The most recent Star Wars movie, Rogue One, was, in my opinion, phenomenal. I won’t spoil anything for you, but the premise of the movie was basically the opening crawl to the original Star Wars (subtitled A New Hope some years later). It provided some backstory to the action. However, anyone who had never seen Star Wars: A New Hope and the rest of the original trilogy might not have the same positive reaction to Rogue One as I did. For one, the ending of Rogue One is rather depressing…if you don’t know what happens immediately following in A New Hope. If you do know what happens next, the ending to Rogue One is incredibly…hopeful.
In a way, the relation of the Apostles’ Creed to the Ten Commandments is very similar. If all you had were the Ten Commandments, you would be rather depressed, and worse, condemned, because the Ten Commandments describe what God expects of us. What’s more, the Commandments routinely inform us that we can’t keep God’s demands perfectly. There is no salvation through keeping the Law. The Ten Commandments leave us…without hope.
But immediately following the Ten Commandments in our Catechism is the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed, as Luther explained it, “sets forth to us everything we must expect and receive from God.” The Creed answers the Commandments, especially the First Commandment, which teaches us to have no other gods than the true God and leaves us wondering who this God is. The Creed’s answer is beautiful and succinct, a summary of the Gospel: everything God is and everything God has done to save us.
In a big picture way, this is why the Creed is important. But equally important is everything taught in the Creed. Lutherans have generally divided it into three articles, but this “trilogy” doesn’t mean there are only three teachings of Scripture. Luther commented, “But for the learned and those who are somewhat advanced, these three articles may all be expanded and divided into as many parts as there are words.”
OUT OF CONTEXT
It has become common among many Christian denominations to reject creeds, at least historic and corporate creeds. These churches falsely assume that such creeds somehow supplant the authority of the Bible and therefore hinge a person’s personal faith upon tradition rather than Scripture.
However, a creed, whether written down or spoken, is two things at the same time: one, a summary of what something teaches, and two, a confession of what someone believes. The Apostles’ Creed is a true summary of what the Bible teaches, and so as Lutherans, because we believe what the Bible teaches and because the Creed teaches nothing contrary to the Bible, we personally confess and believe the Creed.
The Creed is nothing more than an echoing back of the Gospel. The Greek word catechism, κατηχέω, from which we get our word “echo,” literally means to “echo back” or to orally transmit teachings exactly from one mind to another, losing nothing in transmission. The language of the Creed helps us retain and understand what the Bible teaches.
THE CREED’S OWN CONTEXT
The first article of the Creed summarizes God the Father’s special activity of creation (meaning that this act is not exclusive to the First Person of the Trinity only, but that He is the primary Actor along with the Second and Third Persons). Luther commented on this article in his Large Catechism: “For here we see how the Father has given Himself to us, together with all creation, and has most richly provided for us in this life. We see that He has overwhelmed us with unspeakable, eternal treasures by His Son and the Holy Spirit…”
The second article begins to speak of these eternal treasures and summarizes the special activity of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ: redemption. Redemption is how we have been brought from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, all by the work of Jesus paying for our sins with His own precious blood. On the point of redemption, Luther explained that “the entire Gospel that we preach is based on this point, that we properly understand this article as that upon which our salvation and all our happiness rests. It is so rich and complete that we can never learn it fully.”
Of course, we would never be able to learn or believe it at all except by the power of the Holy Spirit. The third article summarizes the special activity of the Third Person, the Holy Spirit: sanctification. The Holy Spirit sanctifies or makes us holy through the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Again, Luther wrote about the joy this article gives: “So that this treasure [of redemption] might not stay buried, but be received and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed. In the Word He has the Holy Spirit bring this treasure home and make it our own. Therefore, sanctifying is just bringing us to Christ so we receive this good…”
Together, the three articles of the Creed focus our attention and call us to believe who God is and everything He has done for our salvation. Through everything God has done, we are now freed from the condemnation of the Law, from the burden and guilt that the Ten Commandments place on us. To reject any of the three articles of the Creed would be to return to the Law and deny the comfort revealed in what God has done for us in the Gospel. Because of everything echoed in the Creed, we now have…a new hope.
Reverend Jeff Hendrix
Calvary Lutheran Church, Ulen, MN
Grace Lutheran Church, Crookston, MN