Resurrection Lutheran Church, St Catharines
Catechism Operating Manual
Rev. Kurt Lantz Midweek Lent 2 Apostles’ Creed
March 08, 2023 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
The catechumen begins their journey to the body and blood of Jesus by first learning the basics of Christian truth which teach about our sin and our Saviour. They learn the texts of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments by heart, and also the simple meanings that were written to explain them. This provides a knowledge that we hope will penetrate beyond the thinking mind, to the heart of conscience, so that each one would believe that before God they are a sinner in need of His mercy and grace and that the mercy and grace from Christ’s atoning death and resurrection are given to them in the sacraments that the Lord instituted for this very purpose.
So there is a knowledge of the mind and a faith of the heart. But there is also need for instruction in how this knowledge and faith is put into use in the life of the Christian. We began last week with the Ten Commandments, how the Holy Spirit uses them in our life, and how we allow that to happen by conscious thought and deliberate examination of our life in the light of the commandments. Tonight we are continuing through the catechism, our Operating Manual of Christian faith, by looking at the Apostles’ Creed. We are going to go beyond what the three articles say and what they mean in order to consider how they are put to use in the Christian life.
Deeds, not creeds? That is a slogan that many both outside and inside the Christian Church throw out when it appears that faith is not put into action. It is a false dichotomy, however. The two cannot be separated. As we considered last week, the Holy Spirit is the one at work in us to produce good works, and the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God.
A creed is nothing else than a statement of belief. The Christian’s statement of belief must be founded on the Word of God and what it reveals. And that Word of God is the means by which the Holy Spirit works holiness in your life, good deeds flowing from the love of God to you and to your neighbour. The Apostles’ Creed causes us to rehearse and reconsider what the Word of God has revealed to mankind. Creeds are the fuel of deeds, both in the Christian Church and in the secular world. The two do not speak against each other.
So what is it that the Apostles’ Creed states from the Word of God? The Large Catechism introduces the Creed as a proper follow-up to the Ten Commandments.
So far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine. We have seen all that God wants us to do or not to do [in the Ten Commandments]. Now there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God. To state it briefly, the Creed teaches us to know Him fully (Ephesians 3:19). This is intended to help us do what we ought to do according to the Ten Commandments... Then we may know how to attain what they command, both where and how to receive such power. (LC short Pref. 1-2)
The Apostles’ Creed points you to the divine power necessary to do the deeds that God has commanded out of love for you and your neighbour.
The Ten Commandments, together with all of God’s holy Law, would leave us deflated and defeated, showing only what we ought to do, what we are not doing, and giving no power or strength to accomplish it. We would be left in despair and damnation if that were all that the Bible was about. But there is more, much more, for the proper work of God through His Word is not to condemn but to save. The Apostles’ Creed sums up that message from God to you, that He is not a God whose primary concern is to demand things of you. Rather, His primary concern is to give things to you.
When we confess the Creed, we are telling ourselves again that we do have hope and that it is in a loving heavenly Father, who not only created all things for our blessing; but also sent His Son to save us through His own sacrificial death and resurrection; and that He sends us His Holy Spirit so that we would believe this otherwise unbelievable love of a god for his devotees.
In the Large Catechism we are told just how unbelievable this God is to fallen humanity which is always looking for what might be taken in any situation.
These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people on earth. Even if we were to concede that everyone outside Christianity—whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites—believe in and worship only one true God, it would still be true that they do not know what His mind toward them is and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him. Therefore, they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-16; Hebrews 6:4-6). LC. Creed. 66
The first Scripture Reading we heard tonight, from the Letter to the Hebrews implores us most earnestly: “let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14). Let us treasure our Creed and not let it be taken away from us. Why? Because it puts into our mouths a statement of belief that is otherwise unbelievable. We need to be constantly reminded that our God loves us, that He wants us to come to Him, that especially when we have offended Him He is the one to whom we need to go. He is the one who will forgive, and heal, and strengthen. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).
In some of the settings of Confession and Absolution, the pastor refers to this passage in order to encourage us to be honest and open about our sins before God. “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins to God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness” (Lutheran Service Book, pages 184, 213).
It is precisely because fallen humanity has a completely different creed which they are confessing and by which they live, that we need to regularly and frequently confess what God has revealed to us.
When we confess “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” we remind ourselves that God made all things, including us. We are not the masters of our own making. We confess that we do not control the created world, but that it was made for us. This is the foundation then, not just for how we look at our possessions and our needs, but also how we look at things like environmental issues. The Creed teaches us to have a much higher regard for the created world than any activist has. We believe it is a gift to us from a loving, almighty God. At the same time, the Creed keeps things in their place by confessing that it is man, and not the earth that is need of salvation. The earth was prepared for the service of humanity and not the other way around. Our stewardship of creation has an altogether different founding premise and will lead us to different conclusions that refuse to sacrifice children in order to preserve nature.
When we confess that we believe in “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” we rehearse the history of our salvation through God becoming man in order to suffer, die, and rise again for the forgiveness of our sins, to rescue us from death and hell, and to bring us into eternal life in a creation remade. The Creed is a shield against the fiery darts of the devil who continually tells you that you matter nothing to God, that your sins could never be forgiven, that you must live your life in fear and anxiety over the present and the future.
The Creed unites your voice with the entire Christian Church throughout history and to future generations of Christians declaring what the Word of God says about your salvation and victory over sin, death and the devil, won for you by the eternal Son of God. The Large Catechism exhorts us not to let this shield lie propped up against the wall in a corner, but to take hold of it and carry it about with us and hold it high whenever enemies threaten.
Besides, catechism study is a most effective help against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts. It helps to be occupied with God’s Word, to speak it, and meditate on it, just as the first Psalm declares people blessed who meditate on God’s Law day and night (Psalm 1:2). LC.10
This requires a certain degree of humility, giving up the notion that you can protect yourself without such a shield, or that you can construct a better shield than the one that has been handed down to you. Often these are just excuses for not wanting to carry the Creed, not wanting to conform your words and thoughts to those that the Christian Church has mined from God’s Holy Word. Dr. Martin Luther is blunt about this in regard to making use of the catechism as a whole: The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Scripture texts on the Sacraments.
Therefore, for God’s sake I beg such lazy bellies or arrogant saints to be persuaded and believe that they are truly, truly not so learned or such great doctors as they imagine! They should never assume that they have finished learning the parts of the catechism or know it well enough in all points, even though they think that they know it ever so well. For even if they know and understand the catechism perfectly (which, however, is impossible in this life), there are still many benefits and fruits to be gained, if it is daily read and practiced in thought and speech. For example, the Holy Spirit is present in such reading, repetition, and meditation. He bestows ever new and more light and devoutness. LC. 9
Again, we hear that the Holy Spirit is the one at work in God’s Word, even as it is summarized for us in the catechism. In the coming days, I would encourage you to use the Creed in the way the catechism (as an operating manual of the Christian faith) recommends. In the section on Daily Prayers we are encouraged morning and evening to repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer before we add our own little prayer to the God who has revealed to us in His Word what He has done for us and how He treasures us.