Friday, June 23, 2006

Where Is Justification by Faith Alone in the Creed?

Going from the Presbyterian (PCA) church to the Lutheran church (LCMS), one of the things that was different in worship was the regular recital of the creed. This was an interesting thing, in which we say things like "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins" and so on. But one thing I wondered about is, "Where's the distinctive Evangelical doctrine in this?" If it isn't there, does that mean the "evangelical" part of our teaching is somehow secondary or less important than the "catholic" part?

It occurred to me a while ago, that the evangelical teaching, that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law is right there in the beginning of the creed, and repeated more than any other article: it's there in the "I believe . . ."

Remember the creed has two uses, one old, primary, and vital, and the other recent, secondary, and not so important. The primary use is as a baptismal creed, in which we confess our faith as we are baptised, "Do you believe in God the father almighty . . . ? , Do you believe in Jesus Christ . . . ?, Do you believe in the Holy Spirit . . ?" "Yes I believe in God the father . . . , Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ . . . , Yes I believe in the Holy Spirit . . ." By believing these things (directly or with sponsors speaking for us), we show that we do indeed accept as true the promise of the baptism we are about to receive, and so receive what the creed concludes with: "the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

This is how baptismal creeds started, with affirmation of that "Jesus is Lord" (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3) and slowly responded to emerging issues. Already in the apostolic era, baptism in the name of the Jesus and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were two possibilities (cf. Acts 19:5 and Mat. 28:19) with the latter prevailing. As the trinitarian baptismal formula prevailed, so did the trinitarian creed, already foreshadowed in places like 2 Cor. 13:14, Eph. 4:4-6 (in reverse order) and 1 Peter 1:2, prevail . By the third century a creed like this was being used:

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh.

Compared to this, the use of the creed in the divine service is recent and secondary. As told by Dix, its origin is all too typical: the Monophysites in Egypt, stung by accusations from the Chalcedonians that they were heretics, in the late fifth century began adding the Nicene creed into their regular liturgy as if to prove, "See, we're not heretics; if we were how could we so boldly confess the creed?" Of course once the Monophysites had upped the ante, the orthodox Chalcedonians could no longer refuse to say it themselves, and the rest is history.

Thus creed as an indicative statement, a description to others of the faith I have, is always secondary to the creed as the baptismal response of belief in the facts of redemption. Believe these things, and you have them. We say "I believe" and not "I repent" or "I will amend my life" or "I will rededicate myself to Jesus."

But what about the other question that precedes baptism: "Do you renounce the Devil and all his works?" "I do renounce them." Isn't that a work? Doesn't that show that a work is condition of baptism, which is the promise of salvation?

The answer lies in what is "renunciation" -- is it a work? Is it a work on behalf of IU, for example, for me to declare, I support IU and renounce Purdue and all its boilermaking? Not in normal usage. Rather, renouncing Purdue is the precondition for then doing works for IU (attending games, cheering, and so on). Receiving the promise of baptism involves knowledge (of what the promise involves), assent (to what is promise), and faith (that I will get what has been promised from this source only). Renouncing the devil is simply the logical inverse of saying that Jesus Christ is our Lord. You can't believe that Jesus is our Lord, without disbelieving that Satan is our Lord. Likewise you cannot believe that Jesus promises you the "forgiveness of sins" unless you also believe that He has the authority to say what is sin and what is not, that is to say what is a work of the Devil and what is a work of God the Father. Renouncing the Devil's works is simply the inverse of accepting God's definition of what is sin and what isn't.

How good of a subject will I be of my new Lord? How good will my works be? How pure will my service be? These are good questions, but unlike the renunciation of the Devil they have nothing to do with the validity of the baptismal promise, or of my faith in the truth of the promise, the truth of the Lordship of Jesus, and in the fact that what He declares to be sin, really is sin.

The creed can be, and sometimes must be, used as a test, and indicative statement -- "Here's what I believe, what do you believe?" But such a usage is merely derivative from its first and greatest use as our baptismal confession.

"I believe . . ." and because this "I believe . . ." involves full knowledge, believing means "I renounce . . ." And by so renouncing and by so believing, I have what is promised: "the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Amen.

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