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. Continue reading An Ancient Doorway to the Mystery of God→
I was slightly taken aback by the suggestion of using the Apostles’ Creed in our worship services, especially by the words “the holy catholic church.” Since when do we as Evangelical Christians pronounce our “belief” in the holy Catholic Church?
I agree that we need to follow Jesus’ words and “not merely listen to the word…do what it says,” but the Apostles’ Creed is not God’s Word. To return to our roots would be to return to the Word of God as given to us by the apostles. Why only go back a few hundred years? Why not go back to the beginning?
I am tired of the being referred to as “Anabaptist,” since the only reason for this is that the Catholic Church missed what Jesus said; and they feared for their children and began to baptize them as infants and made many other rules and regulations that Jesus did not require of them. Then when individuals began to read God’s Word they saw that one must choose to follow Jesus, knowingly make such a commitment; and to do that you could not be a baby.
These individuals went back to God’s Word. They read what Jesus said and began the road of following Jesus. My desire is that we all go back to reading God’s Word, listening to the Word, and then doing what it says. No rules, no labels. Just followers of Jesus.
For the past year the EMC community has gathered through The Messenger to think about the Apostles’ Creed—a great time of grounding ourselves in the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Now, how can we use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource for our churches and apply it in our individual lives?
We need to do the hard work of applying what we learn to our lives. As James reminds us,“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
In this article you will hopefully find both inspiring and useful ideas, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let us all know what you are doing in your churches!
Ideas for the Worship Service
Consider adding a congregational confession of the Apostles’ Creed to your worship service. Historically, many Christian churches have recited the Apostles’ Creed as a regular part of the weekly worship service. Other churches confess the Apostles’ Creed monthly, quarterly, or during a special service. We recommend finding a practice that works best for your local context.
Recitation during a service can be an effective way to notice the many different voices in your congregation. Instead of always reciting the Apostles’ Creed together, ask an individual, family, or group to recite it for the rest of the congregation. If you have multiple languages in your church, this would be a great time to hear them. Ask a child or a senior to share.
Another way of incorporating the Creed into a worship service is to sing it. There are a few versions of the Creed put to music such as This I believe (The Creed) by Hillsong and We Believe by the Newsboys.There are a plethora of songs that encompass the various aspects of the Creed.A service could be divided into sections, each with part of the creed recited and then sung. Alternatively, an entire series of services could be devoted to the Creed, each Sunday focusing on a section.
The Apostles’ Creed lends itself naturally to corporate prayer. As confessional prayer: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Father, we confess that we are disobedient children. Help us to trust You and lean on Your everlasting arms.” Or pastoral prayer: “Come again to judge the living and the dead. God, we pray that people would come to know You. We believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints. Father, we pray for the global church….” Silence and reflection between the Creed and corresponding prayer would be particularly useful.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe 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 to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Ideas for Church Life
Sermon Series/ Curriculum
The earliest Anabaptists would frequently structure their teachings and discipleship efforts around the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed expressed and represented the essence of Christian faith and doctrine. It was not uncommon for many early Anabaptists to memorize the Apostles’ Creed by heart.
What if we returned to our historic roots and began to use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource once again for our churches? Pastors, are you looking for sermon material? Consider using the Apostles’ Creed for your next sermon series! It is a great resource for laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith.
Sunday School teachers, why not spend twelve weeks unpacking each section of the Creed? A great resource for commentary would be our recent Messenger series. The magazine’s articles could be read out loud and then discussed in small groups in an older classroom setting.
Is your church planning a retreat weekend? The Apostles’ Creed could be a great resource for a weekend of study and reflection.
Art/ Prayer Room
Do you have a talented artist in your midst? Ask them to create a series of works (be it paintings, dance, song) around the Creed to share with the congregation in a service, around the church building, or on a special evening or weekend.
Art inspired by one or various sections of the Creed could be used in a prayer room to create stations for specific contemplation and worship. This is a great way to again encourage your less vocal congregants to get involved and share their gifts with the wider church body.
Teach the Children
Few things are as silly and delightful in church as children’s worship time. Teaching the Creed to our children is important in so many ways. Sunday School fills their heads with stories, but rarely are they taught the foundational truths of our faith in clear language. Speak it together, but also explain what it is we are saying.
Teach your older elementary and teens the theological terms (i.e., theories of atonement) so that they can enjoy sounding impressive! We do not have a catechism, but the Creed can function in a similar way and help children to understand what we agree about amidst all that we so enjoy debating.
Make it fun! Who knew the Creed could be a rap? Or recited in a variety of silly voices? Have the children create art or skits to share with the congregation. It is so important that our children contribute to our regular church life.
Putting the articles from the last year away; write your own. This could be done individually or in a small Bible study setting. Grab your Bible, a handy concordance (there are lots online), and get to work! What passages of Scripture back up the various parts of the Creed? What does God show us about Himself in these passages? “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
God commanded the ancient Israelites to plant the Torah in both their hearts and their minds.“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut.11:18-20).
Even now, Christians in many parts of the world where the Bible is restricted still rely on memorizing great swaths of Scripture. Here in the West, we can pull up BibleGateway or grab Strong’s Concordance anytime we are looking for a verse, but that does not help God’s words to grow and bloom in our hearts.
While the Creed is not Scripture, it is useful to memorize as a guide to the Scriptures.Go further and memorize verses to correspond to each section of the Creed.If we are to be deeply rooted, we must put the words of God and the tenets of our faith not only on our laptops, but also in our hearts.
The Apostles’ Creed is perfectly designed for use in a congregational worship setting. The early church would often confess the Apostles’ Creed together before receiving communion, administering baptism, or as a public act of worship. This helped the church articulate and confess the faith once delivered.
To confess the Creed together with fellow believers is more than just mindlessly reciting a list of dusty facts. It becomes an act of worship when it is connected to loving God with our heart, soul, mind, strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves. A worshipful use of the Creed should connect to the deepest part of our being and the heart of the Almighty God.
We, as the Worship Committee of the EMC, pray that the Apostles’ Creed will become a
great resource to help enrich your local church in the years to come!
Kimberly Muehling (Fort Garry) and Pastor Paul Walker (Roseisle) serve on the EMC Worship Committee under the authority of the Board of Church Ministries. Jessica Wichers (EFC Steinbach) is the committee’s third member.
“I believe . . . in life everlasting.” The present Christian Church is waiting for the realization of our future hope, or are we?
The book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament Scriptures encourages us to be a people who wait. In Hab. 2:3 it says, “For the revelation waits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
I believe the Lord is speaking to Habakkuk about “life everlasting.” It is arriving, but it has not arrived yet! So we wait.
How do we speak of something that is not here yet? Perhaps little, and certainly not in terms of rigid dogma. We should think and speak with some caution, seeking to keep an open mind. We need to continue a careful reading of Scripture and not jump to quick conclusions—especially since the conclusion is not here yet!
But “life everlasting” has begun. We speak of it in the words of George Eldon Ladd as “inaugurated eschatology.” However, what we have so far is only the beginning, as important as that is (Luke 4:16-21).
I want to write about this eternal life in terms of New Testament teaching on a new heaven and a new earth. I will make reference to a number of texts and make comments on each one.
I also want to acknowledge the writings of N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton. They have been instrumental in awaking in me the anticipation of “life everlasting.”
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This passage speaks about what is known as the final state. The disappearance of the sea suggests the removal of evil and its influence. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is the post-resurrection Church, the bride of Christ, coming down out of heaven to the earth.
God himself will be with the people. Death, mourning, tears, and pain have passed away, along with the old order of things. Everything is being made new.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Here is Peter, shortly after Pentecost, preaching the good news of Jesus. The recently ascended Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything. Here, “life everlasting” is about the restoration of “everything.”
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Here in this amazing salvation text, beginning in verse three, Paul says some of the most startling words in the New Testament. God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Salvation involves the task of unifying everything that has been fragmented or alienated, thereby bringing oneness and wholeness and healing! How comprehensive is that?!
This is the nature of “life everlasting.”
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Paul does not limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to humanity. It speaks of peacemaking and reconciliation as all inclusive as possible in heaven and on earth!
2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
The text has the language of judgment and fire. But notice “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” It seems the fire will have a cleansing or purifying purpose. This suggests that the new heaven and new earth refer to renewal and restoration, rather than replacement and starting again from scratch. I think the language of destruction does not apply to the creation, but to the judgment of sin.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Here we have the imagery of labour pains in childbirth and the imagery of the Israelites groaning in the slavery under Pharaoh. These images are applied to the human condition, but moving well beyond that to the entire created order.
This is creation itself experiencing the liberation and freedom from the bondage brought on by the sin and rebellion of sinful humanity. It’s another salvation story of God, repairing what was broken in all creation, along with the redemption of the children of God.
Since the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, followed by the heartbreaking results of human sin and autonomy in chapters 3 and following, it has always been God’s intention, motivated by His matchless love and mercy, to see heaven and earth come together, so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven!This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced at His first coming and it will be fulfilled and completed when He returns!
Then we can joyfully and gratefully repeat the words spoken at creation: “It is good; it is very good!”
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
David Thiessen (BA, BTh, MCS) has done a lifetime of pastoral ministry together with his wife Merna. He served as the EMC Conference Pastor from 2000 to 2011. While he is toying with retirement, he is currently the part-time interim pastor at Mennville EMC in Manitoba’s Interlake.
What happens after you die? We might say, “You go to heaven when you die.” But that leads to other questions.
What is heaven like? There is no shortage of speculations. Some people imagine the Pearly Gates of heaven suspended high in the clouds. Those who are welcomed past the Pearly Gates are treated to bright lights, smooth Jazz, halos, and harps.
Others think of the lyrics of vacating this earth: “To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.” And still others struggle with any sort of vision of life after death.
How will we ever find clarity and understanding? As a starting point, we should resist the urge to say too little and too much about life after death. If we say too little, we risk missing out on the truth; if we say too much, we risk distorting the message of hope.
This is why we need to recapture a fresh vision of what both the Creeds and Scriptures teach us on life after death, and life after life after death. Faithfulness to Scripture and Creed can help us navigate the rough waters of confusion and caricature.
What Do Scripture and Creed Teach Us?
For starters, they teach the resurrection of the dead as the ultimate hope of the Redeemed. Our bodies will be glorified and recreated in the same manner that Jesus’ crucified body rose from the grave on Easter morning. This is not a disembodied soul going to heaven when you die. The resurrection of the body is properly not about life after death, but life after life after death. It is the promise of New Creation.
Now you might think, “How does that fit in with going to heaven when you die?” Well, while heaven may be a temporary place for the soul, heaven is not the ultimate destiny of the redeemed. As N. T. Wright notes, “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.” Let’s explore this further.
The Nature of Heaven
Heaven was created alongside earth in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will be “recreated” alongside the earth for union at the end of the age (Rev. 21-22). An ancient Jewish thinking saw Heaven as a physical place above the earth, and the abode of God. It’s perhaps best to view Heaven as not so much a physical location, but a realm and a dimension that exists both alongside and separate from ours in a mysterious interlocking relationship.
Heaven is a place where believers go in death. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he writes “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), or speaks of his desire to “be with Christ” upon death (Phil. 1:23).
While heaven is the dwelling place for the soul, the weight of Scripture points to an eventual future embodied resurrection of the dead, and not a disembodied existence apart from the earth. Heaven is a temporary resting place for the souls of the saints. Heaven and Earth will one day be joined as one in the culmination of the New Creation. John, the writer of Revelation, describes such a union with his description of the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to launch the new age (Rev. 21-22).
The Biblical Hope of Resurrection
The resurrection of body does not imply a disembodied soul escaping to heaven for eternity. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying, ‘going to heaven when you die’. It is not about the ‘life after death’ as such. Rather, it’s way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead. Resurrection is a second-stage postmortem life: ‘life after life after death’.”
The Creed says that our bodies will become like Christ’s resurrected body. It is a bold reminder that the New Creation that was launched on Easter morning, as Jesus burst forth from the tomb, will no longer be the “not yet” for those who wait upon the Lord. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).
The resurrection of the body is God creating for us physical, glorified, and immortal bodies that can participate in the New Creation in which there is no longer any death or decay. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This will take place when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead at the end of this age (Is. 65-66, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Rev. 20-22).
Does the Resurrection of the Body Matter?
Firstly, it teaches us that God has not given up on the mission of rescue and renewal. The biblical hope boldly proclaims God has been in the process of putting the world to rights, bringing order to chaos, and establishing shalom to our violent disordered world. The resurrection of the body is God’s supreme act of rescue from the curse of death.
Christmas reminds us of this! We are reminded that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to rescue and renew us. God assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom. 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal us of the curse.
As the Christmas carol Joy to the World declares, “He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found!” Christmas reminds us that Christ came to overthrow the curse of death by entering our cursedness
and overcoming it in the power of resurrection. We who are united with Christ, our rescuer, now await our final rescue through the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Secondly, it reminds that this world matters. Unlike the Gnostic inclination to devalue the material world around us, Christians confess that this is our Father’s world. A belief in the resurrection of the body is also a belief in our restored relationship to rightly rule and reign with Christ over God’s good creation.
This is why the Apostle Paul so closely connects the liberation of creation to the redemption of the children of God in Romans 8. When humans are put right, all of creation will be put right. God’s rescue project is more than just for individuals, but for all of creation.
This has huge implications for how we treat our Father’s world today. God’s work of New Creation has already been inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ, and in us through our baptisms. We as Christians ought to begin to live now in this age, the “not yet” promise of the age to come. This should challenge us to adjust our actions and attitudes towards the material world.
Lastly, it is a blessed hope for those whose are grieving the loss of their health. Our current bodies are wasting away, corruptible, and susceptible to disease and destruction. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people whose bodies were in various stages of giving out on them. The resurrection of the body reminds us that though we may grieve our current bodily failings, our future resurrected bodies will not fail us nor hinder us. Instead, let us look forward to the day where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.
This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.
The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.
Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.
In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.
Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.
The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.
What About Repentance?
That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.
But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”
At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.
What about Restoration?
For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.
Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing
The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.
The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.
In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a Decision
You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.
This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.
This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.
We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.
Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,
counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference