Professor Haemig provides a study on stewardship using the apostle's Creed. Using Luther's meaning of the Creed, Professor Haemig then begins to engage the person in understanding how Stewardship can be lived out within one's daily life. This is a three part series in which each of the three articles of the Apostle's Creed will be examined.
Stewardship Study: The Apostles' Creed Unit 1
Why are we studying the Apostles' Creed?
Luther said that the three chief parts of the catechism (Ten Commandments, Apostles' Creed, and Lord's Prayer) are a summary of scripture. He did not mean that everything in the Bible is there but rather that these three parts convey the central salvific message of the Bible. How does this work? The Bible proclaims to us God's commands and God's promises, God's expectations and God's gifts, God's threat and God's grace. The Bible also talks about how we communicate with God and how God assures us of his grace. The Small Catechism provides summaries of these.
The creed summarizes what the Bible teaches about God. In the creed, we confess who we believe this God is and what God does. Luther wrote that the creed "sets forth all we must expect and receive from God..." (Large Catechism, 431). In other words, the creed answers the question "What kind of God do we have?" Perhaps most importantly, the creed answers the "Why bother?" or "Who cares?" question. The creed tells us why it matters what kind of God we have and what he does for us. We will use Luther's Small Catechism to help us study the Apostles' Creed.
In the middle ages, commentators divided the Apostles' Creed into 12 articles and discussed each article in turn. This approach led people to think the creed was a list of facts about God. Luther made a major change, seeing the creed not as a description of facts about God but as our confession of how God relates to us and our world. Luther recognized that God relates to us and works for us in three ways -- he creates, redeems, and sanctifies. So Luther discussed the creed in three parts, according to the persons of the Trinity. Throughout, the creed addresses the questions of what does God do for me? And what kind of God do we have? Luther was convinced that it is the nature of God to be a giver
First Article -- On Creation
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
What is this?
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property -- along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of min at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists.
- Luther uses the language of confession or witness. He does not say "God created the world" - a true statement but an abstract statement. Rather he says "God has created me and all that exists." Immediately, Luther places God's creative work in relation to us. God does not create in the abstract -- he created you and me.
- God does not create you to be alone -- he creates you TOGETHER with all that exists. In this short sentence we acknowledge not only our relationship to God but our relationship with all of creation. We share in being God's creation.
- Stop and ponder a moment: Is there something you have not considered God's creation? What is it? How does seeing it as God's creation change your view of it?
God gives and preserves
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.
- Notice the outward movement -- The statement moves from body and soul outward to the senses that deal with the world: eyes, ears, limbs, senses, and finally to the capacities that interpret what we experience, the mental faculties. God creates and preserves all of these!
- Notice that God preserves. God's creative work in my life does not begin and end at the beginning, it continues to this day. This means that creation does not end -- it didn't just happen back then. It happens now.
- How does God create and preserve? Who or what does God use?
God provides abundantly
In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property -- along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life."
- This statement moves beyond your body to what is necessary to maintain the body. God not only creates your body but he knows that to preserve it you need much else.
- This list (shoes, clothing, food, drink, etc.) reflects life in Luther's day. How might you rewrite this list for today? (Hint: you would not need to change everything.)
- Remember that when Luther wrote these explanations the vast majority of people possessed far less than the typical American today. Poverty, disease, and other threats to life were rampant. Yet those Christians confessed in Luther's words that God "daily and abundantly provides...all the necessities..."
- This statement acknowledges that all we have is from God. What is mine is mine only because God has given it to me. It is NOT the case that some things belong to me and some to God. All belong to God -- and this God preserves them daily.
- Reflect on your life. Think of ways that God provides "daily and abundantly" for you.
- How does reflecting on the situation of other Christians in other times and places inform your view of God's generosity to you?
In the midst of threat and evil
God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil.
- You may ask "How can this be true? I experience threats and evils in life." Remember that it is a statement of faith. Faith knows what experience cannot see. In fact, faith changes our perspective -- no longer do we base our judgments only on what we see or feel but rather on what we know about God and his care for us.
Luther wrote in his Large Catechism:
"Whenever we escape distress or danger, we should recognize how God gives and does all of this so that we may sense and see in them his fatherly heart and his boundless love toward us. Thus our hearts will be warmed and kindled with gratitude to God and a desire to use all these blessings to his glory and praise." 433
- Think of all the times God has preserved and protected you. Think of how he preserves you even now. Can you describe some of this to those around you?
Wait! Aren't we gliding over this too easily? Isn't it true that many people in the world are starving, afflicted by disease, warfare, other ills, etc?
- We are not now given the answer to all questions. We both know human suffering and trust a creative and generous God.
- Don't sit and speculate on why humans suffer! Perhaps God wants you to be his instrument of creation and preservation, combating evil and alleviating suffering. What are you doing to express God's creative and preserving work?
- Instead of wondering and complaining, ask yourself, "How are the gifts of other people conveying God's creative and preserving work to me and others?" Perhaps a nurse, coach, financial adviser, plumber, etc. is acting to continue God's creative and preserving work in your life. Have you ever seen that person as God's agent? Consider how it changes your attitude toward other humans when you see them as God's agents in this world.
- Instead of complaining why God isn't creating and preserving as you think he should, consider this: God may be doing what you expect or more than you expect but you are not seeing it! Thinking about this may cause you to fret less and trust more that God is doing what he has promised. God may be leading you to greater faith (trust) in him.
And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all.
- This sentence again raises and answers the question "What kind of God do we have?" This is a God full of goodness and mercy, a God who gives regardless of our merit or worthiness.
- Think about an undeserved gift you have received or an undeserved good you experienced. How does seeing that as God's work in your life change your perspective on that gift or good?
Are you in the habit of seeing all good gifts as coming from God?
For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
- What we do comes only in response to God. First we hear of God's good gifts in creation. Only then are we called upon to respond. And now we know the Creator God -- we know him as generous, kind, and ever-caring for his creation.
- When we thank, praise, serve, and obey God, we are responding first and foremost to his generosity. What we give to God is always far less than we receive.
- Yes, we "owe" it to God. Luther sees a demand (law) here --- but it is God's good law that seeks to shape a relationship with God where humans live in continued thankfulness. To "thank and praise, serve and obey" become the basic guiding principles of our life. And how do we thank, praise, serve and obey? Look at the Ten Commandments! This is how God wants you to live. In Luther's Small Catechism, Luther placed the Ten Commandments first, then the creed. This is no accident. Luther used the 10 commandments to talk about how God wants us to live in God's creation. We were created to trust God -- and trust in the creator God produces people who care for one another in a certain way. The commandments reflect the assumption that our lives are interwoven with others -- we were created to live in relationship with God and with others.
Luther says in his Large Catechism (433)
"...because everything we possess, and everything in heaven and on earth besides, is daily given, sustained and protected by God, it inevitably follows that we are in duty bound to love, praise, and thank him without ceasing, and, in short, to devote all these things to his service, as he has required and enjoined in the Ten Commandments."
- What does it mean to devote "all these things" to his service? "Everything we possess" includes all our resources, personal and financial. When we respond to God we are not simply to give him part of what is ours (our lives, our money, our time, etc.) and keep the rest for ourselves but rather we give all things to God.
- Consider how you use what you have (including money and financial resources) so that you thank, praise, serve, and obey God. Part of what you are given you use to fill your own needs -- you preserve and enhance your own life as God's creation, living for others. Part of what you are given you use for immediate family needs. How do you and your family think about needs versus wants? How do you and your family think about what portion of God's resources you use for yourselves and what portion you give to others?
The texts of the creedal explanations from the Small Catechism and the quotations from the Large Catechism are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000. Page numbers given refer to this.
Professor Mary Jane Haemig is Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary and Director of the Thrivent Reformation Research Program.