Why We Recite the Apostles’ Creed at Grace Church

 From time to time I hear concerns from well-meaning people questioning our use of the Apostles’ Creed. Most often it has to do not so much with the content, but with their personal history of having recited it in the Roman Catholic Church or in a liberal denominational church.  Part of their conversion story is that in understanding the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ they left a religious system that had corrupted and confused the gospel. We rejoice with them in their conversion and their choice to leave a faulty religious system.

However, in our use of the Apostles’ Creed and other ancient creeds we are reclaiming from corrupt religious systems what belongs to historic Christianity.  The content of the creed is thoroughly biblical and generally accepted by evangelicals around the world. Though there are some nuances of how one understands ‘he descended into hell,’ most would agree there is a biblical basis for the idea. We choose in our recitation to omit it. Others are offended with the phrase ‘holy catholic church’ because they mistakenly associate ‘catholic’ with Roman Catholic. Actually, catholic is good word that highlights the universal, worldwide expression of the church of Jesus Christ.  We replace ‘catholic’ with Christian to accommodate some of those sensibilities and misunderstandings.

The creed simply sets forth an ancient, historic representation of the Christian faith. It does not set forth how one becomes a Christian. Yes, it is possible to believe and recite the creed and not be a Christian, just as it is possible to recite the Lord’s Prayer or pray a ‘sinner’s prayer’ and not be a Christian. Nevertheless, the creed is helpful as a catechetical tool for believers but only secondarily as an apologetic tool for unbelievers.  We understand that both believers and unbelievers need more than the creed.

 Admittedly, though we recite the creed regularly at Grace Church of Philly, we are not totally satisfied with the creed – not because of what it says but what it does not say.  Had I been on the ‘creed editorial committee,’ I would have made the atoning work of Christ clear. For some reason I was not invited to that committee.  Here at Grace Church of Philly, we are committed to being gospel-centered. The gospel is the good news that Jesus the Redeemer-King has come. At the heart of the good news is ‘Christ died for our sins.’ Since there is no substitutionary atonement in the creed, there is no preaching of the gospel in the creed. That is why I say that the creed is primarily a catechetical tool for believers not an apologetic tool for evangelism.  It is both a personal and corporate confession and a teaching tool for those who already understand and believe the gospel.

 In contexts where the gospel has been eviscerated, the Apostles’ Creed is nothing but vain repetition, as is the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” by most Roman Catholics, many Orthodox churches, and all theological liberals. But, in contexts where the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is central, the creed reaffirms elements of the historic Christian faith.  When recited by those whose hearts are being transformed by the gospel, the Apostles’ Creed becomes a hearty, personal and corporate confession of Christian belief, not vain repetition.

 The confession which begins with, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth …”, is rooted in what we have already confessed and continue to confess” “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Summary – The Gospel in Genesis 1-50 and in the City

Summary – The Gospel in Genesis 1-50 and in the City

Genesis has introduced us to the Creator-Redeemer God who graciously gives mankind a garden-temple in which to serve God and from which to extend the worship of God throughout the earth.

In Adam all mankind rebels against God and is banished from the temple-garden. Prior to banishment from the temple-garden, a promise is given of a second Adam, who would not succumb to Satan’s temptation and would finally defeat Satan.

After the progression of sin and rebellion, mankind and the earth are eventually judged by God in a worldwide flood. Consequently, after the flood Noah and his descendants are given the renewed kingdom responsibility in a new world, but they also fail to extend the worship of God, choosing instead to congregate at Babel. Again, the world is judged; this time through dispersion.

God then chooses Abraham and his descendants to be the family through which the worship of God will be extended throughout the world and through which the nations of the world will be reunited in worshipping God.

The story line of Abraham’s family keeps the reader wondering whether they will be the people who will extend the worship of God throughout the earth and unify the nations in the worship of God. The story unfolds with moments of success in their being the people who carry out God’s purposes but also includes too many moments of forgetfulness, neglect, and outright rebellion against God’s purposes.

As we read Genesis through eyes and hearts illumined by New Testament revelation, we understand that the successes and failures of the descendants of Abraham provoke us to anticipate the One whom God promised would ultimately defeat Satan and not only succeed where Adam had failed but would triumph more gloriously over sin and death. Through this One the worship of God would be extended through the earth and the nations of the world would be unified in their worship of God.

Today, because of the triumph of Jesus Christ over sin and death, through His body, the church, His kingdom is quietly being extended through the earth and people of all nations are joining together in worship of the Triune God. This kingdom will be consummated in the New Heaven and Earth.

Cities are not the only places where there is evidence of that happening, but in a unique way, city churches can become a microcosm of the multi-national, multi-ethnic, world-wide worship that God desires.

Cities churches offer a greater possibility for tasting the cosmopolitan worship of the New Creation, where people from every tongue and nation will join together in the worship of the living God.

Cities offer opportunity to those who are now the seed of Abraham in Christ to be His people in extending the worship of God among the nations of the earth and seeing the diversity of the world brought together in unity in Christ.

Cities are the crucibles which test the power of the gospel to create new communities that are unified in their love of Christ and in their commitment to do justice and love mercy in the midst of depravity and diversity.