I’m approaching the end of my series of posts on “The Ties that Bind”, doing the best  I can to define the things that hold us together as a community of believers.  For lack of better phrasing, I would say in my own cornbread style, that I’m sharing with you all the recipe for the glue that holds us all together;  the special sauce that separates us from the fast food, generic tastes of postmodern Evangelicalism, and makes us “The Church”.  Consider it this way:  Your local seeker-friendly institution is serving you a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  It tastes good, it’s cheap, and it will fill you up for a while.  What I’m attempting to do is give you something fresh off of the grill, cooked out in the backyard, made with lean beef,  marinated in mystery, with a slab of that cheese that is sold with the red waxy stuff on it!  It feels and tastes like home.  There’s nothing better!

Now I’m hungry.

The three elements that bind us together as a community known as “The Church” are as follows:

1)  We are a people of Baptism.

2)  We are a people of Communion.

And today’s topic…

3)  We are a people of Creed.

Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I probably knew the words to the Apostle’s Creed before I knew my ABC’s.  It was ingrained in me.  We were at church pretty much every time the doors were open, and sometimes when they weren’t.  My dad was a plumber, and the church had a basement fellowship hall that seemed to flood constantly.  I spent many Saturday mornings thumbing through hymnals, perusing the liturgy, the songs, and the Creed, while he worked to prevent certain apocalypse from occurring down in the bowels of the church building.

When I visited a Baptist church for the first time, I thought that it was just weird that they never said the Apostles’ Creed, recited the Lord’s Prayer, or did a responsive reading.  The worship was exciting, and the pastor was quite a rooster in the pulpit (and outside of it, too, as I would learn later on…a topic for another day).  Even early on, when I was beginning in ministry and was really impressed with this particular body’s way of “doing church”, I always knew that there was something missing.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Today, I realize that what I missed and longed for was more participatory worship.  I had grown up doing more than just singing and praying at the altar as a member of the worshiping congregation.  As a child, I had joined with a community in common prayers, responsive readings, singing doxologies and glorias,  taking communion, and reciting the creed.  I was doing spiritual exercise, standing up and down, kneeling, learning things through repetition, and my heart longed for that type of discipline.

Instead of more cowbell, I needed more creed.  I got a fever, and the only cure is more Apostles’ Creed!

In J.I. Packer’s work, “Affirming the Apostles’ Creed”, he writes that in the earliest days of Christianity, Jews who converted needed only to believe that Jesus was the messiah, and that ritual sacrifice was no longer needed.  The Greeks, however,  needed to know a little bit more.  They didn’t care about Jewish superstitions and history.  The creed was developed as the essential teaching of the Apostles, the core beliefs of Christianity, so that the faith could be easily expressed and explained.  It was, essentially, the first evangelism tool:  ”This is what I believe…”

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone ask me to come and witness to a friend, a family member, or a neighbor who didn’t know Jesus.  I’ve heard every reason in the book as to why they can’t go and talk to the person themselves, but most often, folks have expressed that they aren’t comfortable expressing their faith verbally.

“I really don’t know what to say to them.”

Over the years, my response became, “Why don’t you tell them what you believe?”

Too many Christians can’t adequately express what they have faith in.  Churches have done them no favors with their “statements of belief”, either, with phrases like “verbal plenary inspiration”, “inerrancy and infallibility”, and on and on.  I’ve done ministry for 11 years now, and I’m not sure that I even know what those things really mean! Early on in ministry, someone asked me to sum up my beliefs, and I said, “My beliefs are in the Apostles’ Creed.”  His response was, “Well, I believe in the Bible.”  The Creed was “too Catholic” to suit his tastes.

(Heavy sigh…)

I was fortunate to grow up in the system of belief my family adhered to.  We have a creed that we say time and time again, and in it are the essential beliefs of the Christian faith.  It was, and is, said every time the community that makes up that church body gathers together, not so we can participate in some “vain repetition”;  but instead, so that we’re equipped and prepared to share what we believe with a lost world, in the simplest terms possible.

When we say this creed together, we are, as a community, binding ourselves together as a group into one strong idea:

”I believe in God the Father Almighty,creator of heaven and earth,and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord

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

Where he sits at the right hand of God the father almighty, from whence 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”

The Creed is simple, but contains a wealth of information.  In it, you find the Trinitarian nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); the story of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection; the hope of His return; a statement on the unity of the church; and our most essential theological truths:  Jesus died so our sins might be forgiven, and so that we might inherit eternal life.  Is there anything else one might need to know in order to be saved?

There’s one small part of the Creed that I believe demonstrates that we are bound together as community:  “I believe in the communion of saints”. 

When we say that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, we’re expressing that we believe in the unified group of believers that covers the entire planet, all of us Christians, from one denomination to another.  When we say that we believe in the communion of saints, though, it’s much bigger than even that!  When we make that statement we are acknowledging that we belong to a group of people who were believers in Christ, who are believers, and who will be believers.

The word communion means to be “in close relationship with”, and if you look at the earliest Christians in Acts 2:42, you see that lived out.  The earliest church members lived together, shared common goods, prayed together, worshiped together, and took  care of each other.  I believe that scripture makes it clear that we are born again to be in community with other believers.  God gives us each other so that we can love one another; for friendship and fellowship; to teach and grow each other;  for encouragement, support, and prayer;  to worship together;  and when we need it, to correct each other.

We need community, and community needs us. 

But we don’t just share community with those who sit with us in our church pews.  We also have communion with the saints who have gone on to glory.  Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

The author of Hebrews is writing in the context of you and I being marathon runners, running the last leg of our race in the coliseum in Rome, surrounded by a crowd, encouraging us, teaching us, shouting for us, pulling for us to finish our races well.

As I ponder this thought,  I’m reminded of the communion of saints that are watching me run this race of faith.  I remember my Uncle John and Aunt Elnyr Stone, sitting on the second pew on the left hand side of church every Sunday the sun came up, and always 15 minutes late, telling me as I run my race, “Be faithful.  Be consistent.”

I remember my dad and Weyman Seagraves putting an old outhouse in front of the parsonage with a sign that said “pastor’s study” on the door, teaching me as I run my race, “Never endure church, but enjoy it.”

I remember kneeling at an altar rail, praying with Pastor Ralph Harris when I became a part of the communion of saints, whispering to me then and even today, reminding me, “You are a part of the family of God.”

I remember Pierce Norman, one Easter Sunday morning,  preaching one of the most powerful messages on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that I’ve ever heard, telling me as I live out my faith, “Be passionate about what you believe.”

I remember my grandfather, Boscoe  Fouche, reading Psalms quietly every day, teaching me to this day, “Your worship should extend beyond the doors of the church building.”

I remember Miss Mary Lou Dillard, singing the echo to “O that will be…glory for me…glory for me…glory for me…when by His grace I shall look on his face…that will be glory…glory for me…”, reminding me, “Once you reach the finish line, the rewards are better than I’ve ever imagined.”

Not only am I kindred and bound in community with the folks in my own generation of saints that I see in the pews Sunday in and Sunday out, I also see my little Addie Lee, watching my every move, listening to my every word, hearing my prayers, witnessing my worship.  I live with the knowledge that she will someday take up the mantle, and begin her race as a part of the communion of saints.   I pray that she will be encouraged by my own life to run that race well.

If you came expecting a critical examination of the Creed today, I’m sorry that you’re likely leaving disappointed.  I may do a series at some point, and break it down piece by piece.  For today, the purpose of bringing the Creed into the mix was to demonstrate how it plays a significant role in binding us together.

Rich Mullins wrote a great song called “Creed”, which simply sings the Apostles’ Creed.  The chorus states,

“I did not make it, but it is making me

It’s the very truth of God and not the invention of any man…”

Baptism, Communion, and Creed, with apologies to Miranda Lambert, make up the house that built me;  the community that helped form me into the person and believer that I am.  They bind me with you, and the communion of saints around us.  These things bind us into community with each other, and with the Christ who was, is, and shall be.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

(Recommended Reading/Source Material: “Affirming the Apostles’ Creed”, J.I. Packer; “Credo”, Ray Pritchard)

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