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.”

SSA or Homosexuality – Words are Important

Everyone by fallen nature is born with the capacity for both the distortion and perversion of natural desire.  Depraved human nature gives the capacity for distortion and perversion; nurture affects how that capacity works out in our desires and actions.

God gave us His inspired words and preserved them for us over thousands of years. This should tell us that the choice of words is important. The inspired biblical writers were guided to choose specific words to speak about morality, sexuality, and sin.  The biblical language may be offensive and lack political correctness, yet it is the language that God has given us. Our culture and even some in the evangelical world often use language that it imprecise. The imprecise use of words may be accidental or intentional, yet either way it is confusing and misleading.

An example of this is the now popular designation of SSA – Same Sex Attraction. On the surface the phrase itself seems innocent. Everyone has same sex attractions. Men love other men and women love other women in creational and appropriate, God-honoring ways. We are created and commanded to love one another, i.e. we are created and commanded to have SSA.

However beneath the surface, SSA is not so innocent. The use of SSA is a deceptive masking of what the Word of God calls homosexuality. It is an attempt to soften and to normalize homosexual desires.

SSA is not the creational, God-honoring love that we have for those of the same sex, it is a twisted same sex sexual desire. When evangelicals talk about SSA, they want to distance it from homosexuality. When the Bible speaks of homosexuality, there is no softness, gentleness, or kindness. It is always sin. It is always a perversion of God’s creational design. It is always pernicious. It is always under God’s judgment. Yet, it is redeemable, i.e. one can be forgiven, delivered, and transformed.

Homosexuality is not simply a perverse sexual act; it is a perverse sexual desire behind that act. We repent not only of our sinful  actions but also of the impurity of our minds and desires.

In God’s creational design, heterosexual sexual desire is natural. The entrance of sin distorts this desire in different ways.

Sin can make natural, heterosexual, sexual desire an idol that will be satisfied in ways other than God’s intended design. God’s design is that natural sexual desire be satisfied in a monogamous, heterosexual covenant marriage.

Sin can also pervert the natural desire in unnatural ways, such as homosexuality or bestiality.

Everyone by fallen nature is born with the capacity for both the distortion and perversion of natural desire.  Depraved human nature gives the capacity for distortion and perversion; nurture affects how that capacity works out in our desires and actions.

When the gospel comes to us and makes us new in Christ, though the capacity for sin yet exists, the power of that capacity for sin is broken. Those who are new in Christ now see that both the distortion and perversion of sexual desire is sin – sin for which Christ died and sin from which Christ rescues us. As we are transformed into the image of Christ, new desires for godly sexual relationships are nurtured. As a new creation in Christ, we fight (mortify) the distorted and perverted desires of the flesh. We don’t excuse them, or explain them, or justify them. We kill them by the Spirit and the Word without mercy and without restraint. We see as evil and pernicious every distorted impulse to satisfy creational desire outside of a monogamous, heterosexual, covenant marriage relationship.  We see as evil and pernicious every perverted homosexual impulse.

As we claim our new identity in Christ and wage war against all that contradicts that new identity, we demonstrate that, indeed, we are the people of God.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 Jn. 3:1-6 ESV)