Are We Missing Something?

I serve in, and have grown up in, a denominational tradition in which the creedal statements of faith established by early church fathers play an important role in confirmation and faith instruction, worship, and the life of the church.  One of those statements, which we recite weekly in our worship service on Sunday mornings as a congregation, is the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell.  On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living 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.

Last night, during a discussion in my Ethics class, I was intrigued by a brief mention and discussion of the Apostles Creed, and its apparent oversight and minimization of the life and teachings of Jesus, particularly in the second article of the creed, which deals with the person of Jesus:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell.  On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I had never before paid much attention to the fact that the creed completely jumps from the birth of Jesus to his death, paying no attention to the years in between.  While I understand that the creed was not necessarily developed as a statement for ethics, but as a statement of core doctrinal beliefs, are there not ethical implications for what we believe?  If we don’t claim the life and teachings of Jesus to be part of the core foundation of our faith, or we setting ourselves up to undermine Christian ethics?  Does asking a question about these effects overstep the original purposes of the creed by trying to make it into something it is not?  or is this something that really does matter to how we as Christians live out our faith?

The Lutheran in me really wants to think that asking these questions is in fact trying to make the creed into something that it was never intended to be.  However, I can also see how the core foundations of our faith have significant implications for how we live out our faith in every day life.  As Lutherans, we pride ourselves on “Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone.” Do we set ourselves up for ethical dilemma and difficulties by de-emphasizing the life and teachings of Jesus in our basic statement of faith?

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7 thoughts on “Are We Missing Something?

  1. That’s great observation, Erin. I don’t think I’ve thought about how the Apostles Creed goes directly from the birth to the death of Jesus. It’s interesting that it does not mention any of his life or ministry.

    However, my view of the creed is it’s a “just the facts” kind of statement. It’s a quick overview of the major facts of the Christian faith. It’s supposed to be short, but the Christian faith is not short. Somethings will get left out of 108 word statement of faith. It’s not possible to summarize all of Christianity that quickly, but it does give a basic understanding of what Christians believe.

    But then again I’m no theologian.

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  2. Creeds can get really quite long if you aren’t careful:

    We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary , and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    I think Kelsey hit the nail on the head – it’s just the facts. If you try to start waxing philosophic in your creed, you put a severe handicap on your ability to do theology – in essence, you create confines on the nature of God and our existence.

    Interestingly, I try to live by the teachings of Jesus but I’m not sure I actually believe anything stated in the creed (either one, apostle’s or nicene). I have no clue what that means.

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    1. Charlie, I’m not trying to start any sort of debate, but I wonder if it’s really possible to live by the teachings of Jesus and not believe in what is stated in the creed. It seems too dualistic.

      C.S. Lewis said something along the lines of if we are to believe anything about Jesus, it’s kind of all or nothing. He is either a liar in everything he says, a raving lunatic, or he is telling the truth and he really is Lord.

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  3. erin – i asked the _same_ question (about creed skipping over the LIFE of Jesus) at YouthSpecialties 2 years ago ago the creed – ie it fully doesn’t say ANYTHING about the kingdom of God and the work of Jesus in zooming in this new reality.

    the response from the jesus creed guy scott mcknight was that it hits things that are the pinnacles of Jesus’ life theologically and that his life/miracles/kingdom-y-ness serves as the backdrop to the creed(s) and in no way do they try to minimize the actual parables and living story of the jesus man. He pointed us to Acts as the beginnings of creed formation….

    i’m not sure i agree/disagree with that

    I’d say on the ethics edge of things that in some sense there are no “christian ethic” – especially when we avoid formula/guidelines and instead gaze deeply into the excessive, wild, relentless love of Jesus. There is no limits and end and boundaries for love that lays itself down, gives freely and gives our person-hoods away. We are esp wrapped in this vision for the cosmos by the strange nature of parables and Jesus’ actions. crazy.

    peace, b

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    1. There’s definitely something be be said about the fact that the creed misses the boat on expressing the kingdom of God. Isn’t that the whole point of Christianity?

      I worry a little bit about operating ethically solely on the basic conviction of “the excessive, wild, relentless love of Jesus,” mainly because it avoids some of the other parts of the God-human narrative. I think that the love of Jesus is a basic conviction that informs our principles, rules, and situation ethics, but to throw ethics out the door in the name of the love of Christ may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Eh?

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  4. On Tuesday of this week, I was privileged to offer the chapel talk in Boe Memorial Chapel of St Olaf College in Northfield, Mn. I challenged the students to think outside the box in their academic studies and also to “be a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants” by scrutinizing our Lutheran creeds and confessions, even challenging them, and using them as a springboard to one’s own seeking. In both the academic realm and the religious sphere, I suggested that a willingness to think and seek boldly might lead to an epiphany. Click on my name to read the talk or to find a link to the video.

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