The Divine Service, Part 4: The Creeds and the Offering
After receiving God’s blessing of peace at the conclusion of the sermon, we transition into the creed.
“Credo” = “I Believe”
The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo, which means “I believe.” The creeds, therefore, are simply statements of faith that were designed to confess the Christian faith in clear and concise words. The church has received three statements of faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These have been called “ecumenical creeds” because they belong to the church catholic (with a lowercased c, meaning “universal,” i.e., the whole assembly of all believers). We are blessed to have received these three shining gems that beautifully reflect Scripture’s truths.
Unfortunately, in many modern churches the creeds have come under fire. Pulpits pound with “No creed but the Bible” and “God’s words not man’s!” Such statements certainly sound reasonable. After all, don’t we as Lutherans boldly confess “Scripture alone!”? We certainly do, but isn’t “No creed but the Bible” a statement about faith and, therefore, a creed itself—and one that isn’t in the Bible? Isn’t “God’s words not man’s,” man’s words and not God’s? The question then, is not whether the church will have a creed, but which one it will have.
With gratitude to the ancient church, therefore, creedal churches receive and confess the ecumenical creeds. We in the Lutheran Church don’t deny “Scripture alone” by confessing the creeds. Our Lutheran Confessions clearly state, “The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine” and “No human being’s writings dare be put on a par with [Scripture], but … everything must be subjected to it.”
Creedal churches recognize that the creeds actually support Scripture. Every statement in the creeds is drawn directly from the Bible or concisely summarizes what the Bible teaches. To confess the creeds, therefore, is to confess the Scriptures. The creeds are our way of supporting our “Scripture alone” confession. Even more, the creeds protect the church from heterodox and heretical innovations. The truth of Scripture is conveyed in clear and concise words to protect and preserve orthodoxy.
A Comprehensive Confession of Faith
Consider briefly some of Scripture’s teachings the creeds preserve:
- The divinity and humanity of Christ
- God as Creator
- The virgin birth of Jesus
- The incarnation of Jesus
- The crucifixion of Jesus
- The resurrection of Jesus
- The return of Christ to judge the world
- The divinity of the Holy Spirit
- Baptism for the remission of sins
- The new earth
- The three coequal, coeternal, coinfinite Persons of the Trinity and the oneness of God
- Eternal life and eternal hell
Every single one of these doctrines has been challenged and denied by churches that have rejected the creeds. To confess the creeds, therefore, is to stand with the church catholic (the church universal) and say “I believe with them. I confess Scripture’s truth with them.” Even more, in the face of a culture that increasingly wants to talk about themselves and their experiences of God or “spirituality,” the creeds boldly declare God’s saving actions for all humanity. It is jarringly refreshing to be shaken out of our self-obsession through the words of the creeds. Through the church’s creeds we celebrate and recount what God has done “for us.” We are not the daring hero of the story; God is. Praise God for the church’s creeds!
The Offering: An Unwelcome Interruption?
For many people the offering plate is an unwelcome interruption to the worship service, a necessary nuisance to keep the lights on and the a/c running. This is an unfortunately impoverished understanding of the great gift God provides for us in the offering. If the offering merely kept the lights on or the staff paid, there would be no need to pass a plate during worship; we could simply assess members and mail them a bill at the end of each month.
The offering, however, is not about bills or fund-raising; it is an integral part of the worship service. Throughout the Divine Service God serves us through the preaching, pouring, and administering of His Word. Through these God-ordained means—that is, the Sermon, Baptism, and Communion—we receive God’s grace. The offering is our opportunity to respond by showing God our gratitude for His great gifts to us.
One of our hymns, “Take My Life and Let It Be,” masterfully captures this gratitude as it sings about offering every inch of our lives to God in thanksgiving for His gifts to us. Verse four is particularly poignant: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold. …” Those are dangerous words to sing if we don’t intend to follow through on them. As Mark Allen Powell, author of Giving to God, writes, “on a simple, practical level, I find that it is easier to sing hymns and not really mean them than it is to part with my money and really mean it.”
In another place he observes, “The offering is an act of worship, an instance in which we are invited to give up something that we value—our money—as a sacrifice to God. In many ways, it is the high point of the liturgy. We come to church to worship God and at no other point in the service are we provided with so pure an opportunity for worship as this.”
Praising God for the Offering Plate!
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed our giving: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).
These are familiar words, but their import has too often been overlooked. Jesus is saying, “Your heart follows your treasure.” This stands in stark contrast to a world that tells us to follow our heart and to give “from the heart.” Jesus exposes the lie and reminds us that we need to lead our hearts and, according to Jesus, there’s no greater way to lead our hearts than by placing our treasure “in heaven.” The offering is an opportunity to do precisely this.
In addition to hitching our hearts to heaven, the offering releases our souls from the stranglehold of money and possessions. This may seem like strong language. It is! And it’s language Jesus used. In His well-known parable of the sower, Jesus spoke about seed sown among thorns: “the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.” He explained these believers with these words, “They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
How much should we give? More than our sinful flesh is willing. Traditionally the church, in line with Scriptural precedent, has suggested (not mandated) the tithe—10% of income. St. Paul exhorts us to “excel” in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). Are we?
In the end, the percentage isn’t the point; your heart’s treasure is. Is it hitched to heaven or being choked on earth? The offering prevents our unfruitfulness and ensures our hearts are hungering for heaven. Praise God for the offering plate!
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, serves as Vice President of The Hausvater Project.
TAGS: Divine Service (series), Liturgy