This summer I’m doing a sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed, drawing from Justo L. Gonzalez‘s book The Apostles’ Creed for Today, in an attempt to help the Creed make sense to our contemporary views. Some parts will be reconciled, some parts may have to be left out. But hopefully you’ll never read the Apostle’s Creed the same way again!
- Part I: I believe in God the Father Almighty…
Often we repeat the Creed saying things that sound so simple.
Of course we believe in God, maker of heaven and earth.
But during the time of the creed, that very phrase was hotly debated.
Do we really believe in the God who made heaven and earth?
You see, there was a very influential cleric named Marcion.
Marcion of Sinope was a second-century Christian theologian who was excommunicated by the Church. Why? Amongst other reasons, Marcion rejected the Hebrew Bible. Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms..all were someone else’s bible, not the Christian church’s bible.
So, why is this relevant? Why would we be talking about Marcion when we are talking about the phrase “We believe in God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth?”
- Where is the story where God creates the heaven and the earth that we read today?
- Where is the lineage of Jesus, Jesus’ ancestors found?
- Where is the definition of the Messiah found, the Messiah whom Jesus would become?
By claiming God was the Maker of Heaven and Earth, we are rejecting attempts to divorce Christianity from our Jewish brothers and sisters. In reality, and when we say the Creed, we are affirming our Jewish heritage. This is very important for us, but it was moreso important for those during the second century when the creed was written. With all the theories by Marcion and others, the church needed a compass to guide them through the storm. The Creed became that, and by affirming “God, Maker of Heaven and Earth” they were affirming their Jewish roots.
But the Creed is saying something else, something eternal, something that we still struggle with to this day.
Marcion claimed that God of Jesus was different than God of the Hebrew Bible. Marcion was influenced by gnostic writers who were his contemporaries, who said that all things material were bad and all things spiritual were good. Thus if the Hebrew Bible God created this world in which we are trapped, then the God of Jesus came to free us from enslavement. The one who traps us in the material prison can’t be the one who breaks us out! They must be different gods! The God of Jesus saves us from our earthly deaths….You see how both of them claimed that the material world could never be reconciled with God.
By saying God created both heaven and earth, the creed can be a safeguard against spiritualism, which means only the spiritual world is God’s concern and love. By saying God created both the heavens and the earth, they are saying all of creation is God’s concern.
But today, spiritualism is alive and well.
When a former pastor of mine was asked why the church turned a predominantly missions trip into an evangelism trip, he said these words:
“When we make the planet better, it is temporary.
When we save souls to Christ, it is eternal.”
To this day, I struggle with that statement. I’m sure some of you are shaking your head disagreeing that evangelism is better than missions. I’m sure some of you are nodding that evangelism is better than missions. But both of them, either valuing spiritual returns (spiritualism) or material returns (one understanding of materialism) over the other, are what the Creed is trying to change. If God is maker of heaven and earth, then anytime you care for the spiritual or material needs of people, you are doing the work of God.
What is most important is that we help people and care for Creation. In Genesis 1, we are given dominion over Creation. What we should do is match our gifts with the mission God is putting in front of us.
- If your gifts are with building and giving people a better quality of life, you are caring for Creation
- If your gifts are with sharing the Gospel, you are caring for Creation
- If your gifts are with prayer, praying for people even when you are not physically able to be with them, you are caring for Creation.
- If your gifts are with giving money, donating your gifts to make things happen, you are caring for Creation.
- If your gifts are with children, teaching and empowering them, then you are caring for Creation.
It doesn’t matter how you do it. What matters is if in that moment the recipient of your care feels the love of God. It doesn’t matter how they get there, it matters that one of their needs (material or spiritual) is being met. By helping others, we are caring for Creation.
Every action that cares for others is caring for God’s creation, and it is that holistic mission that God calls us to today.
Thoughts? This series is more in sermon form (even though I cut out a lot!) than the other series, but hopefully that won’t dissuade you from interacting with it!