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TEXT: II Timothy 1:13a
SUBJECT: Apostles' Creed #1: Introduction
Today, with the Lord's favor, I hope to begin a monthly study of the Apostles' Creed. We'll try to look at the old confession from four angles: historic, theological, Biblical, and practical. If the lectures are boring, you can blame me for that, for the Creed is one of the most exciting papers ever published!
Dorothy Sayers was a famous writer of plays and detective stories. Her books were full of twists and turns and surprise endings. But she was not only a writer: she was also a Christian. In her essay, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged she tells us what she found exciting:
"Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as `a bad press'. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine-'dull dogma', as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man-and the dogma is the drama.
The drama is summarized quite clearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents, or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning".
"Exciting doctrine". That has a weird sound to it. But it shouldn't. For doctrine is another word for truth and truth is always stranger and more thrilling than fiction! And no truth stirs you like that of the Apostles' Creed.
The Creed is the finest summary of Christian doctrine outside of the Bible. For more than 1,500 years, the people of God have memorized it, recited it, and lived by it. Some have despised it, but no one has improved on it. And how could he? It touches on all the main points of theology: from the existence of God to the death of Christ; from the forgiveness of sins to the resurrection of the body. All in a hundred and nine words!
Though all Christians believe in the teaching of the Creed, not everyone believes in the Creed itself. Some, in fact, are deeply offended by it. When you talk to these people, their reasons for disliking it are pretty much the same.
For some, the Apostles' Creed smacks of Roman Catholicism. If you're going to recite that in church, you might as well genuflect before the Host! I sympathize with these dear people and their tender hearts. It's not easy to disconnect one thing from another. I like jazz, but some believers cannot listen to it because it puts them back in night clubs doing things they're now ashamed of. The Apostles' Creed has this effect on some people.
But the Creed itself is not Roman Catholic. It was in use long before there was a Roman Catholic Church-no less a Pope, a Mass, or a sinless Mother of God!
The Creed belongs to no one denomination, but to the Whole Church. Thus, you can find it in Martin Luther's Small Catechism, in John Calvin's Instruction in Faith, in the Doctrinal Standards of the Netherlands Reformed Church, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and in other circles that are emphatically not Roman Catholic!
If the first problem with the Creed is emotional-it feels Catholic--the second is more doctrinal. If we have the Bible, why do we need the Apostles' Creed?
We need the Apostles' Creed (or something like it) because we are not ruled by the mere words of the Bible, but by what the words mean!
Let me illustrate: A Jehovah's Witness says he believes the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. If you ask him if Christ is equal to God the Father, he will say He is not. If you turn him to the Scriptures that say He is, the man will not deny the verses, but he will twist their meaning to fit the interpretation of the Watchtower Society.
Thus, the Apostles' Creed adds nothing to the Bible: it only clarifies what the Bible teaches. Infallibly? No. But very well.
THE WORD OF MAN?
The third problem people have with the Creed is that it's a man-made document and, therefore, no better than your opinion or mine. The first part of the objection is true: The Apostles' Creed is a man-made document and the men who composed it were not inspired by the Holy Spirit.
But this does not mean it's no better than your opinion or mine. For the Creed is not the view of one man or one church or even one generation of men. In fact, the Whole Church of Christ worked on it for centuries-and the Whole Church has agreed with it ever since! Is the Church infallible? No. But the Lord's Sheep know the voice of their Shepherd and if they didn't hear it in the Apostles' Creed, they would not have followed it so universally and for so long. Sheep are stupid, but the Flock is wise. If the Whole Church has always loved the Apostles' Creed, it must be far better than your opinion or mine.
The Apostles' Creed was not drawn up by the twelve disciples of Christ. But it was used very early in the history of the Church. A slightly shorter version of it was found in the 2nd Century and the edition we now use can be traced to the 5th Century.
The date is important because-at the time-the Whole Church was united. In 1054, the Churches of East and West split. In 1517, the Reformation divided the Protestants from the Catholics. Since that time a million other divisions have occurred. We live in a sectarian age where every little group has its own confession of faith-some good, others not so good. But the point is: there are almost as many creeds as there are churches-if not Christians! Our times are like the days of the judges,
"There was no king in Israel in those days and every man [believed] what was right in his own eyes".
This shows how wonderful the Apostles' Creed is! Can you imagine getting all the Christians in the world to agree on anything? My parents' first pastor lost his job because he chose a carpet some of his members didn't agree with!
If one little church cannot agree on its floor covering, how can you expect the Whole Church Universal to agree on a long list of doctrines?
But they did. And it was put down as the Apostles' Creed.
Since that time, the Church has divided over and over again. Yet the Lord's People still love the Old Words. Because they're true.
The Creed can be described in various ways. Most writers underline its shortness and its Trinitarian structure. The latter means it is divided up into three parts: God (and His work of creation and providence), Christ (and His Work of atonement), and the Holy Spirit (and His work of applying the blessings of Christ).
These are worth noting, but I'll pass over them for now and move on to some things the books I have don't touch on with much detail.
First of all, the Creed is factual. This is not a list of theories or speculations or laws. It's a list of facts-things that are and things have occurred in time and space. Some years ago, I heard a speech by General F.X. Kelley. Describing the world as it really is, he told his audience (who didn't agree with him): "You're welcome to your own opinions, but you're not welcome to your own facts!"
We can ignore God and laugh at Him and say He's not there, and quote scientists against creation, but this doesn't change the fact that He is God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth! Whether we want Him to be or not-He is!
The Creed doesn't explore and dialogue and think out loud, it confesses-the way things really are!
In the second place, the Creed is Christ-Centered. The Apostles' Creed has 109 words in it and 70 of them are about Christ! One line about God the Father; half-a-line about the Holy Spirit; communion of the saints, forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body all in one line!
In this way, the Creed stalks the Gospel. What is the Gospel about? Is it about your happiness? Is it about escaping the fires of hell? Is it about speaking in tongues? Is it about the End of the World? Is it about repentance or faith or the new birth or growing in grace? It isn't! The Gospel is about Christ!
"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the Gospel.that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that, He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.then last of all He was seen by Me".
The Christ-centeredness of the Creed says two things about the Early Church: (1) The Church was Christ-centered, and (2) the heretics were attacking the Gospel at its most crucial point: the Person and Work of our Lord.
Thirdly, the Apostles' Creed is positive.
There are three Creeds in the Ancient Church-the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian. The Nicene Creed is basically the same as the Apostles, both in content and tone (only a bit longer). The Athanasian Creed is full of rage against the heretics. It damns everyone who does not bow to its detailed and difficult dictates. It must have offended good people and made hypocrites of many who said they believed it--without understanding it.
But how different the Apostles' Creed is! Without pussyfooting around the truth, the framers confessed what they believed and did it with such grace that others were drawn to it.
There is a place for controversy and drawing lines in the sand, but we must not look for it. If it is forced upon us, we do what we have to do, but only then. "As much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men". "Adorn the doctrine of God".
It provides a good outline for teaching the Bible to new converts. If you grew up on the Bible, you're not intimidated by it. But most people did not grow up on the Bible and its thousand pages scare them to death! Where do they begin? On what do they spend most of their time? If every Word of God is equally inspired, is every Word equally important? Should they spend more time in John or Leviticus? What is more needful to know: justification by faith or the Food Laws of Israel?
The Creed can help us here. It contains every doctrine necessary for salvation and puts them in the order of their importance. A young believer could do a lot worse than following the order of the Creed: God, creation, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the Church, the Resurrection, and Life Eternal.
The Creed is handy for spotting heretics.
In the Early Church, it was used to distinguish Christianized pagans from true disciples of Christ. A pagan says he believes in Christ and wants to be baptized and join the Church. In the First Century that was enough-for "Christ" meant one thing in the days of the New Testament. But not long afterward, "Christ" began to mean different things to different people. The Arians believed in a Christ who isn't Divine! The Gnostics believed in a Christ who isn't human! A Stoic might believe in a Christ who didn't rise from the dead! So, if one wanted to be baptized, he had to be drilled in the True Christ. The Creed is useful for this.
The Creed is good for your devotional life.
Martin Luther thought we ought to meditate on three things each day and use them to warm our prayer lives. They were the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and.The Apostles' Creed.
The Ten Commandments would humble us; the Lord's Prayer would seek God's help; and the Creed would remind us of what Christ has done for us and will do for us in answer to prayer.
Should the Creed replace the Word of God? Of course not. But it can supplement the Word and do our souls good.
That's an introduction to the Apostles' Creed. Next month, Lord willing, we'll begin to study the Creed itself. The love of God be with you all. Amen.
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