I am currently commenting on the articles of the Apostle’s Creed. This is for my benefit as much as anything. These remarks are organized only because they are following the outline of the creed. So while they are not systematic, I hope they are not rambling either! I’m giving myself a refresher course and you’re invited to come along. And as you do I trust these few words may contribute something to your understanding of what it is to have faith in the God of Jesus.
Today I want to quote at length from an article written by German theologian Hans Conzleman in which he describes a narrowing of the Christian message that has become normative for many. Then, a few comments on the article of the creed for today. Conzleman’s observations, written in the 1960’s, could have just as easily been written yesterday:
“In public opinion the Christian message has been largely narrowed down to three points:
First of all, there is a God, a higher being. This is not an exclusive or original Christian idea, and it is doubtful whether it is worth offering one’s head for it.
Secondly, man possesses an immortal soul. We may consider this to be a beautiful, uplifting, and profound thought, in any case, it is surely not Christian. There is not even a hint of it in the Bible or in the Creed; in fact it is excluded by faith in the resurrection of the dead. The Christian profession of faith says that man is wholly subject to death because he has fallen into sin, and that he gains eternal salvation by being declared innocent in the judgment of God.
Thirdly, another element of average religiosity is the spiritual freedom and moral responsibility of man. This is not a peculiarly Christian notion either. As true as it is that I am responsible for my actions, it is just as clear that Christianity teaches that man has lost his freedom. But as we have said, these uncomfortable aspects of faith are coated in the average Christian consciousness with the conviction that God is a “loving God” and that everything will come out all right after death – provided that one has taken the trouble to end one’s life as a decent person.”
Given this bleached out view of the faith, it’s no wonder the idea of Christ returning to “judge the living and the dead” has lost any real impact for millions of Christians. Oh, I do not doubt for one minute that such a view serves the generosity of our reason quite nicely. But such a view also fails, and fails miserably, to take God, the Scriptures or even ourselves with appropriate seriousness. If your life is not worth being judged, it’s not worth much.
In ancient times, the person who held the position on the right hand side of the throne was what we might call the “action person” who saw to it the commands of the sovereign were carried out. Just so does the Creed confess Jesus. God in Christ Jesus speaks and acts through word and sacrament, bridging past and present, bringing God’s sovereign word of judgment and mercy to bear on every moment. When the New testament speaks of God putting all things under the footstool of Christ, this is what it means.
It also means that the measure of our lives is not taken by the measures of the world. However we have used or abused life’s energies and resources, the assessment of how we have done is not in our hands. By His Cross and Resurrection, Christ Jesus has gained the right to be the measure of our lives. “No one comes to the Father, except by me”, He said. Here is a narrowing that brings the value of our lives and the One who judges into stark relief.
For faith this is Good news. For if Christ is to judge that means in the final Judgment Jesus will have no second thoughts about forgiveness. The freedom that enables us to stand bare before Him now will be perfected. For that freedom is defined by Him who pleaded for our forgiveness from the Cross and continues to intercede for us. St. Paul said it like this in Romans 8:
“31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our lord.”
Tomorrow: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”