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.

(more…)

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