Whom Do We Trust: The Use of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in Worship
This essay briefly explains historical origin and the usefulness of corporately professing creeds in Christian worship, and it offers biblical and historical reasons why the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds are especially well-suited for liturgical use. It concludes by offering answers to the most frequently asked questions about these two creeds, namely, the meaning of these creedal phrases: (1) Christ “descended into hell,” and (2) the “holy catholic church,” or the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”
Liturgy Literacy at Central
Q: Why do we confess our faith with the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed?
A: The Christian Church formulated the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed in the early centuries of the Church’s history for use in corporate worship, baptism, and Christian education. They are based soundly upon biblical revelation, and they are the most ancient and universally received summaries of the foundational content of the Christian faith. In the liturgy, we confess these creeds not merely as a list of facts or ideas that we affirm but more as an expression of our personal trust in God in response to God’s call to renew our commitment to him in the reading and preaching of Scripture. We are saying not simply “I think that…” but rather, “I put my trust in God the Father…and in Jesus Christ…[and] in the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, these creeds are an oath of covenant loyalty to the Triune God, a renewal and remembrance of our baptism into Christ and the covenant. By confessing these ancient and universally accepted creeds, we also confess our unity with the whole catholic (i.e., universal) Christian Church throughout history and across different denominational lines.
Q: Why do we confess our faith in God with the Apostles’ Creed?
A: The Christian church formulated the core of the Apostles’ Creed in the early centuries of the church’s history for use in baptism, Christian education, and, eventually, corporate worship. It is based soundly upon biblical revelation, and it is one of the most ancient and universally received summaries of the most foundational truths of the Christian faith. Thus, by confessing this creed, we also confess our unity with the whole catholic (i.e., universal) Christian church throughout history and across different denominational lines. In the liturgy, we confess these and other creeds not merely as a list of facts or ideas that we affirm but more as an expression of our personal trust in God. We are saying not simply “I think that…” but rather, “I put my trust in God the Father…and in Jesus Christ…[and] in the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, creeds are an oath of loyalty to the Triune God and a renewal and remembrance of our baptism into Christ and our covenant with God.
Q: Why do we offer ourselves to God with money and song after the sermon?
A: In the offering, we respond to God by offering our whole lives to God with renewed faith, love, gratitude, and commitment. The offering is a privileged opportunity to support the mission of God through his church in a very concrete and practical way. We do this not only by offering our money to God but also our praise in song sung by the choir or by the congregation as a whole. The songs we sing to respond to God are expressions of our love, commitment, and submission to God. In other words, the offering is a tangible act of giving our whole lives to the Lord and to his mission in the world. This act has roots in the Old Testament pattern of corporate worship where a tribute offering of grain and wine was given as a regular part of worship (part of which was used to support the priests financially). This offering was a token of the congregation’s labor and a tangible response of renewed commitment to God. In the New Testament, the church continued this pattern of giving in worship to care for the financial needs of their leaders (1 Cor. 9) and the poor and needy both inside and outside the church (e.g. Acts 2:44-45, 32-37; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 6:18-19).
Q: Why do we pray together for the church and the world?
A: Praying for the needs of the church and the world is a way we respond to God’s word together and put his word into action. Our petitions seek to apply God’s word in our local context and also express our complete dependence upon God to provide what we need to do so. This practice has always played an important part of the worship of God’s people. In the Old Testament order of worship, the offering that expressed renewed commitment to God (the ascension or burnt offering) included incense (Lev. 2:15-16; 9:17), which is a symbol of prayer (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4). Israel prayed together by singing the psalms, and the early church also prayed when gathered for worship (Acts 2:42, 4:23-31; 1 Tim. 2:1-8). Jesus is now the one who leads us in prayer by interceding for us and with us before the Father (Heb. 7:25). No matter who voices these prayers aloud, we are all participants together with Jesus in this prayer and ought to focus on praying actively with whoever leads us. When we bring the needs of the church and the world before God in prayer, we are exercising our collective role as a kingdom of priests who represent the world before God and seek God’s blessing for the world (Gen. 12:1-3; Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Rev. 1:6, 5:10). We stand to pray because this is a sign of active response and reverence in prayer (Neh. 9:2, 4; 2 Chron. 20:5,13; Matt. 6:5; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11, 13).
Q: Why do we pray the Lord’s Prayer together at the conclusion of our prayers for the church and the world?
A: The Lord’s Prayer is the model for prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples when they asked to learn how to pray (Matt. 6:5-15). Praying this prayer together expresses the corporate nature of the whole time of prayer (thus, we pray “Our Father…”). The central petitions in the prayer for the honoring of God’s name in the world, the doing of his will, and the coming of the fullness of his kingdom are a fitting summary of our prayers for the church and the world. The repetition of this prayer each week helps us memorize this important prayer (which Jesus gave as a paradigm for all prayer), and the memorization of this fixed form teaches our children how to pray and facilitates the participation of younger children in prayer in the liturgy. Finally, praying the Lord’s Prayer connects us to the ancient tradition of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which has regularly prayed the Lord’s Prayer in corporate worship since at least the fourth century A.D.
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