Say It Out Loud
It’s 585 BC. You’re a Jewish man that has just lost everything in the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem. Many of your possessions have been seized; your house and property have been burned; maybe you’ve even lost members of your family. It’s a terrible, tragic time in the history of God’s people. In the midst of such trial and certain suffering, you remember something from your childhood; something you might have heard in the Temple on holy days; something your people have all but forgotten (hence their current situation). You pray, and as you pray, these ancient words come to your memory and out of your mouth:
“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV)
It’s AD 90-something and you’re an early Christian. Your family faces severe persecution, even execution because of your faith in Jesus Christ. You’re imprisoned, separated from your family, perhaps even tortured. You have one simple command: confess that “Caesar is Lord,” while bowing to his image. Do that and your life will be spared. Your time is running out. The prisons are getting full. You will be executed very soon. One final time, before a council, you’re asked to curse the name of Jesus and confess Caesar to be God while worshiping his image. You open your mouth, and in an act of pure cosmological defiance, and to the surprise of everyone listening, you state: “JESUS is Lord.” As they drag your body away to be burned, fed to wild animals in the coliseum, or beheaded, you (and perhaps others with you) begin to confess together:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV)
One last scenario:
You’re a poor farmer in the countryside of lower Germany in the late 1500s. A massive famine has spread across the land and your family is on the brink of death from starvation and any number of sicknesses and diseases that riddle Europe. All hope seems lost and you have capitulated to utter despair. But ever since the religious reforms swept through your small town, you and your family have found a new, personal, and warm faith in Christ. You attend church services regularly because the preachers now read the Bible and preach in your own language. The preachers take time to instruct the people in the faith using simple questions and answers that are meant to be memorized and taken to heart. Even as your family is dying and all hope seems lost, you remember one of those questions and its hopeful answer. In the stillness of your death-ridden household, you ask yourself:
“What is your only comfort in life and death?”
And through the tears you respond:
“That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1
Many Stories, One Truth
There is something undeniably powerful about verbally confessing truth; Not as a superstitious sort of coping mechanism, but as a defiant declaration of hope.
Exile in Babylon, persecution by a pagan emperor, suffering in a remote countryside; The people of God have always found hope, solace, comfort, and power in confessing the truth. Perhaps even more powerful is the confession of that truth together.
Imagine that in these scenarios above, you have not only one person confessing these truths in isolation; But joining them is a throng, an entire congregation of people confessing the exact same truths. Now we have not only one story, but hundreds, maybe even thousands that are joined together to confess, not their individual stories, but the one truth of the hope found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That’s why confessing the faith matters. That’s why confessions are so powerful. As believers come together, bringing in their various stories and background, we begin to confess one truth together.
Miscarriages, deaths, broken marriages, wayward children, disabilities, depression; We bring many things in with us. In some parts of the world, you could still add persecution, torture, imprisonment, and execution to the list.
Combine all of these stories and thousands more into an assembly and ask, in the middle of all of the attacks of Satan and the cares and struggles of this life:
“Christian, what do you believe?”
Then hear the sheer hope and power as all of those stories and backgrounds combine to say:
“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The Apotles’ Creed
What’s more is that even though our circumstances will change, maybe for the better, maybe for worse; these truths will never change. We will confess the same truths week in and week out. We may use different forms, different creeds, different confessions, and different catechisms; But the substance we confess is unchanging because truth is unchanging. The Gospel doesn’t change. The Scriptures do not change. And in as much as we use confessions and creeds to rightly and succinctly convey the truths of Scripture, we will always be reminded and encouraged by the unchanging truth of God in his Gospel.
This Means War
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised that as he built his Church, the “gates of Hell [would] not prevail against it.” What’s often overlooked is that Jesus puts Hell on the defensive as it is the Church that declares war.
The Christian faith is not one of passive defensiveness that can only hope to deflect the growing assaults of the Devil. No, the Church is on the offensive; Adorned in the armor of God, ransacking the fortresses of Hell, setting captives free, and destroying the works of the Devil.
Our confession is our call to war. It’s our warcry. When we confess the faith (especially corporately), it’s a cosmic act of defiance and a declaration of war against Satan and all the forces of evil.
Our world is full of confusion, chaos, and turmoil. There is no hope and no light. That is because there is no truth. What better way to combat the truthlessness of this age than by confessing the truth in the midst?
“By Way of Reminder…”
But it’s not just about defiance and combat; We are forgetful; We are faithless; We are unbelieving. Because of this, we need reminding too. We need to be reminded of our hope, our calling, our salvation, and the ultimate truth found in the Gospel of Jesus. We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves. Confessing our faith both individually and corporately is a strong weapon in that fight against our own dull-heartedness and unbelief.
There are some objections to the use of confessions and creeds. Perhaps in some instances these practices have become dull, heartless, robotic, and cold. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Surely you wouldn’t say that truth is dull, heartless, and cold. It’s not the truth’s fault; It’s OURS! Confess the faith with joy, exuberance, warmth, and vitality. Confess the faith for what it is: Life, hope, and truth in a fallen, broken world. Do it often; do it regularly; do it with joy!
If you don’t know where to get started with creeds and confessions privately or corporately, check out this list and discover the beautiful, biblical truths held out in each one.
Recently, I came across this video that was made to accompany a beautiful song written and performed here by Andrew Peterson. The title of the song is, “Is He Worthy?” The beauty of this song is that it is set as a series of questions and answers much like a catechism. While Peterson could have surely answered the questions in song himself, the use of the choir and this sort of corporate, congregational element makes the song what it is- a collective declaration of our hope and faith in Christ, the one who is worthy. The form of question and answer gives this song its power and reminds us of the power of confessing our faith together.
Question: “Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?”
Answer: “It is.”