Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. Currently, we are reciting the Apostles’ Creed, but we use others at different times of year. In churches like ours that use the creeds – as well as other written responses and prayers – there is an ever-present danger of mindless repetition, of drawing near to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from Him. As our passage in Isaiah illustrates, this is not a new problem. The prophets regularly rebuke our fathers and mothers for this sin, the sin of failing to love God and instead trying to manipulate him with proper external rituals. So if reciting the creeds entails this danger, why even do it? There are numerous reasons – consider just a few.
First, reciting the creeds enables us to declare boldly and clearly whom we worship. Amid a pluralistic society in which a variety of gods are honored, we declare our trust in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the Mormon deity; neither do we worship America’s idol, some general theistic deity. We worship the Triune God; in Him is our trust.
Second, by reciting the creeds immediately after the reading of God’s Word, we declare our trust in the Sovereign Lord who has revealed Himself in sacred Scripture. The creeds do not serve to replace Scripture but to summarize its central teachings. And as God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and even in many churches, reciting the creeds enables us to declare openly, “We trust in God and His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him.”
Finally, reciting the creeds reminds us to preserve the faith which has been handed down to us. Jude commands us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to the saints who have gone before us. We confess the faith that they preserved for us; and this now is our duty for future generations. The God we worship is the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Perpetua and Monica, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield, Machen and Sproul. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us, and we are called to hand it down in turn.
While remembering why we recite the creeds, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? James reminds us: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” (2:19) There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.” Whom do you trust?
So what about you? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who has called you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely to you? Are you reciting the creeds intelligently and faithfully or merely by rote? Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing your heart.
Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.