Why Do We Have Creeds?

What kind of a foundation does a building contractor build before erecting a building? It all depends on what kind of building he’s putting up. Is it a playhouse for children? Or is he building a skyscraper?

The same rule applies when you’re building a Christian life. God has not called us to be starry-eyed sentimentalists, with our feet firmly planted in mid-air. God wants his children to live confidently, not to wobble through our lives somehow and finally to stumble out into the dark.

There are those today who prefer to believe that human beings are independent to God, that there is no supernatural being to whom we are accountable. Folks like that honestly believe that we determine what’s good for us and what’s bad, what’s true and what’s false.

The order of worship we follow when we gather with our fellow Christians each week includes a creed, a statement of what we believe – about God, and about life. Martin Luther once made the statement: “Every person has to do his own believing, just as every person has to do his own dying.” The Christian Church has three creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.

The best-known of the three – the one you may know by heart – is the Apostle’s Creed. The foundation for this creed was laid by Christ himself when he commissioned his disciples, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” From the earliest days of the Christian Church, candidates for baptism were required to make a public declaration of their faith. The Apostles’ Creed may have evolved from that public declaration of faith. Since this was a personal creed, the speaker spoke singularly, saying, “I believe . . .”

Several hundred years later the Nicene Creed was adopted by the Christian Church. (Nicea was a city in Turkey.) The Emperor Constantine convened a Council of the Christian Church to settle a controversy created by a teacher named Arius, who denied that Jesus is God. Arius taught that Jesus as the Son of God was created, not eternal like God the Father. Although the Nicene Creed was not used as a baptismal declaration, it specifically addresses the error of Arius. Every time we confess the Nicene Creed, we declare that Jesus is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God . . . of one being with the Father.” It is because this was a creed to be confessed by the whole church that we speak it with plurality, saying, “We believe . . .”

We don’t know who the author of the Athanasian Creed is, but it’s generally agreed that this creed is a couple hundred years younger than its two sisters. It’s much longer than the others. We therefore don’t use it regularly in our weekly worship services. But the Athanasian Creed offers a clear expression of the most basic truths of the Christian religion.

These three ancient creeds don’t make much sense to the three pounds of pinkish-gray jelly between our ears. Each of the three confesses that in one Godhead there are three distinct persons. Each of the three confesses that the Son of God became a human being to rescue lost sinners. Pretty mind-blowing stuff when you try to understand it!

These three creeds – Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian – were the ancient church’s way of putting its money where God’s mouth was.

What Are the Lutheran Confessions?

Lutherans have accepted nine historic confessions since the birth of the Lutheran Church in the 16th Century.  These confessions served as a witness for their time and are accepted because they accurately describe the Christian faith according to the Bible.  The Bible always comes first; confessions are a witness to what we as Christians or Lutherans believe.  The following is a short summary of those nine historic confessions.  You can find all of the Lutheran Confessions collected in a book called The Book of Concord.  The date of their writing is in parentheses.

Apostle’s Creed (ca. AD 100-200) A creed is a short statement of belief, named after the first word, credo, which translates to “I believe.”  It was an early Christian creed. Though probably not written by the Apostles themselves, it summarized the Apostle’s teachings.  Christian churches have been confessing the Apostle’s Creed in worship for centuries.

Nicene Creed (AD 325) This creed was formerly adopted by the Christian church to defend the teaching of the Triune God.  The Nicene Creed was named after the city in which it was written.  Christian churches have also been confessing the Nicene Creed in worship for centuries.

Athanasian Creed (ca. AD 450) This creed was named after St. Athanansius, who defended the teaching of the Trinity and the teaching of who Jesus is.  This creed is sometimes read on Christmas Day or Trinity Sunday.

The Augsburg Confession (1530) Presented in the German city of Augsburg, the Augsburg Confession was written by Lutheran churches to show the Catholic Church that they proclaimed the true Word of God.  The presentation of the Augsburg Confession marked the birth of the Lutheran Church.

Apology to the Augsburg Confession (1531) Contrary to what the name sounds like, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession was not written to say “sorry” for what the Lutherans had confessed, but to offer a further defense and explanation of the original Augsburg Confession.  Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s colleague, wrote this confession to refute charges made against the Lutherans against their beliefs.
Smalcald Articles (1537) Martin Luther is the primary author of this confession, written originally as a last will and testament of faith, fearing he would die at the time he wrote it.  The Smalcald Articles are named after the German town in which they were accepted.

Smalcald Articles (1537)  Martin Luther wrote these articles as a last will and testament at a point in his life when he thought he was nearing his death.  Although he lived on for a few years after this, the Smalcald Articles indicated for the Lutherans at the Council of Mantua items which they could or could not accept.

Small Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the “catechism,” a book of instruction so that parents could teach their children the basic truths of the Bible.  The Small Catechism includes the 10 Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the use of the Christian “Keys” (practicing forgiveness).

Large Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the Large Catechism as a fuller instruction for the faith of pastors, parents and teachers.

Formula of Concord (1577) Written in the generation after Martin Luther, this confession offered the most comprehensive overview of the Christian faith which Lutherans hold to.

Do Christians Have to Tithe?

In your question you use the words “have to.” These are words that express a forced motivation, an obligation. When a Christian gives any amount to the work of the church, it is done out of a sense of thankfulness and appreciation to God for all that he has done for us. A Christian gives to support the ministry of the church because he wants to, feels privileged to do so, not because he “has to.”

In the Old Testament Scriptures God gave his people different types of laws. One type of law was called “ceremonial”, which governed their worship life. These ceremonial laws were meant to keep Israel as a tight knit nation, until the Savior Jesus Christ came. Some of these ceremonial laws specified the outfits the priests would wear, the sacrifices, foods they would eat, the tithe, festivals and Sabbath days. When Jesus came and completed his ministry, these ceremonial laws were no longer necessary. Many of them were a like a shadow, prefiguring to the work Jesus Christ would accomplish.

As we look at the tithe, we see that it had a threefold purpose : 1) to support the Levites, 2) to support the Feasts, and 3) to support the less fortunate . . . all to remind God’s people of his presence and faithfulness.

In the New Testament Scriptures there is no mention of mandatory tithing as a principle for determining how much to give. The New Testament nowhere encourages the use of the tithe but does criticize those who use it self-righteously (Lk. 18:12). Although a Christian is free to use the tithe as a guide for himself, ten percent for some Christians may be giving well “beyond their power” while for others it represents far less than is possible according to the prosperity the Lord gives.

I believe that as we study both Scripture and history, it is clear that the tithe was a 10% “ruler” (and “price tag”) that was used in the past by God’s people to show gratitude and thanksgiving to their God, as well as being a means to support a program through which God and his ways were made more visible. Today, as Christians, we do not have to tithe. Rather, our Lord wants us to give a generous percentage of our income to his Kingdom work. We do this willingly, regularly and cheerfully.

The church just wants my money

You hear it expressed all the time. “All they talk about in church is money!” Usually the person who says that has other issues with churches and this one just happens to be the one that most often surfaces. And for sure, there may well be churches where money is all they talk about.

It generally makes people angry when they suspect that all the church wants from them is their money. For people who love Jesus and their Heavenly Father, however, it is just the opposite. They would get angry if the church would not talk about money! Money given in church is one way believers tell their God, “I love you!” Offerings are considered an opportunity and not an offense.

It is like a young man who buys his sweetheart a Christmas present. He spends the money because he wants to. He spends as much as he can…maybe even more than he thinks he should. He insists on it. It’s for “her” and he loves her. Don’t you get between that young man and his billfold when it comes to the present he wants to purchase to show his fiancée his love.

A long time ago some very poor people in Macedonia understood completely that their church was not just trying to get their money. We hear about them, “Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” We also hear that “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4) The church was just the place they wanted to be. It gave them the chance to say to their God, “I love you…We love you!”

The cattle on a thousand hills are the Lords. All of the gold at Fort Knox is his. Every dollar bill in your billfold is already his. But he gives you the chance to use the dollar bill to say to him, “I love you.” And it delights his heart when you do it because you are not giving him money but love. That is the currency that God who owns everything does not have until you give it to him.

The church doesn’t just want your money.

God wants your love.

What if my past church experience was bad?

What do I do?

Let’s try the naively optimistic answer: “Bad things don’t happen at church!” We could say that, but it just wouldn’t be true. I counseled a young woman who felt she was being run out of the church choir on purpose. I didn’t believe it could happen. Not at church! Turns out, that is exactly what was happening on purpose and in the church. Ouch!

Let’s try a more “Christian” response: “You will just have to forgive and forget.” We could say that, too, but know too well that it is “easier said than done.” When a man or a woman finds out their spouse has been unfaithful, forgiving and forgetting might be a lifetime struggle.

So what do I do? Try another popular approach; maybe someone has it worse than we do. It seems that somehow we find comfort knowing others have experienced worse pain than we have.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend this approach, but I will make one exceptional exception. Let’s go to “church” with Jesus and see what he did when confronted with a bad experience.

In the Luke 4, we see Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath Day Jesus read from Isaiah and declared himself to be the “anointed” one. Initially the town folks liked what they heard, but when Jesus told how they would reject him, we are told that they were “furious” and they “took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him down the cliff.” This is a bad church experience.

Or go to the gospel of Matthew 26. Here Jesus is called before the elders of the church in Jerusalem. When he declares that he is the “Christ, the Son of God” they “spit in his face . . . struck him with their fists . . . and slapped him.” Subsequently they turned him over to Roman authorities, lied about him, and pleaded that he be executed—which is what happened. This is a bad church experience.

So what did Jesus do? He kept going to church! That is, he kept striving to fulfill the will of God his Father. A bad church experience did not deter his worship, which was most clearly shown in His sacrificial and unconditional love for the sinners he came to save and in his obedience to the will of his Father.

Jesus had a better answer to our question. His answer is reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5:19we read: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

What do I do if my past church experience was bad? I look past sinners to Jesus, the Savior of sinners. I look at and embrace the message of reconciliation. Jesus will not hurt me, he has healed me—completely and forever. He has forgiven my sins, and he has forgotten them too. That radically changes my attitude and outlook.

Do I need church?

Baseball fans go to baseball games. Football fans go to football games. People belong to health clubs. People join churches. Why?

Fans attend games because they love the game. Being among a loud and boisterous home crowd conveys the excitement and fervor of the moment better than watching the game on television at home alone. Even gathered among a few friends at home is better than just watching the Super Bowl alone.

The whole purpose of Weight Watchers is to meet every week to offer one another encouragement in the fight against the bulge. Rejoicing with those who have made progress and comforting those who have had set backs is a prime reason for membership.

An individual can read the Bible alone, speak to the Lord in prayer alone, and sing praises to God alone. But the excitement of praising God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is so much better even with a few friends. Being with fellow believers to celebrate the victory our God has won for us over sin, death, and the devil is such an encouragement to us as we live our lives here on earth.

We as believers join a church because we as Christians are not meant for isolation. The devil comes looking to tempt us when we are alone. He knows it is easier to get us to despair, to worry, and to be discouraged when we are alone. The encouragement of fellow believers is a prime reason for having a church to call home.

One may feel at times that they don’t need the encouragement of others. The role God is playing in their life is good and they are happy. But another one of our roles as a believer is to serve one another in love. Our presence as part of a church is an encouragement to fellow believers. We can share how God is working in our lives, how we are comforted knowing He is in control of the world, how we have peace because we are forgiven for all we have done, and how we are sure of eternal life in heaven.

A piece of coal taken out of the fireplace and left to burn alone will soon grow cold. But those pieces of coal left together will burn bright and hot because of the coals around them. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

What is a Lutheran?

Lutherans get their name from Martin Luther, a man born in Germany in 1483. Luther was baptized and grew up as a member of the Catholic church. His leaders in the church gave Luther an assignment. He was to study and teach the Bible.

The Bible showed Luther that the church was not teaching God’s pure truth. The church was not teaching the Bible’s answer to this life-and-death question: How can I know that God loves me and forgives my sins?

Luther taught God’s answer to this question as he learned it from the Bible. As a result, he was put out of the Catholic church. Those who believed and confessed as Luther did were called “Lutherans” by their enemies. Christians who accept and teach what “Lutherans” taught call themselves “Lutheran” today. Some “Lutherans” no longer accept everything that Luther taught but still call themselves “Lutherans.”

How can I know that God loves me and forgives my sins?

The main topic Luther found in the Bible is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He is also the sinless son of the virgin Mary. Jesus lived a perfect life. He earned God’s love for the whole human race—for you, too. Jesus died a criminal’s death, nailed to a cross. He bore the whole punishment for the sins of the whole human race—for your sins, too. Jesus came out of the grave on the third day after he was crucified. He proved he’s God’s Son, the living Savior of the world—your Savior, too. He invites everyone to trust him.

Lutherans confess, as Luther did: we are saved by God’s grace alone. Forgiveness and eternal life are entirely a gift of God’s grace—or, undeserved love—earned by Jesus. We are saved through faith alone, not by anything we do. Faith—trusting Jesus—is God’s free gift, too. How can we know all this is true? From the Bible, God’s word; alone, not on the authority of any church or human teacher.

The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).