Friday, September 21, 2012

Creation and the Christian Story

Other than the Star Wars saga, which, in terms of publication, began in the middle of the story, stories that deal with entire world views tend to begin at the beginning. The Christian faith is a comprehensive world view. While it resonates primarily with believers, it discusses issues which are of interest to everyone, at least on some level. Unless you truly are of the sort that lives for today, forgets about yesterday, and hopes for tomorrow, every now and then, you ponder your roots.

Of course, Lutherans believe that the book of Genesis contains the record of creation. The first documents, the Creeds, declare that God is the “maker of Heaven and Earth.” Article I of the Augsburg Confession, “Concerning God,” likewise describes God as the “creator and preserver of all visible and invisible things.” The Confession specifically rejects the idea that there are two eternal beings, one good and the other evil, who were together responsible for creation. It also rejects random chance and macro-evolution as the mechanism of creation.

The Smalcald Articles are another confessional document. This document was written by Luther, himself, and was intended to represent Lutheran doctrine at a council called by Pope Paul III. Article I, speaking of the nature of God, echoes the Nicene Creed in declaring the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be the “one God, Who created heaven and earth, etc.”

The Catechisms were designed to be teaching documents. The Small Catechism was designed for use by local pastors and preachers, but also for use by the heads of households. The Large Catechism was actually a collection of sermons, re-edited by Luther, on the same topics. Thus, in its teaching on the First Article of the Nicene Creed, it explains the first line, confessing that “God has created me together with all that exists.” In addition, Lutherans believe that God is not an “absentee landlord” who shows no interest in His creation. Instead, God preserves everything that pertains to His creation, supplying all of our creature needs, and protecting us from evil.

In summary, the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 do not provide the explanation for the sorrow, suffering, and death that is now understood to be the normal part of existence. We are not naïve, for we are in this world, where we experience each of those things many times, either personally, or vicariously. We confess, however, that God is not the author of these things. We also believe that the Bible explains why bad things happen, and why death and decay are part of life. In the next chapter, you will see what that explanation is.

“Who needs Creeds and Confessions?”

In what do you believe? I mean, if someone asked you about your spirituality, or your faith, or your reason for going to church, what do you say? Most of us do the things that we do for a reason, and I suspect that, for the average person, that reason is rather utilitarian. In other words, we do it because of the perceived benefit to us. Ultimately, as a song from the movie, "Car Wash" went, "You've got to believe in something...."

The early Christian Church developed statements which defined what we believe. They are called "Creeds" or "Symbols," and they lay out the essentials of what it means to be an orthodox ("right-believing") Christian, as opposed to being a heterodox (heretical) one. Pretty much all of the historic branches of Christianity accept the first three universal or ecumenical creeds, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Every Christian church either directly confesses these creeds, or relies upon the concepts defined by those creeds for their own "statement of faith."

The Apostles' Creed, which reached its current form by the eighth century, was developed from what was known as the "Old Roman Creed," which came into being during the third century. The Nicene Creed, developed as the Church wrestled with questions regarding the nature of Christ during the fourth century, was the defense against Arian attempts to portray Christ as a superior creature, but not God. The Athanasian Creed a Latin expression of faith, originated in southern France during the fifth century. Each of these creeds, along with other creedal or confessional statements, came into being to deal with what was perceived to be a concrete threat to Christian unity in teaching.

Creeds have been used as teaching tools, as baptismal confessions, as well as statements for the defense of the faith. It's probably easier, for example, to memorize the Nicene Creed than it is to memorize all of the passages of Scripture that address the issues contained within it, for most of us, and it's easier to put in your pocket. Here, as an example of what I mean, is a copy of the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, seen and unseen.

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all the ages, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father; through whom all things were made. For us human beings and for our salvation, he came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became a human being. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death, and was buried. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into the heavens and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. There shall be no end to His kingdom.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-Giver, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke through the Prophets.

In one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.”

Maybe your church confesses a creed; maybe it holds to the position, "No creed but Christ; no belief but the Bible." Either way, you have an idea of what it means to be a Christian, and what it does not mean. That, in essence, is what a creed does for us. We can try to "re-invent the wheel," creating a statement of what we believe based on our own insights and issues, or we can join with the generations of Christians stretching back to the third and fourth centuries, reflecting a faith that goes back even further. Otherwise, people can define your faith for you, as many try to do, usually in ways we don't like. For the fledgling Lutheran Church, the inclusion of these creeds within the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, or, Defense, conveyed that they were not making a radical departure from what it meant to be a Christian and part of the Universal Church. Martin Luther argued that, contrary to being heretical, his teachings were in perfect alignment with the earliest teachings of the Church, and that it was Rome that had strayed, thus requiring faithful ministers to call her to account for her good, and for the benefit of believers.

In a larger sense, in fact, that is the message of the entirety of the Augsburg Confessions. Philipp Melanchthon hoped that Rome would understand, and accept, what the Lutheran pastors and civic leaders were saying, and would embrace these positions. Sadly, that did not happen, and the division between the two groups hardened, to the point that the Lutheran believers were forced to choose between obedience to Rome, and obedience to the Gospel.

Why Write This Book?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther first became a historical figure because he wanted to clear something up. In 1517, ten years after he was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood, he felt compelled to question the claims that were being made with regard to a popular religious practice known as “indulgences.” Defined by the Catholic Church as “a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin,” during that year, Pope Leo X had declared them for those who financially supported the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

Whether Rome intended to say that one could “buy one’s way out of punishment,” or bribe God through His representative, the Pope, this is how these indulgences came to be understood. People purchased indulgences, not only for themselves, but for their departed loved ones. Luther’s challenge to this practice was, for him, the first step of a journey that would lead him and others to seek the reformation of what had become a carnal institution to its divine spiritual purpose. Luther understood that the Church was not simply a hierarchical institution that existed to dispense grace to those who sought peace with God. Through his reading of the Scriptures, Luther saw that God gathered together those who, in response to the free promise of grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, believing the Good News.

Over the next decades, Luther, along with such men as Philipp Melanchthon, Jakob Andraea, Martin Chemnitz, and Nickolaus Selnecker, taught, preached, and wrote what would become the essential doctrines of the Evangelical or Lutheran faith. By 1580, the Book of Concord, containing the Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’ Creed, Nico-Constantinopolitan Creed, and Athanasian Creed), the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Smalcald Articles (1537), the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), Luther's Small and Large Catechisms (1529), and the Formula of Concord (1577), gave to both friend and foe, Catholic, Protestant, and the curious, a clear, pure exposition of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian.

This book discusses the main themes of the Lutheran understanding of Christianity, as explained by these documents. Along the way, we’ll look at the history of what began as a dispute between a man and his religious superiors about a point of doctrine, but was, in God’s hands, a pruning away of false, unbiblical notions about what it means to love God, have a relationship with God, and serve God and His Church in His world. Hopefully, you will understand what makes Lutheranism unique, as well as how, although the Lutheran Church has existed for 500 years, the faith which she preaches reaches back to the Apostle’s doctrine, and reaches forward to this moment. By God’s help, may you become both a hearer, and a doer, of His Word, and may this book help encourage you in the Faith.

My Book Project...

Everyone has something that they do well. Whether its a singular athleticism that vaults one above the ranks of myriads of high school ball players into the pros, an unerring ability to see what people desire and find a way to supply it, or an amazing gift of expression, we look at some people and express our admiration in the one way that matters i American society - we PAY them!

Since I was a child, I knew that I would not be likely to follow in Ernie Bank's footsteps, nor was I likely to continue my father's stellar work with Neu View Disposal Services. For the former, my arm strength was not enough to catch the eye of the Chicago Cubs, and for the latter, I just did not know enough about vehicle maintenance to keep those trucks running. There was something that I did reasonably well, though. I could put words together in ways that others found interesting, even enjoyable.

I have indulged this talent in two ways, so far. Going to school to get a degree has allowed me to write on a wide variety of subjects, and my professors seemed to have a good time reading my work, at least, based upon the grades they gave me. The rise of social media, such as blogging sites and the ubiquitous Facebook, has given me a place to comment, explore, and create. Unfortunately, neither of those venues, however, generates that form of approval that makes it worth the time that I enjoy spending (smile).

I am about to present a project that I would like to turn into a book. I would like your thoughts about it. If it works for you, then I will offer it to everyone else. Thus, I am, as it were, giving you an opportunity to invest in a major life decision. How often do you get to do something like that?

Of course, as the saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility." I want your honest assessment. Please don't make light of this, and, on the other end of the spectrum, don't blow smoke up my... well, you know. Just give me your honest thoughts, and I'll take it from there.