Monday, November 14, 2011

The Place of the Apostle's Creed

This morning I heard on the radio a contemporary song that puts the Apostle's Creed into an upbeat tune.  When I went to First Presbyterian we said this every Sunday; I remembered most of it but got a little off on the order.

I believe in God the Father, 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; he descended into hell (hades); the third day He arose again from the dead; he ascended into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

Now I go to a Baptist church, and they don't do creeds, although almost all Baptists would agree with the creed, or should, since it is the best summary of doctrine.  Of course, most evangelical organizations have their own statement of faith that gets into a little more detail, such as how Christ will come to judge the living and dead or what the church looks like.  I wonder if the specificity is to teach and minister or to exclude.  
We would, I think, be better off if we focused on the truths of the Apostle's Creed--and more importantly, the Scriptures upon which they are based and how these conclusions were drawn and which were struggled over for centuries, and less on our pet interpretations and views.  There is more leeway in studying the scripture than we want to give (for example, the meaning of the parables) because we don't like uncertainty.  If our Sunday School teacher or pastor says the passage should be interpreted this way and only this way, then by golly, that's all there is to it. 

I think of this in terms of eschatology.  Baptists love studies on eschatology.  I find their interpretations interesting but I am not committed to premillenialism, which makes it difficult for me to teach in a Baptist church.  Now, I do agree with the broad outlines--Christ will return after a time of devastation and persecution to judge the world and set up a millenial kingdom of perfection, and then that will be followed by eternity.  The Jews were not displaced by the church in God's plan; the Jews still fit in there, and the church is not the Jews.  But beyond that--I'll leave it up to God.   As my son said yesterdays, more Christians get their views of eschatology from the Left Behind series than from any other sources, such as the Bible.

Predestination is another one.  As a friend recently said, Line up ten people against the wall.  Which one needs Jesus?  Which ones will respond to Jesus?  All, and we can't know.  So get over it.  Or as a student in BCM preached, we're all chosen.  Don't get caught up in decided who is and who isn't.  The idea that predestination would stop evangelism makes no sense.  Only laziness and apathy stop evangelism.

Even worse, too many Christians today only study Scripture for devotional purposes, what it says to me today as I grapple with my problems, than on the big picture of the meaning of Scriptural doctrine.  I see this in biographical studies.  It's interesting to study the life of Abraham or David, but let's not think that has some sort of normative value for us in 2011.  These folks are mirrors for identity, not guides for morality, as I heard someone say recently.  We can take comfort that God loved them despite how much they are like us (or even worse in some ways) but not make a big deal out of how every detail of their lives somehow corresponds to ours.  That is just poor exegesis. 

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