Sometime about two years ago, I was asked (politely) to explain why the Lutheran church felt it was necessary to read “creeds”, and mainly the “Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athenasian Creed”. At the time, I never really had a response to his question, and took the easy way and said, “Oh they’re just confessions of our faith”, to which he replied, “Oh well my church believes in DEEDS before CREEDS”. At the time, I had no quick comeback to his sanctamonious response, because it sounded rather enticing to my ears. “What is a creed good for anyway?! We just stand up and read it, and then sit back down, parrot talk, that’s what it is”; until recently I had the incident stored in my head locked safely away, but today it surfaced while I read through Luther’s explanation of the Apostle’s Creed, and today I have a proper response to my friend. By the way, Isn’t that how it always is? You never know what to say until the moment has long passed. Never the less, I have my response.
Let me analyze his motto of “Deeds before creeds”. Deeds could mean anything really; acts of kindness towards the ones we love, and especially the ones we “hate”, or deeds could be seen as work righteousness. Meaning, my deeds buy me favor. Either way, his motto is completely out of order.
“Creed” on the other hand is taken from the latin word “Credo” which means “I Believe”. Here is the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Notice the Christocentrism of the Creed? It is all about Jesus, and practically an ancient Gospel presentation; it discusses Jesus’ life, work, death, resurrection, and most importanly the new life we have on behalf of our redemption through Christ. Luther’s explanation of the Second article provides the greatest illustration to my point:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
To say “Deeds before Creeds” is a gross delusion of the Law, and an improper understanding of the Gospel. What we believe effects how we act, and it is not the other way around. Without constantly preaching the Gospel to ourselves, we are all too eager to forget it, and we lick our lips at the prospect of taking the crown of Christ and placing it upon our self-reliance, and work righteousness (yummy). The Law (deeds) was never meant to justify and redeem; only the sweet message of the Gospel can grant us such things. So, if I act without truly understanding the Gospel, all I’m really saying is, “I work for God’s Grace”, and that is a lie from the pit of our sinful nature. Rather, God’s redemptive act in Christ allows me the ability to love others, to serve others as Dr. Luther says, “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness”. Yes, when all of the flashy “purpose-driven/WWJD” rhetoric burns away, all we are left with is Law or Gospel. By God’s Grace I don’t live the Gospel, but rather, I find my life and salvation in the promises of the Gospel. It is in the living Christ where I am rescued from the harsh coercion of the Law, and free to serve my neighbor with a happy and thankful heart towards the One who cried “It is finished.” If we do not know the redemption that flows from the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, then we are not even free to do the work of God (deeds). So please, don’t tread on my creeds!
If I had the opportunity to travel back in time and correct my friend, I would have said something to this effect, “Creeds before deeds! I can’t do anything pleasing without the freedom bestowed to me in the Gospel. That is why we joyfully recite the Apostle’s creed in the Lutheran church. Your “good deeds” testify to your own virtue, and the message of Christ gets lost in your actions. Our creeds testify to the one who gave us life through His death and resurrection, and that is who we stand behind. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”
VERBUM CRUCIS DEI VIRTUS
The word of the cross is the power of God–