Notes on the Liturgy #13 – The Creed

December 22nd, 2008 Post by

(One of the goals of Brothers of John the Steadfast is to train the Brothers in good practice and theology. This article is one in a series that teaches about the liturgy.

These articles were initially intended to be put into bulletins or read during the service to educate the laity on the different parts of the service. They were therefore purposefully made short.

Notes on the Liturgy #13 — The Creed

“No creed but the Bible.” Perhaps you have heard something like that before and wondered why Lutherans and other Christians use creeds in the Divine Service. A wonderful answer to that question, is to use another question: Why not use them!? If another Christian ever asks you that question, recite one of the creeds to them, and ask then what is it about that creed that they would object to. We Lutherans boldly confess “Scripture alone!” We do not place creeds on the same authority as Scripture, but they become important for us because they teach what the Scriptures teach. Throughout history people have twisted the Bible. Thus, creeds become important tools for confessing the orthodox (“right teaching”) doctrine of Scripture. They say, “Here we stand! This is what the Word teaches! This is what we reject!”

Speaking of pastors, Luther states they have two duties, “feed the sheep and ward off the wolves.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm, 529.14 Kolb (click here, then scroll down to paragraph 14); Acts 20:25-31, II Timothy 3:16) That is, the pastor must teach the Word purely and also condemn false doctrine. This is what the creeds do for Lutherans. In Lutheran Worship there are three ecumenical creeds–Nicene (pg. 141), Apostle’s (pg. 142), and Athanasian Creed (pg. 134). They are called “ecumenical” because they are accepted by many Christians throughout the world. All three creeds teach the doctrine of the Trinity. Note how the Nicene & Apostle’s Creed follow a similar outline based on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These Creeds are ancient. The Nicene Creed began to be formed at a church council in Nicea, Turkey in 325 AD as a response to specific heresies that were invading the church. The Apostle’s Creed dates to at least the early 2nd century after Christ, and it gained its name because it confesses the faith as the apostles taught it, not because they specifically wrote it. The Athanasian Creed appears in what is now Southern France in the 400’s, but no one knows who the author is even though it was named after Athanasius. It too was developed to address specific heresies of the time, and it is typically used only on Holy Trinity Sunday because of its length. We do not confess “modern” creeds written anew every Sunday and neglect the confessions of the past. Because the ecumenical creeds are built on Scripture, they are timeless. The age of these creeds remind us that we do not confess them alone. We are part of a mighty army of believers marching from of old and yet we are one church that confesses the faith “with angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven.” (L. Rast, Lutheran Witness, June 2000, pg 22).

Previous Notes on the Liturgy —
Introduction
Invocation
Confession
Absolution
Introit, Psalm or Hymn
Kyrie and Gloria
Salutation
Collect
Readings
Alleluia Verse and other responses
The Hymn and Hymns
The Sermon
The Creeds

You may find all these by looking at our Regular Column on the Explanation of the Divine Service category or by using the shortcut http://steadfastlutherans.org/liturgy.

These notes were originally written in 2001 by Pastor David Oberdieck and have been edited. Thanks to Pastor Mathey for improvements to this segment.






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  1. December 22nd, 2008 at 08:48 | #1

    “We do not confess “modern” creeds written anew every Sunday and neglect the confessions of the past.”

    Unfortunately, many LCMS churches today do confess new and different creeds. A popular one that surfaces this time of year in many Ablaze! churches is Dave & Barb Anderson’s “Christmas Creed”. Pastors defend these neo-Creeds by saying they are just paraphrases of the Creeds and point to song paraphrases such as Luther’s which have been approved for use by the church. Others take a post-modern approach and deconstruct the issue via a nomenclature shift: “No, we’re not not confessing a creed, we’re just affirming our faith.”

    The LCMS convention in 1998 passed a memorial against such practices, and the church officialy reaffirmed our confessional stance that we only confess the three ecumencial creeds. But that resolution is still ignored and many District Presidents don’t care to exert any authority over pastors who ignore our confessional position on this issue.

    To be sure, there are subtelies here. We confess our faith when we sing the Te Deum. One of the chief benefits of orthodox hymns is that they repeat and strengthen our confession. Indeed, the very act of hymn singing is an act of faith. Faith sings! But the ecumenical Creeds are more than that: they are a liturgical pledge of allegiance to the faith by which we are saved, and so should not be tinkered with for the sake of novelty and relevance.

    My upcoming “Not Your Grandfathers’ Church” column will be about a visit to a congregation this summer which has the following practice: an ecumentical creed at their “traditional” service, a newfandgled “affirmation of faith” at their “blended” service, and no creed at all at their “contemporary” service.

    And before “Martin Luther” or someone of his ilk logs on to nitpick, I’ll go ahead and point out that the “contemporary” service did have the Lord’s Supper. (Which you received as you walked back down one of the side aisles on the way back from coming up to the foot of the stage by the band and putting your offering in the plate.) They weren’t having some sort of daily office like Matins (i.e. prayer & preaching), but a type of Divine Serivce and so, yes, a Creed should have been confessed.

  2. Pr. M. Mathey
    December 23rd, 2008 at 01:54 | #2

    Thanks for some very good points, Phillip. It never ceases to amaze me that people believe that they can somehow improve on something like one of the ecumenical creeds which has stood the test of time for more than 1000 years. I can’t think of any other way to describe it than arrogance.

    As far as the offering taken with communion goes, I actually learned recently that that was a common practice in congregations at some point in our Synod’s recent history (60 or 70 years ago). It was especially common in poorer congregations where the pastor often paid for the elements out of his own pocket, and the offering was taken as a way to defer the cost for him. Obviously that is no longer necessary today, but I thought it was an ironic footnote to your comment.

    Thanks again!

  3. Marcy
    December 24th, 2008 at 08:24 | #3

    Do not be fooled. Taking the offering at communion is done for one reason only – it saves time!!!

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