Focus 3: Thursday, May 14

I Believe: The Apostles’ Creed
By Jessica LaGrone

The Rev. Jessica LaGrone

The Rev. Jessica LaGrone

A young woman was with a group of friends when the conversation turned to religion. As her friends went around discussing their convictions, it was clear that most of them weren’t really sure what they believed. They spoke in vague generalities, and some of them weren’t able to articulate what they believed at all.

Finally, somebody said: “Well, you’re quiet, what do you believe?”

She opened her mouth and heard herself say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only son our Lord.” She continued: “He was con­ceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was bur­ied…”

She proceeded to recite the entire Apostles’ Creed from beginning to end. When she looked up her friends were wide-eyed, and no one was more shocked than her. She had grown up in the church reciting the Apostles’ Creed – and even though she didn’t even know she had it memorized, when asked what she believed, it just came out.

Millions of Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis. Others may not say it aloud, but look to it as a template for the most basic beliefs of the Christian faith. For many, the words of the Apostles’ Creed have formed the backbone of their faith.

Many churches have drifted away from using repetitive liturgy like creeds in worship. They say that we do better to speak straight from the heart each time we articulate our beliefs and feel­ings about God, since anything we repeat often enough will become rote, more about habit than genuine convic­tion.

However, sometimes words that are scripted for you can express the convic­tions of your heart better than any­thing you could make up yourself.

When we try to express what we believe about God, our words will always fall short. But the words of this creed have stood the test of almost 2000 years of Christians saying what we believe together.

It served three basic purposes for the early Christians:

  1. Catechize. During what we now call the season of Lent, those who wished to be baptized into the faith would spend time studying the beliefs of the Christian faith as outlined in the words of the Creed. Then, at dawn on Easter Sunday, they would line up and affirm their faith by responding to the Creed as a set of questions.

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth? And they would answer, in chorus: “Yes, I believe!”

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord? “Yes, I believe!”

This would continue until they had answered in the affirmative to all twelve declarations of the Creed. Only then would the new believers line up, and one by one, step into the baptismal pool and be immersed in the water, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  1. Defend. It can seem unfair that, while the Father is given just a couple of lines, and the Holy Spirit a meager six words, the lengthy core of the Creed is dedicated to declarations about Jesus.

The explanation for this seeming inequity lies in the Creed’s objective to defend the faith against false doctrines. In the early days of Christianity here­sies about Jesus were rampant. Rumors that Jesus was not truly human, or that he was not divine, or that his crucifix­ion or resurrection were a sham quickly turned into doctrines for splinter groups of Christians. The Apostles’ Creed was a way of summing up, in very few words, what Christians do believe in order to stop speculations.

Centuries later, there are still more misconceptions about Jesus than any other person in history. We need the affirmations of this Creed more than ever to remind us of the core truths about Jesus Christ.

  1. Evangelize. The content of the Creed follows a basic explanation of what Christians believe, simple enough for anyone to share with a friend who wonders what this faith is all about.

Here’s the gift of this Creed to the Church: No matter what kind of church you are in, no matter who is preaching or what they say or what they don’t say, if you are in a church that is at least faithful enough to say the Apostles Creed, you hear the Gospel.

Where the Church is letting go of its ties of belief to Christians through the centuries it is slowly withering, cut off from its power source. But where the words of the Apostles’ Creed are believed with sincerity, proclaimed with feeling, lived out with fervor, there is where the Church is thriving. Answering again and again to the ques­tion of faith with the response: “I believe… I believe… Yes, I believe.”

Jessica LaGrone is the Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and the author of Set Apart (Abingdon).

Tail Wagging the Dog
By Thomas Lambrecht

The Rev. Forbes Matonga from the West Zimbabwe annual conference speaks at the UM General Conference in Portland. UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

The Rev. Forbes Matonga from the West Zimbabwe annual conference speaks at the UM General Conference in Portland. UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

Delegates were frustrated Wednesday when, for the second time in two days, they were unable to complete the adoption of the rules for General Conference. Several precious hours of plenary time have been expended in a confusing attempt to perfect them.

This situation is reminiscent of the early 1970s, when U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators spent weeks arguing over the shape of the table they would use to negotiate a peace settlement.

Unfortunately, this marks the second straight General Conference when the rules have become a primary focus of discussion and debate, consuming time and requiring delays in the schedule. This year’s process is worse than 2012 because final consideration of the ill-advised Rule 44 is being put off until the third day of the conference.

The process of amending and approving the rules has been marked by numerous errors in parliamentary procedure, rulings from the chair that were incorrect, and confusion among delegates about the implications of their votes. This way of approaching the rules does not serve our conference well. Here are three suggestions to move the conference forward.

  1. Hire a professional parliamentarian with extensive knowledge about Roberts Rules of Order. Our bishops are not experts on parliamentary pro­cedure, and some bishops are more knowledgeable than others. We need someone sitting beside them who knows whether a particular matter requires a two-thirds vote or a majority vote, whether a particular motion is in order or not, and how to facilitate the body moving forward in fairness.

Bishops should not be blamed for not being experts in these matters. They only run meetings like this once a year. And the processes of an annual con­ference are rarely as complex as General Conference. The primary qualifica­tion for being a bishop is not expertise in parliamentary procedure. They preach, lead, and guard the faith. Let’s get them the expert help that they need here at General Conference.

  1. Make the General Conference Rules clear in those aspects that have been debated. Does the adoption of the Rules Committee report require a two-thirds or a majority vote? Should amendments to the report be referred back to the Rules Committee, even though they may not even be passed by the conference? These and other matters should be clearly stated in our rules, so there is no misunderstanding or uncertainty.

3) Pull Rule 44 from consideration at this General Conference. It is clearly fraught with problems, and further debate over it will waste valuable time and cause further friction.

The rules are not meant to hinder the process, but to help the body reach decisions together. It is time that we got the rules clear and followed them consistently in a way to help the conference move forward.

The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht is the coordinator for the Reform and Renewal Coalition and vice president of Good News.

Living Shabbily, Praying Meagerly
By E.M. Bounds

E.M. Bounds

E.M. Bounds

I believe that what the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more novel methods. She needs Christians whom the Holy Spirit can use — Christians of prayer, Christians mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through people. He does not come on machinery, but on people. He does not anoint plans, but people—people of prayer!

…Spiritual work is always taxing work, and Christians are loath to do it. True praying involves serious attention and time, which flesh and blood do not rel­ish. Few people have such strong fiber that they will make a costly outlay when inferior work will pass just as well in the market. To be little with God is to be little for God. It takes much time for the fullness of God to flow in the spirit. Short devotions cut the pipe of God’s full flow. We live shabbily because we pray meagerly. This is not a day of prayer. Few Christians pray. In these days of hurry and bustle, of electricity and steam, men will not take time to pray. Prayer is out-of-date, almost a lost art.

Where are the Christ-like leaders who can teach modern saints how to pray and put them at it? Do we know that we are raising up a prayerless set of saints? Only praying leaders have praying followers. We greatly need somebody who can set the saints to this business of praying!

E.M. Bounds (1835-1913) was a Methodist preacher and editor of the St. Louis Christian Advocate. He is most well-known for books such as Power Through Prayer.