If you don’t mind, I’d like to spend a little time this Wednesday, and next Wednesday talking about the Creeds of the Church. We get new people in our community of faith and they become accustomed to following along with the liturgy of the church, but maybe not always familiar with why we say some of the things we do.
First, we might want to know a little about why the creeds were written. In the early beginnings of the Church, it was a loosely fitted together conglomeration of believers. Some tended to stray from the truths the Apostles tried to convey. So, in looking to shore up a more correct understanding of the faith being transmitted, the Church needed language that precisely conveyed what was believed. Lots of controversy and incorrect theology was being strewn about. This is what led to the hammering out of the historic Christian creeds upon, as one commentator said, “the anvil of controversy.”
These early creeds were truly mile-stones in our Christian history. Much of the debate had to do with the very nature of God. Different factions debated who God was, the issue of how we understand the Triune God of the scriptures more fully. The creeds addressed errors in theological understanding, and this is what occasioned them be written and affirmed.
The creed we are possibly most familiar with is what has become known as the Apostle’s Creed. “Parts of this creed were first drawn up in the first or second century when a religious movement called Gnosticism was influential. The Gnostics argued that they had received a special secret tradition, directly from the apostles. They had special knowledge (the word Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis knowledge).”
There was a man named Marcion who was a wealthy ship-owner from Pontus. He had this idea that there was a bad and a good god. The bad god was the god of the Old Testament. The good god was the one who created Jesus. What Marcion professed and believed was in direct contradiction to what the Gospel stories related. The emperor Tertullian named him “The Pontic Mouse who nibbled away the Gospels.” Marcion was ex-communicated in 144 AD.
Irenaeus, a bishop in the southern Gallic city of Lyon also faced some of these same issues. “He drew up a number of short statements of faith which summarised basic Christian teaching.” Iranaeus said true Christians believe “in one God, the maker of heaven and earth, and of all the things that are in them, through Jesus Christ the Son of God, who, on account of his overwhelming love for his creation, endured the birth from the Virgin, uniting man to God in himself, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, and was taken up in majesty, and will come again in glory, the saviour of those who are saved and the judge of those who are judged.”
The previous statements were the forerunners to what we now call and affirm in our modern day Apostle’s Creed.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
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, dead, and buried;
*the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
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. Amen.”
Of course you know when we say “the holy catholic church,” we are referring to the wider traditional Christian community. What we see in this creed is an understanding of who God is, of who Jesus is and how he came into being in the flesh, and who the person of the Holy Spirit is. We say we believe in “the communion of saints” this is the spiritual union of members of the Christian Church, both living and dead. In other words, those who have gone on before us, are still a part of the body of Christ, they do not cease to exist. We believe in the forgiveness of sins, ours and others. We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. These are important elements we hang our hats on, so to speak. They tell us our eternal souls do not wither and wink out at the moment of death, but go on in eternally with God.
As you can see, this creed is important for many reasons, but it reminds us of who God is for us, and who we are in the scheme of all creation. You and me, we are a part of all that God has done, is doing, and will yet do in the future for all time.
Blessings and Peace,Pastor Tom