Convention 2019 One of Four
by Layton Friesen
All the Church needs to do, finally, is make it to Heaven. We are migrants wandering this world—travelling to the city where we have been promised supper. How will we finally reach this heavenly feast? To know the answer is to know what it means to be simply Christian and to know what unites the Church.
We follow Jesus up a steep path. We imitate saints who have taken this pilgrimage before us. We follow the ancient book given to us by God and read it as the apostles taught us. And this traveling company will eventually find unity around the heavenly table in the presence of God. The EMC is being united by this already. We will be fully united by it at the end of the path.
Right now you and I are hardly in shape to sit at that heavenly table. We harbour hatred, grudges, injustice and stupid habits that would make us immediately quarrel with other folks around that table. We need a long gracious regimen of repentance, suffering, learning, and finally judgment.
The Apostles’ Creed
The Apostles’ Creed is the faith of Christ’s apostles condensed to one good map. It is treasured by all the major Christian churches because it describes the ancient trail-guide to Heaven the apostles saw in the scriptures.
Now you may be thinking, “We can’t be serious. Is Friesen saying we need to parrot a dusty, crusty, musty list of doctrines in order to find the path to the kingdom of Heaven?” It’s not just a list of doctrines. It does describe the historic faith of the church: I can’t call myself a Christian if I reject these beliefs. But let me explain what doctrine is for Christians. Doctrine is a God-given, Church-perceived knowledge that is a doorway into the mystery of the ungraspable, indescribable God.
Here’s an analogy. Alan is falling in love with Nicole. One day Nicole says, “Alan, there is something you need to know about me that is hugely important. My birthday is on June 3, and that is also the day my mother died, giving birth to me. My birthday means much more to me than birthdays mean to most people.”
Now what if Alan replied, “I love you, and yeah, sure, your birthday is on August 3th or whatever you said, but do we have to base our love on these dry dusty facts? Is that important really? I want to talk to you and kiss you, but frankly I don’t care about these dates and facts and stuff.”
I hope you are thinking, I hope he never sees Nicole again because he doesn’t deserve love. By sharing with him this knowledge, Nicole has given him a precious doorway into her life, into the mystery that is Nicole. If he ignores this “knowledge” of her birthday does he really care about her as a person?
This is why the Church has loved and defended doctrine. The apostles handed over to the Church these vital, providential doorways into the personal life of God. God has shared these inner secrets of His life and actions, through the apostle’s teaching and the age-long experience of the Church so that we might know God in a deep, authentic way, attuned to who God actually is. To have this ageless knowledge resonating in our bones is to be travelling towards God, via an ancient path given us by the apostles.
The Apostles’ Creed is structured by the three Persons of the Trinity. The Trinity is a pathway given by God by which we approach God. We come to the Father, up the path opened by Jesus Christ, carried by the power of the Spirit.
First, God is Father, almighty, and creator of heaven and earth. This world we walk through is a creation given by our strong Father to shape us for life with Him. Creation is not just stuff to be used at our own whim. Its specific shapes and forms were designed by the Father to school us in what it means to be persons who love. To live and love in creation is to learn about desire, work, service, hospitality, sacrifice, worship and justice. Creation is a lovingly designed school training us for the heavenly feast. Marriage between man and woman is a good example of how creation schools us for Heaven.
Second, at the centre of the creed is a story, the adventure of Jesus. It’s the incredible account of how the Father sent his Son to invade creation as a human and fight a way back to the heavenly country. If God would blaze a trail through all the sin, devilry and weariness of the world there would be a safe trail his brothers and sisters could follow.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus was a human like us but let us not be fooled—He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Here is a man we cannot manage or predict by saying, “We know his village.” Jesus comes from beyond the world and is God.
But what harrowing defeat was his victory. On this path to glory he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. Here we see the whole human curse of sin cloaked in the acts of Pilate, cowardly, conniving, and corrupt, lurching haplessly toward crucifying and burying Jesus.
But the hopelessness of sin displayed on the cross becomes the most exalted hope the race has seen. When Jesus stood from the grave, all our sickly flesh had been left in hell where it belonged, and there he stood, the champion of Life, now a Human reigning with the Father in heaven. Our Warrior made it through the evil thicket! One like us has ascended to Heaven! Now any who take that trail make it too.
As He who blazed the only path through this evil thicket, Jesus has been appointed judge of the living and the dead. Every action and thought is weighed, every man, woman and child confronted, every institution, ruler, and policy exposed before the Lord of the earth, and according to Romans 2:6, “He will repay according to each one’s deeds.”
But finally, third: who will guide me along this Christ-trodden trail? Who will sustain me, saddled as I am with my unique sin? This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and the Holy Christian Church is born. This is the great caravan of those who have left all to follow Jesus, walking forward now with the song of the apostles on their lips.
Along this road we are vexed by sin that so easily tangles and weighs us down. When I cry to Jesus in despair, finally sick and tired of these hobbles, the Holy Spirit brings me personally into the achievement of the cross. The obedience, love and mutual surrender between the Father and the Son become my own. This is freedom.
The Spirit applies the forgiveness of sin to my life—so that when I die and am buried like Jesus was buried, when all of my earthly ambition has collapsed and I am left a dead corpse, I will be raised like Jesus to life everlasting, in communion with God and the church.
And then we shall be home with God. We do arrive! By the resurrection of the body we come to life everlasting.
Be fiercely in love with the ancient faith of these lines, fierce to defend them, and fierce to throw our lives into proclaiming them. In 2 Timothy 1:13 the apostle tells us, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
If we are together on this trail blazed by Christ, the EMC is and will be united. That’s all it takes. We live and love together because we are simply Christian on this Way. We are united as we join ranks on the same path to God’s country, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Layton Friesen, PhD, is the EMC’s conference pastor and was the 2019 convention speaker in Picture Butte, Alta. This series is based on his convention sermons. Layton lives in Winnipeg, Man., with his wife Glenda and their two young adult children.