All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Matt. 28: 18-20
I am troubled. For the past twenty years I have had the wonderful opportunity of leading Christian university students to Greece and Italy. During those twenty years I have asked students the same question, “How many of you know the Apostles’ Creed? The Nicene Creed?” Not many hands are raised, perhaps one or two. Some have a puzzled look, not sure that they have ever heard of the Apostles’ Creed, let alone the Nicene Creed. Through no fault of their own, the churches that most of them attend have abandoned the creeds in light of contemporary concerns, after all, the creeds are from the 4th century. Yet I am troubled that we are reaping the consequences and subsequent confusion about the nature of our God because we have neglected the historic creeds of the church that have served her well for over 1600 years.
In light of the concerns that the creeds have seen their day and are no longer relevant for the seeker-friendly, contemporary, technology driven, self-focused church, let me be so bold as to address three reason why the creeds need their place of prominence restored in our worship services. First, they inform us of who we worship. Second, they connect us with the wholeness of the Christian community. Third, they bear witness to the world about the nature of our God. Over the next three Daily Insights, we’ll focus on each of these benefits.
Who We Worship. At the heart of both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed is the Trinitarian nature of our God. “I believe in God the Father Almighty…I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” Our triune God is at the core of the creeds. We are not unitarian monotheist as are the followers of Allah in Islam. We do not take the position of the Mormons who refer to Christ as a created being. The creeds addressed both of these groups long before their time. The creeds assert that the God who has revealed himself in Scripture is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When we recite the creeds in worship, we are telling God who we know him to be—that we have received and accepted his self-revelation. Even more so, we are engaging in an act of worship when we acknowledge God’s divine nature—“You are Father Almighty…there is none like you. You are the Lord Jesus Christ…there is none like you. You are the Holy Spirit…there is none like you. You are our triune God…there is none like you. We worship you and you alone…there is none like you.”
It is because of the creeds Trinitarian nature that we pattern our worship so that each person of the Godhead is honored and praised. When we ignore the balance the creeds provide, we end up with lopsided worship. Dr. Lester Ruth, Research Professor of Christian Worship at Duke University has done a study1 on the top 25 Christian songs used in over 136,000 churches over 15 years and discovered that not one song referenced the Triune God, and only three songs explicitly mentioned all three persons of the Trinity. He also found that God the Father and the Holy Spirit have been marginalized in the great story of salvation as rather passive participants. Is it because we have forgotten the creeds? That we have put them on the shelf? A reading of the New Testament clearly presents the primary actor of our salvation as God the Father who acts through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to emphasis in our worship the triune God who is our Creator, Savior and Sustainer. Perhaps we need to recite the creeds in worship this coming Sunday. It might just be what the church needs! It might just be our truest act of worship!
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!