The pastor says, Amen, the sermon has reached its conclusion and you get to your feet, rubbing the grogginess from your eyes. Your mouth almost involuntarily begins to utter the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. I believe in...”. you continue speaking the words of the Apostles Creed in a monotonous voice, but your mind wanders to plans for lunch, afternoon naps, and preparations for the upcoming week. You focus back in again, …. “the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into...” now you’re distracted by the crying baby on the other side of church. “Why don’t those parents take their child out?” you think to yourself. After an unnoticeable headshake you focus back to the closing words …. “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” Does that scene sound familiar?
How many times has this happened to you in a church service? Maybe a better question is, do you find the creeds to be an important part of worship? After trying your hardest to listen to a twenty minute sermon, do you find yourself zoning out while reciting the Apostles, Nicene, and once a year, the Athanasian Creed? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to point the finger at anyone, because I have also found myself in this very scene. But how does this happen? How could I be mulling over the decision of whether to eat out or have leftovers for lunch when I am in the middle of confessing the Christian faith that is nearest and dearest to my heart? The truth is, the Creeds are a sign of who and what we are. They mark us, distinguishing friend and foe.
The 12th chapter of the book of Judges is a great illustration of this. In this chapter, the men of Ephraim crossed to the east side of Jordan to fight against Jephthah and the men of Gilead. Jephthah and the Gileadites ended up winning the battle, so the survivors of Ephraim tried to retreat back to their own territory on the west side of the Jordan. But whenever an Ephraimite requested safe passage across the Jordan River, the men of Gilead would ask: Are you an Ephraimite? If the frightened Ephraimite said, “No,” the men of Gilead would say: “Alright, prove it! Say Shibboleth.”
You see, the men of Ephraim had an accent which prevented them from properly pronouncing the “sh” sound. So instead of saying Shibboleth, they would say Sibboleth- literally a dead giveaway. 42,000 Ephraimites met their deaths on the banks of the Jordan River because they couldn’t say the one word that would mark them as friend instead of foe, Shibboleth. We can view the creeds as our Shibboleths. The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds remind us of the unity we have with our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith. They help us distinguish between a friend who believes in the triune God, and a foe who could lead us astray.
Years ago, a former professor of mine told the story of a Spaniard explorer named Pedro de Serrano. During one of his expeditions, Serrano’s ship sank. He was the only one to escape to a remote island. After years of surviving alone, Serrano’s clothes had rotted away to nothing, his beard and hair had grown long, his skin was covered in mud to protect him from the sun. In the 16th century, any ship passing by would have considered the island to be inhabited by demons at the sight of this man, and stayed away. Finally, a vessel drew within earshot of Serrano’s island. Because Serrano knew how he looked, he began shouting at the top of his lungs, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth!” It worked. Serrano was rescued because of his Shibboleth. The men on that ship knew this wasn’t a demon. He was a Christian.
Creeds matter. They accurately echo what the Bible teaches; they still mark friend and foe. The Creeds are a precious opportunity for each of us to confess before our fellow brothers and sisters the common Christian faith which we hold dearest to our hearts.
Blessings on your summer months as you continue to treasure the faith you hold in common with your fellow believers.
Pastor Andrew Stuebs