A Tool for Confessing the Faith AND Witnessing to Our Neighbors

The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest and shortest of the Church’s formalized creeds. It is possibly also the most familiar—at least to North American Christians. In the evangelical Lutheran tradition it is a deeply cherished treasure of the church and an integral part of her catechesis. Divided into three articles, it provides a short but profound confession of faith:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

Martin Luther saw the tremendous value of it and so implored its use in both his small and large catechisms, even noting that: “For as long as we live we shall have enough here in the Creed to preach and learn” (LC, Third Article, 70).

And to be sure, what he had to say about the creed has stood the test of time. His explanation of the creed has brought meaning to lives across epochal boundaries. Originally written to engage and encourage sixteenth century sinners with the Gospel, twenty-first century sinners are no less engaged and encouraged, not only in learning the faith, but in confessing that faith to their neighbors, as well as daily living that faith as a witness to others. Robert Kolb offers this assessment:

Luther’s treatment of the Apostles’ Creed offers a program for meeting our neighbors “where they are,” for engaging their formulations regarding what human life is all about. For, like all fallen human creatures, we and our contemporaries are on a pilgrimage through this life, longing to find home, wherever and whatever it might be. Today, as in every age, our spirits are restless, and Luther’s explanations to the article of the Creed lead their hearers to find rest in God. (“ ‘That I May Be His Own’ :The Anthropology of Luther’s Explanation of the Creed.” Concordia Journal. January, 1995, 29.)   

In short, Luther uses each article to describe three ways in which God’s “recreative word” has identified us as children of God. Each article takes a different starting point to unpack God’s love, goodness, and care for his human creatures. As Kolb reminds, they remain apt points to consider as we engage our neighbors in today’s world.

To Luther, the Apostles’ Creed is good news. It “brings pure grace and makes us righteous and acceptable to God” (LC, Third Article, 68). Where the 10 commandments show us God’s law, the Creed shows us God’s grace. Hence Luther ordered his small catechism in this way to contrast how the commandments “teach us what we ought to do,” while “the Creed tells us what God does for us and gives to us.” It was a design for preachers and pastors as much as it was for the head of each household. It also remains a readily available tool for us to use as we go out into our vocations and give witness to our neighbor.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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4 responses to “A Tool for Confessing the Faith AND Witnessing to Our Neighbors

  1. Pr Woodford,

    You say:

    It also remains a readily available tool for us to use as we go out into our
    vocations and give witness to our neighbor.

    How, exactly? I don’t quite see how the Apostles’ Creed would be used. Can you give me an example?

    • Rev. Louderback,

      Sure thing. In its simplest use, one could actually recite it to a person who asks them, “Hey what do you believe about life… or God… or spirituality?” Often times Christians clam up because they feel like they will not say the right thing or be able to express fully what it is they believe. The Apostles’ Creed can be a beginning point. Obviously, one may not want to speak it in such a formal or mundane way that their listener tunes them out. Rather, they could possibly use it to frame their answers to questions that others may have of them regarding what it is they believe. It is a simple short and concise tool to help the believer remain confident about what they believe, as well as help them keep things organized in their mind amid the nervousness that often comes when they talk to others about their faith.

      To break it down even further, one could use the 1st Article of the Creed to give expression to their belief in God as creator of the world, over against the belief of evolution or the big bang theory. A Christian could also use the 2nd article to summarize the specifics of their belief in Jesus Christ and what he has done for sinners, as well as to distinguish them (the Christian) from, say, a Mormon who says they believe in Jesus, but not in all the specifics the creed provides about Him, or from a Muslim, who affirms Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God or Savior. True, in this way the creed is being used in the apologetic sense, though that does not preclude it from going beyond a mere apologetic use. And finally, the 3rd Article can be used to help someone give the reason for the hope that they have that comes through their belief in the Holy Spirit (who gives them Jesus) and “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

      I am not advocating that people simply run around absentmindedly reciting the creed to those that they meet, but rather, use it, the actual words as well as its ordering, as a simple framework and tool that is readily available at a moment’s notice. The creed provides a believer the opportunity to confess their faith and give witness to their faith all in one. No, it is not the end all to be all, nor does it replace acts of service and love done in and through one’s vocation or outside their vocation. Rather, it is a simple, historic tool that Christians may not have ever considered using before.
      Hope that helps.

      As always, thanks for keeping me honest!

  2. I’ve done this many times, and taught others to do so as well. People don’t feel equipped to talk about their faith because they get tongue-tied. I remind them of how the creed – which they already know by heart – is a great place to start. And if you know your catechism well, you can also handle the comeback, “Oh, that’s a formulated statement, you’re just reciting words,” with the explanations of the articles. It helps if you can say them comfortably and conversationally, not like we usually do in church, very automatically and in monotone.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Sandra. I have for the last two weekends attended different District sponsored outreach “events”. The first outreach event last week was opened by a devotion from LSB for the morning. In the devotion, the third article of the creed was confessed and explained by Luther’s Small Catechism. It was wonderful, but hardly any mention otherwise the entire weekend after of the creed and how to use the creed for outreach. We have such treasures in the Church and its doctrine. it is time to use them. We won’t always have the words to say, but if we “same say”–confess the words given to us, then how can we go wrong.

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