Thursday, March 13, 2014

21st Century Lutheran Creed

I wrote the following with my congregation in mind.  It is my own faith statement within the context of a format provided by Dr. Bill Hoyt, a church consultant who has been guiding my congregation through a difficult time.  It is not intended to replace or subvert The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed, or The Athanasian Creed.  Indeed, I hold all three of those creeds in the highest esteem, and believe their words without reservation or qualification of any sort.  If anything, my 21st Century Lutheran Creed is simply another layer that might be common only to me, but it is true in every respect according to my own walk and talk with the Lord.   If it helps any reader in any way, then I wrote it for you; it was given to me to give to you, so be blessed as the Holy Spirit gives you blessing.  Go in peace.  Serve the Lord.
Steven A. Sylwester
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21st Century Lutheran Creed
As believers in God, we are each of us born alone as individuals: first, biologically into a human family, and then, second, spiritually through Holy Baptism into the Invisible Church that is God’s family that includes all fellow believers at all times past, present, and future.  Though each of us born biologically will someday die a physical death, none of us who are born again spiritually who continue to live in the Lord will ever die a spiritual death.  Instead, we will each of us join the company of saints and angels in Heaven who live with God in eternal life.
Now, during our earthly lifetime, we — all of us — must contend with sin, for the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are sinners.  Each of us has eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that is in the midst of our own garden — our own life.  And so we sin: we miss the mark of perfection and we fall short of the glory of God.  The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  
We are spiritual beings living in mortal physical bodies during our lifetime on Earth.  The greatest reality even now is the eternal spiritual reality.  The lesser reality is the temporary physical reality: our material world.  Because our earthly consciousness is often blind and deaf to the greater reality all around us and within us, we pray for the blessing of eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of the Presence of God.
We have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Christians, and our path is along the way of Jesus found by Martin Luther in Holy Scripture.  Luther described the path as: “Scripture Alone. Grace Alone. Faith Alone.”  The key passage is Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  What then is salvation?  Jesus told us in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Then Jesus told us in John 14:6-7: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Jesus is God.
Though Heaven awaits all believers, all believers must first live a lifetime on Earth.  The “blasphemy” for which Jesus was crucified was that He forgave sins; He did something only God could do.  In dying on the cross and then resurrecting to life, Jesus won victory over death for all of us, and then He gave us — each of us, all of us — the power to forgive sins.  He completed His task, for if humans were to be like God in having the knowledge of good and evil, then they also must be like God in having the power to forgive sins.  But will we do it?  Do we do it?  Do we exercise the right to forgive sins that Jesus won for us through His death and resurrection?  In teaching His disciples to pray The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray in Luke 11:4: And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  And yet we sin, and our greatest sin is that we often do not and sometimes will not forgive others.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:48: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  God help us. Amen
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10: For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”  James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote in James 2:17,26: So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. … For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”  That is the Lutheran “faith and works” conundrum, and it is best answered by Micah 6:8: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We believe God is One: an Eternal Being of Light, Love, and Spirit who we know as Father (our Abba), Son (our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit (our Advocate).  God is ever present and hears our prayers, even our groaning and the cries of our sorrows.  Therefore, we strive to be faithful and hopeful and trusting as we pray: “Thy will be done. Amen”
We believe God the Father is the One Eternal Light and the Creator of and Provider for life and all things seen and unseen — the very Source and very Essence of all that ever was, is, or will be.  Therefore, we strive to be humble, to always know ourselves as created beings, and to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
We believe God became True Man in Jesus and that Jesus is the Light of the world, the Word, and the Christ: the promised Messiah prophesied in Holy Scripture.  Through Jesus came grace and truth, and also the new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”  Therefore, we strive to remember Jesus in all of our doings: to give the Gospel freely, to bless, and to forgive always, even our enemies; and to love each other in God’s Peace as our Christian witness to the world.   
We believe God the Holy Spirit is the Light of our souls and the gatherer of the faithful, who forms, guides, inspires, and enlightens the Church on Earth.  The Holy Spirit is always everywhere present, is the Voice and Power of God, and is alone the Presence of God who can make things holy in our world.  Therefore, we strive to be ever listening, ever watching, and ever open for the Holy Spirit to teach us, to show us, and to change us according to God’s will.
We believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is therefore the inerrant Word of God, that it tells a true story and the actual history of Immanuel (God is with us), and that it reveals what we need to know to know God and to speak of God to others.  Through the Bible’s teachings, the Holy Spirit instructs us in our faith and guides us in our doings within the Church and with the outside world.  The Bible is holy and is our Ark of the Covenant; it is where the Gospel is treasured and accessed.  Therefore, we strive to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the teachings of the Bible through daily study, both by ourselves in personal meditations and with each other in group studies under the tutelage of pastors or blessed teachers, so that we might be better able and more confident to speak to others of our hope in Jesus.  
We believe the Church is the Family of God, the Body of Christ, and the Flame of the Holy Spirit in that it is the children of God revealing Jesus to the world through the gifts and the weapons of the Holy Spirit, in choruses sung out gloriously, in the precious quiet of solitary kindnesses, and in the courage of martyrs who would not deny the Lord, even unto death.  Everyone counts.  Everyone has something to offer.  Everyone is blessed to be a blessing.  Therefore, we strive to be courageous, to not shirk, to join together, and to reach out as we can as we walk humbly with God.
We believe worship is a duty, a pleasure, a joy, and a revelation: it is the stillness from which we can know God, an opportunity for giving thanks and praise, an opportunity for receiving blessings and forgiveness through Word and Sacraments, and the blessed moments created when two or three are gathered in the Name of Jesus when He makes His Presence known in our midst.  O that we would be worshiping always — praying without ceasing!  Therefore, we strive to live our lives as a liturgy to the Lord, to regularly gather together as a congregation in worship, and to come before the Lord with clean hearts and right spirits if we can, but too with broken and contrite spirits if we must, for the Lord will meet us as we are and then make us to be all that we can be to His glory.  Hallelujah!
We believe prayer is what ultimately separates belief from unbelief; it is the measure of faith, for no one who does not believe in angels and miracles — who does not see the Hand of God in human events and in their own life — can ever have that faith that will move mountains.  A life of prayer is a life lived asking, seeking, and knocking and also a life lived in silence and stillness and waiting on the Lord; it is a life lived swimming in the living waters in which the peace that passes all human understanding flows.  Therefore, we strive to pray, praise, and give thanks at all times in all places in all that we do in thought, word, and deed, so that our walk with God would be a talk with God and at long last we might learn to listen and thereby let the Light of God shine from within us uninterrupted.
What is Love?  What is this everything that is God, this everything that is to bind us and be our witness to the world, this everything that is the stuff of grace and truth? Love is spiritual energy that functions as the force of harmonious interactions in all things material and immaterial; it is the unifying principle of all temporal and eternal life; it is the essence of consciousness and the very substance of Heaven and Earth such that Holy Scripture tells us: “God is Love.” — Steven A. Sylwester  (words from a dream in the morning of October 28, 2012)  
 And so we will welcome strangers and angels to be among us with these words: Jesus Christ is Lord at Central Lutheran Church: a house of prayer and worship, and a place of Christian fellowship and learning.  We welcome all who want to join us as we serve our Lord with gladness.

If any congregation of believers must have a slogan beyond “Jesus Christ is Lord,” it should be the words spoken by Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives,” which are found at the heart of Job 19:23-27:
O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

If any congregation of believers must have a Mission Statement, let it be Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Amen
Yes, let it be a prayer, and let it end with “Amen.”  If we are ever to teach others to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us, we must start by being the first to obey those commands; we must set an example pure, and we must make it a prayer.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Steven A. Sylwester