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April 3, 2005 •
Acts 2: 22-32
22 "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know--
23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.
24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
25 For David says concerning him, 'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
29 "Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.
31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, 'He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.'
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
Fans of Rich Mullins may have been surprised when he sang the Apostles’ Creed on a CD collection of his songs. Mullins is best known for the song “Awesome God,” a major hit of contemporary Christian music. Yet, before his tragic death in an airplane crash, Mullins was embracing the most ancient traditions of historic Christianity. The song “Creed,” which is the Apostles’ Creed sung in the style of a fast-paced chant, builds to a refrain that explains why Mullins adopted the Creed as a statement of his own faith: “And I believe that what I believe/ Is what makes me what I am/ I did not make it, no it is making me/ It is the very truth of God and not/ the invention of any man.”
Jaroslav Pelikan is not a singer; he is a professor at Yale University, but he wrote a book on creeds, called appropriately enough Credo [Yale University Press. 2003]. Pelikan argues that creeds ground our faith in a tradition while protecting us from the self-invented forms of religion that are so popular in our time.
America is home to every conceivable cult: from Magik to Mormonism, from paganism to Jehovah’s Witnesses, from WICCA to Voodoo, from Scientology to Seventh Day Adventists. There is a whole group of UFO cults, and then there is the Nation of Islam.
We have them all in the USA, and many of these strange new religions claim to represent authentic Christianity. How then can we separate the true from the false? Measure them by the ancient creeds of the church. For example, do they say, with the Nicene Creed, that there is “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.” Do they say that Jesus is “very God of very God.”
This is a technique I have used with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have read over a copy of the Nicene Creed with them, and they do not believe it. They do not believe Jesus was actually God. So I have not hesitation in saying to them, you do not represent authentic Christianity.
That then is one function of a creed—to lay out in short form what we believe, but it is not the primary function. First and foremost, a creed is a way of affirming the love of God. God loved us. That is why he sent his son Jesus Christ to us. Christ loved us, that is why he went about doing good, curing people and helping people. Christ taught us that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by people he loved, nailed to a cross, and he died. He was buried, but on the third day, he rose from the grave. And as he died for us, he also rose for us, that we might have immortality. That is how much God loves us.
In this church, we use two creeds, the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostle’s creed is our every Sabbath Creed. The Nicene Creed we generally use only when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The Nicene Creed is actually the older of the two. It dates back to the Council of Nicaea in A.D.325. Think about this: The words of this creed have been spoken by Christians for over 1600 years. In contrast to that history, the United States does not have any history worth talking about.
Moreover, the Nicene Creed is probably the most widely used of all Christian creeds. Eastern Orthodox Christians say it. Roman Catholics say it. Methodists say it. Even those hardknots, the Associate Reformed Presbyterians say it. To me, there is something awesome about knowing as we repeat the words of the creed that millions of Christians are saying it with us, and hundreds of millions of Christians have said it. In China, where the church lives on the edge of persecution, Christians say this creed, and in Moscow and in Berlin and even in York SC. So we see then that another purpose of the creed is to unite us in love with Christians of all times and places. Christians are divided in a thousand different ways on a hundred different issues, but our ancient creeds focus on essentials and bring us together.
In Acts 2:22-32, Peter is responding to the accusation of drunkenness. The disciples had poured out of the upper room on the day of Pentecost with the fire of the Holy Spirit in their souls and foreign tongues on their lips. They were excited, they were exalted, but some said they were besotted, inebriated, stone-cold drunk.
Peter offers us a new test for sobriety. He recites the creed. The next time the police stop someone on suspicion of DUI, I suggest that they have them recite the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. If you can do that, they should let you go.
Of course, what Peter has to say in Acts 2 is not a creed in any formal sense. Acts 2:22-32 is called Peter’s first sermon, but it is not really a sermon either. It is a proclamation of a set of beliefs about Jesus. Jesus was crucified, died and was buried, God raised him from the dead and he is now exalted. Thus, this is the earliest creed of the church.
The word creed actually comes from the Latin, credo (I believe) or credimus (we believe). All religions have creeds, but Christianity historically has set a high value on saying what we believe and understanding what we believe. We probably derive this tradition from the Old Testament. Perhaps the earliest creedal statement in the Bible is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.” This is known in Judaism as the “Shema” from the word, “Hear.” What is important about this statement is that it describes a common belief about God and a personal response. The creed is both communal (our God) and personal (love the Lord, your God).
Christians still affirm the Shema, but with the coming of Christ our creedal statements underwent a transformation. Peter proclaimed a common belief that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried and that God raised him from the dead, because that was the conviction that had captured his heart. Again, Peter’s statements are both personal and communal.
William Sloane Coffin also wrote a book titled Credo. He says that a creed is that “to which I give my heart.” My creed is that which I love. I said earlier that a creed affirms that God loves us. As we take that creed and affirm that creed, and make it part of our lives, we say that we love God.
That is what Peter is challenging us to do. Standing among a crowd of questioning people, some cynical, some skeptical, and many seeking for truth, Peter laid out the love of God in Jesus Christ and called our his hearers, or his readers to respond to that love with love of their own.
William Sloane Coffin said my creed is that “to which I give my heart.” So what is it that we are giving our hearts to? Career? Pride? Accumulating more stuff? Vanity? Greed? Whatever it is, that is our creed. But those attitudes and ideas make up a poor sort of creed. Peter offers us something better. Peter tells us that we should give our hearts to a loving God who sent Jesus for our salvation. That is something we can love; That is something we can give our hearts to. Amen
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05