of us believes on our own. We do not come to belief because of some earned righteousness, we attended the right Sunday school classes, our soul is “above average,” we prayed earnestly enough, we have life a morally superior life, or a life of favor in God’s eyes. Only by the faithfulness of God in the Holy Spirit, can our tongues proclaim such grand mysteries. Only by God’s grace, can our heart be wooed to trust a promise too wonderful to fully comprehend.
If belief is reduced to a sort of intellectual assent to doctrinal principles, than it has become about us and is no longer about God. Belief is not about doctrine and intellect, but trust and faith. It is not so much about the head, but more about the heart. The two are not inherently opposite or mutually exclusive. But in our post-modern society that places scientific certainty above all else, we need the reminder that certainty is not what the creed is about. In Mark 9, The father of a possessed son whom Jesus has just healed cries out “I believe, help my unbelief” Perhaps then, belief is not an all or nothing proposition. You might whole-heartedly agree with every statement of the creed, you might have lingering questions about the factuality of some of its claims, but it is ultimately God who saves, not our words nor our silence. It is God who is faithful and gives us the courage to voice to the mysteries of our faith. It is God who guards and guides us toward the biblical hope these words point to, a hope that goes beyond what we can fathom, a hope that does not disappoint us. Amen.