Creedal Christianity is... Consistent
What haven't I either told you at all or emphasized enough about the 2nd Chief Part? Last week is was that Creedal Christianity is Ancient; this week that it's Consistent. The best illustration I can think of is that Creedal Christianity is like spaghetti sauce.
It's not homemade. Originally, it was thought it was, in a way. Before Luther divided the Apostles' Creed into 3 articles the church had divided it into 12. According to Rufinus, a 4th century church father, a legend from the 3rd century was that the original confession started with Apostles. They had gathered in Jerusalem one last time on which occasion they formulated the Apostles' Creed. Later still a phrase was attributed to each of them. 12 phrases led to baptisteries made with 12 sides (Peters, Creed, 13). Even if that were true, the Creed wouldn't be homemade since the Apostles spoke directly for God on earth. The kind of homemade I'm saying the Creed is not is where each person develops his own personal creed.
Google personal credo', i.e.. personal creed, or confession of faith, and you'll find you have to have one, how to write one, and examples like: "Nobody in the world should have to die alone." - "Every child must feel wanted." - "Live each day as a gift." - "The world is a better place for my having lived today" (www.dvusd.org cms lib07 Centricity Domain Pe...PPT). Creedal Christianity is not a personal credo because like homemade pasta sauce it can change each time it's made, and surely from generation to generation. It's the opposite of what the First Reading said, "Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you" (Dt. 4:2).
Early generations of confessional Lutherans made the mistake of making confessional points out of things that weren't in the Lutheran Confessions. Early Missouri Synod was opposed to buying insurance, card playing, dancing, and theater going. When times changed, these supposedly creedal points changed, and so later when confronted by feminism that was socially accepted, the Biblical Order of Creation was no longer confessed as binding. It was dismissed as card playing had been. Likewise when easy divorce, living together, gay marriage, and choosing your gender were accepted by society, many concluded the church was as wrong about these as she had been about the theater, dancing, and insurance. But probably the most serious blow to Creedal Christianity came when in the 60s onward, Lutheran pastors confirmed kids based on personal statements of faith the child wrote and confessed before the congregation. That "aww" moment was more moving and sincere then confessing "I believe that God has made meJesus Christis my Lord, and the Holy Spirit has called me."
Homemade confessions are definitely the soup du jour. The new atheists have them and they are no deeper than Google's original motto of "Don't be evil" or the one their conglomerate adopted in 2015, "Do the right thing." Or their personal credo is that of the sexual revolution. Whatever consenting adults wish to do is right. I've attempted to catechize dozens of people who believed everyone should and did have the right to make their own creed. They identify as Catholic, Lutheran, Baptists, but they pick and choose what they want to believe, so they are really Tom's, Harry's, Paul's, and Paula's. They are a denomination of one, and just like homemade spaghetti sauce they change it as they go, and it's all a matter of taste.
Creedal Christianity is not homemade but it can be Ragu. I couldn't verify this story but I've been told that Ragu which has been around since 1937 woke up one day to the realization that their pasta sauce tasted terrible. How did that happen? It's the old too many cooks spoil the soup. Someone in authority thought it would be better if they added this or took away that and they did, and so did the next person in charge, and the next. Each made incremental changes only to find in the aggerate it was awful. The Devil, the World, and our Fallen Nature, exert tremendous pressure for us to change our confession to make it more palatable and winsome to the world. You can find many rewrites of the 1800 year old Apostles' Creed, but the ones that should concern you are not those by the outliers, whackos, or even individuals, but the ones by churches, and they go two ways.
The first is to change the words. The Wisconsin Synod did this. Rather than confess that Jesus "was made man" this Confessional Lutheran Synod since 1993 has confessed that Jesus "became fully human." They aren't seeking to deny that Jesus was a male but to accommodate feminist thinking which doesn't regard "man" as the generic for human, as the Bible does. This use drives feminists up the wall so they've successfully done away with chairman, fireman, policeman, even manhole. Then there are those churches who no longer confess that Jesus descended into hell but say instead He descended into the dead. You find this in LCMS churches now. Originally Methodism left out the descent altogether but now they've joined liberal Christianity's confession "He descended into the dead". Luther had "descended into hell." Some versions of the Creed in both the East and West lack it, but it's found in both Eastern and Western synods in 359 and 360 A.D. (Peters, Creed, 179). For Confessional Lutherans Article IX of the Formula of Concord settles the matter. Look it up.
Changing ancient terminology is a big deal. Do it, and like Ragu you'll end up with something you don't recognize. But there is another way to Ragu the Creed. Our own personal sins and sinfulness, our mistaken belief that science trumps articles of faith, and our gnawing doubts. I say "I believein the Maker of heaven and earth" but think "evolver." I say I believe "in this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers" but I think, "He forgives even those outside and apart from the church who believe in God." But you can't throw out the bathwater of the Creed that you believe dirty according to your opinion or science without throwing out the baby of "He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil." Or the baby' of living "under Him in His Kingdom" and constantly being regarded in Jesus as righteous, innocent, and blessed. And what about the baby' of being not only called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified, but kept in the true faith.
If you wake each day deciding what you believe or not, one day you'll wake to find that you don't know what you believe. So don't hold Creedal Christianity as Ragu but as Prego. Prego didn't come along till 1981. They had a famous commercial in 1984 where a father criticizes his newlywed son for already getting spaghetti sauce from a jar. The dad laundry lists the things that make for a good Italian sauce and the son says repeatedly, "It's in there." That's what Luther said about the 2nd Article which for Confessional Lutherans is the chief one. He said all of our festivals are summarized in this short, Second Article (Ibid., 164). But the church before Luther went even further. "The early Church thought that every subject of faith and doctrine was summarized in" the Apostles' Creed (Reu, Catechetics, 39).
The First Article said Luther by the word 'creator' tells us where we have come from; the word 'father' where we belong and where we are supposed to end up (Peters, Creed, 78). And don't miss all the providing and protecting we confess our dear Father does for us is without any merit or worthiness in us. If that doesn't make your heart sigh with relief and sing for joy you're either not listening or believing. All that He does day in and day out, even for all evil people, is "only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy." Find anything about what you do or don't do there? How about what you believe or don't? How about anything to with gnawing doubts or agreement with science? And notice that thanking, praising, serving, and obeying Him flows from what He does without any merit or worthiness on your part. This means those who realize they're in the Father's House for their Brother Jesus' sake having all the Father's gifts, grace, and protection, live differently than a fatherless, homeless, brotherless street urchin.
The Second Article is where Confessional Lutherans do their theology from, to, and in. Here we're confronted with our Fall and what it took for God the Son to buy us back from Sin, Death, and Devil. In my day, the immensity of this Fall was brought home to me because I was taught to say, "Who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature." Since 1986 we say, "person." This was not intended to make the Fall less serious, but it did for me. At age 13 confessing I was a "lost and condemned creature" conveyed my lostness and damn-ness as little else could. That's because the 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon was on TV then, and if anything was irredeemable and damnable that was.
And now we're to the Third Article where most of you are busy making Ragu or even homemade sauce, but here, above all else, it should be Prego. Not Creation, not Redemption, but Sanctification is what troubles so many of you. You get why God must get 100% of the credit and glory for the first two, but you come to this Third Article and you freak. You freak daily sometimes, occasionally at other times, and in the dark night of your soul all the time. Luther would allay our fears and drive away our freak-outs. In our Large Catechism Luther uses present tense only when describing the work of the Spirit. It's I believe upon the Father who has created me and upon the Son who has redeemed me, but it's I believe upon the Holy Spirit who makes me holy (Ibid., 53). Game, set, match. We start out confessing: the Holy Spirit has called be by the Gospel which is that Jesus redeemed me with His innocent life and guilty death. And the Spirit has not only called, enlightened, sanctified, but kept me in the true Faith. All that is past, but then when we come to the Holy Christian Church. In this Christian church He daily and richly is doing these things for me and all believers in Christ.
The Creed and our Explanations consistently confess the truth about where you're coming from, going to, and how you'll get there. Luther likens the faith in you that believes these things to a candle that the wind of doubt or worry can flicker or even blow out. While the Faith expressed in Creedal Christianity is like the sun shining from above . It can't "be disturbed by no power of the winds either in its rays or in itself" (LW, 29, 235). Creedal Christianity is like Prego; all that's necessary for faith and life is consistently and completely in there. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek 2 (20201209); Apostles' Creed Explanations