October 25, 2015
I'm doing something quite different this morning. This is the Sunday that we recognize the significant history of the reformation. The reformation, briefly—it's hard to summarize such a big event briefly—so I'll quote Wikipedia of all things, the reformation “was the 16th century schism from the Catholic Church in Europe initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and other early Protestant Reformers.” It marked the beginning of the Protestant churches. There were two main tracks-Lutheranism and the Reformed.
Perhaps more history than some would like, perhaps too superficial a history for others. But as we seek to answer the question that is my sermon title, who are we?: as the church, as Presbyterians and particularly as Christians, a big part of that is our history. And a big part of our history is the writing of creeds. We are familiar with some creeds, the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed are two creeds we recite in worship, they are printed in our hymnals-pg 14 and 15. Creeds are statements of belief written at a certain time in history usually to answer a controversy in the church. We Presbyterians have a book of confessions which is part of our constitution. It includes the various creeds the church has deemed as doctrine; which means the approved teachings of the church that help explain the scriptures. In recognition of Reformation Sunday, the central offices of the Presbyterian Church USA combined parts of our creeds to make a litany. It is included as an insert in your bulletin. What I want us to do is read it responsively paragraph by paragraph and I'll discuss the content of each passage we read. I will read the first line and you will respond with the bold. Note, the italics is the name of the creed or statement of faith from which we are sharing-we won't read that aloud.
Nicene Creed: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church,
Apostles’ Creed: the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints.
These lines have caused a lot of controversy through the years. And it comes because of the word catholic-note it is written with a small “c”. We need to understand that the word comes from the Greek (katholikos) meaning universal. When we say “one holy catholic church”, it is the church of all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord-universal. I should point out, the very first Creed of the Christian church was simply--Jesus is Lord. The Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed developed over the first seveeral century of the Christian era. They note that the faith of the church is universal; and apostolic in that there is an unbroken link back to the apostles. And the communion of saints has nothing to do with saints canonized by the church but recognizes, as the bible does, that all believers in Jesus are saints. And in that communion, we are connected spiritually to one another, both here on earth and through eternity.
Scots Confession: This Kirk is catholic, that is, universal, because it contains the chosen of all ages, of all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews or be they of the Gentiles, who have communion and society with God the Father, and with the Son, Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
Heidelberg Catechism: We believe that, from the beginning to the end of the world, and from among the whole human race, the Son of God, by his Spirit and his Word, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself, in the unity of the true faith, a congregation chosen for eternal life.
First, I should explain for Presbyterians who are new—within the last 40 years or so, that Kirk is Scottish for church—we Presbyterians have a Scottish genealogy and the Scots confession reiterates what we've said, the church is universal, made up of those chosen as sons and daughters of God through Christ. We are reminded of the Trinity here,which was in the earlier creeds as well. And the Heidelberg confirms that it is the Son of God who chooses and preserves his children.
Second Helvetic Confession: The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world; a communion of all saints, namely, of those who truly know
and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers in all the benefits which are freely offered through Christ.
Westminster Confession of Faith: The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel, consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God.
Helvitic is Latin for Swiss...written in Switzerland and accepted as a reformed creed. The last 4 creeds we've read from, and the Larger Catechism which is next, were all written within 100 years of the reformation. They were busy sorting out details for a new church finding new ways to understand God while continuing belief in the traditions they found worthy of the new faith. These two paragraphs continue the strong doctrine of the universal church, founded on true faith in Jesus Christ.
Larger Catechism: The visible church has the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ, to all members of it, in the ministry of the gospel, testifying that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.
Theological Declaration of Barmen: The church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.
Offers of grace by Christ...excluding none that will come unto him. We've talked the last couple of weeks about coming to Christ as a child and that means, among other things, being very receptive to receiving gifts; here the gift of grace. Jesus does not exclude any who comes to him in faith and receives the gift of grace. The church's job; our job, is to deliver the message of free grace to the world. The reformation was largely to correct the idea that we somehow earn that grace, or pay for it. All who seek will find...God's grace given through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Confession of 1967: The church confesses its faith when it bears a present witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ has set the pattern for the church’s mission. The church follows this pattern in the form of its life and in the method of its action. So to live and serve is to confess Christ as Lord.
Brief Statement of Faith: With believers in every time and place we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The confession of 1967 reiterates the mission of the church and her members: bearing witness to God's grace in Jesus Christ; living a life of service confesses our faith in Jesus as Lord. And our final statement is adapted from Romans 8: 38-39. Nothing includes this list from Paul, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth.” Jesus is with us and when we are God's in Christ, we are his for eternity.
Through the creeds, we've read and talked a lot about the church, its mission, its message, its methods. Its been around a long time. There is a priest I listen to fairly often on the radio. He likes to tell his listeners that if we could go back in time to the first century church, it would look just like today's Catholic Mass. I doubt if he's right, and I don't think it would look a great deal like what we are doing here today or like the mega-churches either. I believe it would resemble a church in North Korea or China. A small gathering sharing the word, the bread and the cup, the prayers. In Acts we read, Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” A goal of the reformation was to get us back to those basics.
But know this: the church doesn't save any of us. Only the grace of Christ does that; we are messengers as the church, receivers of the message as needed. The reformation was about getting the message right. And that message is to help everyone to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Simple, and yet we let a lot of stuff interfere with that simple message. We as the church should be asking each member inside our walls this simple question: do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? If not, it is certainly time to see me or another trusted person who does. That's what makes us who we are, Christians. Servants of the Lord. Saved by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus. This knowledge can reform our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit! Amen.
One other gift that grew out of the reformation was the return to to congregational signing of psalms , hymns and spiritual songs. Our opening hymn was written by Martin Luther. John Calvin believed that only psalms should be sung; we don't carry that tradition on, but our next two hymns are both Psalms set to music.
Our God, Our Help in Ages Past 210 PH.