Christian Creeds are important. They should represent the core tenets of our Faith. They should encapsulate the revealed Biblical concepts we wish to express about our lives as Christ followers. The purpose of a creed is to act as a yardstick of correct belief, or orthodoxy.
But what happens when they don’t really represent some or even one of the most important ideas expressed through the Bible? What happens when the orthodoxy expressed does not properly inform our orthopraxy?
Such is what I recently discovered about the Apostle's Creed.
I grew up Roman Catholic reciting this creed regularly. Learning it at a young age. I could repeat it rote, as I did again this past week for the first time in many years. Our Perspectives instructor, Dr.Don Richardson, used it to make a point of how the Church has too often missed one of the most important ideas expressed throughout the Bible.
It was one of those moments when you say to yourself, “ah ha, that explains it!”
Take a look at the text of the Apostle's Creed. Do you see something missing? I had never really thought about it before that night when Dr. Richardson turned the spotlight on it. I would wager that those who recite it regularly as part of their denominational liturgy don’t really think much about these words.
The Apostle's Creed wasn’t written until about 390AD (dates vary). The Creed certainly highlights some basic attributes about Jesus: how he was born, how he died, that he rose again, ascended into heaven, and that he will come again to judge all mankind. It also speaks to what we receive by faith – the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of our bodies, and life everlasting.
One thing missing in the text is the divinity of Jesus Christ, but we might assume that the Church Fathers implied this. Also missing is any reference to the Trinity, but the three Persons of the Godhead are represented. No reference is made to the Bible but a list of books to be included in the Scriptures was not developed until the Council of Hippo in 393AD.
However an important part of the story, of the Gospels, is clearly missing. Have you found it yet? The missing link, if you will? Think with me here....
....how do we get from…"He will come to judge the living and the dead”
To the “I believe"….?”
What is missing from the Apostles Creed is the Gospel mission, the proclamation of the Good News that links the “living and the dead” to the “I believe.”
More to the point, what is completely missing is the work that Jesus started after his resurrection – the mission of the Church to get to the “I believe” - for "all nations."
The writers of the Apostle's Creed fly right past the end of the Gospels after the resurrection and speed headlong into the ascension. Reading it, without thinking about it as I did when I was a boy, that millions do regularly even today, without mention of the "Great Commission" is the great omission.
The writers of the Creed go right from "He rose again from the grave" to "He ascended into heaven."
Jesus didn’t just ascend into heaven after his resurrection, as the Apostle’s Creed makes it appear. The resurrected Jesus still had some very vital things to tell us, and he did so over a period of 40 days. This 40 day period began the process that changed the world. Every Gospel writer captured something of this time that followed the resurrection.
In Matthew we find the resurrected Jesus commissioning his followers to continue the work he had begun – in his authority and in the power of his presence. (Matthew28:18-20). Jesus gives his disciples the assignment to “make disciples of all nations” - the Great Commission.
At the end of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus told his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
In Luke 24, Jesus appears to his disciples giving them their assignment to preach, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins…to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47).
In John 20, Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). Jesus understood that he was sent on a mission for “all nations” (Mark 13:10) and sent his disciples out on that same mission.
Without this vital part of the ministry of Jesus, we miss the very reason he came – to establish his mission (Matthew 12:17-21), put in place his mechanism to achieve his end (Matthew 16:18) and establish the methodology (John 8:31) by which the Good News would go to “all nations.”
Without this part of what we believe about Jesus, we miss the very reason he actually did come. Jesus didn’t come to simply provide for our personal salvation. He did do that. But Jesus came to establish his Kingdom (Matthew 24:14).
Luke writes in Acts 1:3, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Jesus said more about the Kingdom than any other subject.
The question that needs to be asked is why did a creed, attributed to the Apostles, leave this out from what Christians would say they believe about our risen Lord and Savior? The Apostles, including Paul, certainly understood this mission but that is for another post.
The result of this exclusion, for the work of world evangelization and the mission endeavor that all Christ followers are called to - as his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) - may well be at least one compelling reason for Church history being what it is. Could it be the reason that for centuries the Kingdom advanced slowly at best, sometimes digressing and often at the point of a sword instead of by the Good News for “all nations”?
Jesus came and accomplished his mission (John 17:4) of initiating a movement that would change the world, for the sake of “all nations.” Under the Apostles and later Paul’s leadership, the church expanded quickly, growing exponentially from a small band of early adopters to 25 million in the first three centuries of Church history. The Apostles understood the mission they had been given but at some point the movement lost focus on Jesus command to “make disciples of all nations.”
Another problem I see with the profession of the Apostle’s Creed is that the focus is anthropocentric, self focused – what will God do for me. When Jesus taught us to pray, he spoke of "our Father" and calls us to be God and “other” focused so that his Kingdom expands to “every nation, tribe and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9).
The story is told of William Carey, one of the pioneers of the modern mission movement, who understood that something was missing from the profession of the Christian faith of his time. Carey stood before his church leadership excited about his discovery about what Jesus had commissioned his church to do. Mr. Ryland, the very man who had baptized Carey, quickly interrupted him and said, "Sit down, young man, sit down and be still. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting either you or me."
Is something still missing from the profession of our Christian faith in the 21st Century? Yes! If you haven't found your place in the Great Commission - you are!
Today, there may be as many as 409,000 foreign missionaries out of a global Christian population of 2.18 billion. That is one missionary out of every 5,330 Christians or 0.018% of all Christians serving the mission Jesus gave the Church full-time. The great omission continues to this very day.
The casualty of a Church turned inward from her task, leaving the assignment Jesus gave us unfinished, are the billions who still have not heard the Gospel – not once.
How much influence did this great omission in the Apostle's Creed play toward that end? It clearly can be seen in Mr. Ryland’s response and the lives of the vast majority of Christians today.
There are other theological issues with this famous creed but for me this is the most important – for Living Sent Today.
I’ll blog more about this topic in future posts. Please feel free to share this post with others or share your thoughts. All comments are moderated.