Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Affirming the Apostles' Creed, by J.I. Packer

I recently received a copy of this marvelous little study book by J.I. Packer (published by Crossway Books which focuses entirely on the Apostles' Creed. This book is actually an excerpt of Packer's Growing in Christ which I had read long ago, but this version makes it easy for small groups to study the Creed.

What IS the Apostles' Creed? It is a straight forward statement of faith which was created by ancient believers which could easily identify them and affirm that they were, in fact, believers in Christ. Contrary to what the title of the Creed might lead you to believe, it was not penned by the twelve apostles, but was developed by others as early as the second century (possibly as late as the seventh century or sometime inbetween). It was a tool by which new Christians were taught and educated in the faith and which they recited typically at their baptism. It is still used in most reformed churches today wherein the congregation will recite these beliefs together:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church*; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

* the universal church of God on earth

This is a simple and yet profound statement of faith. In this book, Packer takes you line by line explaining in simple terms what the creed means and what statements the believer is making when they recite it.

As for using the creed, I think Packer's most profound statement in the book is as follows:

"The core of the Creed is its witness to the past, present and future of Jesus Christ: his birth, death, rising and ascension to the past; his reign now; and his coming at a future date to judge." (Page 105)

I grew up reciting this creed. It is not a creed that my present church family recites on a weekly basis, but I do believe it would behoove any Christian to give pause and study/memorize/learn to recite this Creed with some regularity. Nowadays it seems as if Christians are either living in the past with God (i.e., the Old Testament laws and bylaws in a strict and overbearing sense), in the present with God (i.e., God loves everyone for everything at all times and would never think of dealing with sin issues because He's just a super nice guy), or in the future with God (i.e., seeing what they think God sees and what they think God is going to do and acting on that without any basis in fact.). The Creed redirects focus to who God was, who God is and who God will be. And do remember that the statement was made that God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) To leave one part of Him out is not only a disservice but can lead to all sorts of heretical beliefs. It is important to remain grounded when studying and learning about who God is. Who He is matters. The Creed is a useful tool in reminding the individual believer of such and also unites believers when they make such a declaration in coporate worship.

This is a great book for small group studies or your personal devotional time. I found it to be a good refresher course and makes me feel a longing for corporate confession through an age-old Creed. I think the modern church has grown remiss in teaching a firm foundation. Scriptures first, of course (I'm not arguing for Creed over scripture) but the Creed is a mighty handy tool.

If you're interested in learning more about the words and meaning contained within the Creed, this is a great little book for you to read. It's a short 149 pages long and at the end of each chapter there are suggested Bible readings for further study, as well as questions to prompt thought and discussion. It's a worthy read and I recommend it.


Sherry said...

I wonder if this book would be good for my high school/jr. high student s to read through or study with me. We don't repeat creeds at all in our church, and I didn't grow up in a church that does so. However, I've come to appreciate the simplicity and directness of such a statement of faith.

Drafts for 5MfM said...
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Carrie said...

I would say so - YES! Packer is so straight forward and easy to comprehend. The size of this book is also equally appealing, esp. for a high schooler. I read Growing in Christ when I was in high school and it didn't hurt me or bend my brain in a painful way. This is just a quick and easier way to comprehend.

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