How are You Spending the Summer?

The following message deals with that which Christians must remember, the basics of our faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was preached on Memorial Day, May 26, 2013

This weekend marks a highly anticipated time in the life of Americans, the Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is a time to remember, ever since its inception in 1868, it has been placed aside as a day to remember those who’ve passed and those who’ve served.  Where I come from, Memorial Day is a time to go to the resting places of your loved ones and decorate their graves.  It is also a day to gather with family and friends for a barbeque.  The weekend functions as the unofficial kickoff of the summer.

That brings up the question: what are you doing over the summer?  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several of you.  Some are going on vacation- to South Carolina or on a cruise.  Others are spending their summer at the shore; still others are planning family reunions.  Me?  I’m going to be writing a dissertation; my final project for the Doctor of Ministry.

The theme that I am addressing is the need for Christians to remember and return to the basics of our faith, which involves learning and growing in our understanding of Christian belief, as exemplified in the Apostles’ Creed; Christian ethics as understood in the Ten Commandments; and Christian devotion, as found in the Lord’s Prayer.  For the first five hundred years of the church, these objects were the mainstays of Christian education.  Those wishing to be baptized had to recite the Apostles’ Creed.  It became a necessity in teaching the faith for centuries to come.

Catechesis is the practice of learning the basics of our faith in question and answer form.  Although the Middle Ages experienced a wane in catechesis, the Protestant Reformation made a reprise of it.  Catechesis has been utilized to disciple new Christians since the Reformation in the West.

And there was a time when those wanting to join the Schwenkfelder Church were asked to recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, as it appears in our Book of Worship for Church and Home.[1]  But this is no more.

As history repeats itself, a sense of desperation for classical Christian education has returned.  In many congregations today, the youth and new members’ introduction lasts a few weeks at best and contains a broad array of material written to welcome newcomers at the sacrifice of equipping them spiritually.  As a result, very few newcomers and church members can recall the essentials of our faith and apply them to their lives.  With the dawn of Postmodernism, catechesis is seen as a thing of the past.  And with its passing, believers are found to be wanting in their knowledge and application of the Christian basics.

Today, we like story, we like visual, and we like easy.  An absence of such a foundational teaching contributes to the social ills of today.   Christians struggle to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in their settings.[2]  The theological needs in the culture of the United States and Great Britain are shocking.[3]  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states: “In virtually every Western society in the 1960’s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.  The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned.  In its place came: whatever works for you.  …something has gone badly wrong since.”[4]

In addition, the youth are no longer receiving moral and spiritual instruction as they once did.  The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that although many U.S. Protestant youth participate in worship services, few engage in Bible reading, which is the starting point of Biblical understanding.  The study said:

“The majority of U.S. Protestant teenagers say that they read the Bible either less frequently or not at all. Furthermore, of all U.S. teenagers, only about one in four reads the sacred scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often (26 %). Large numbers of U.S. teenagers do claim religious affiliations and report attending religious services.”[5]

Also disappointing is that new data suggests that church attendance and membership is slipping.[6]  Consider the following:

  • In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday.  Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.
  • Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.
  • Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.
  • Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.[7]

Furthermore, Christian education in the home and within the corporate gathering of the body of Christ must change.  Families and churches must work in tandem to recover a discipled congregation of young and old, ready to live out the faith.  So on this Memorial Day weekend, when we are recalling those who were close to us and those who gave their lives for our freedom, let us also remember some critical things about our faith…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER WHAT TO BELIEVE.

The Church has been forced over the centuries to define what she believes in. Creeds were written to answer heresies, which have always been around. The Apostles’ Creed affirmed the belief in the Trinity, denied by Arianism.  The Nicene Creed affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, of which Arianism also denied.  The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed the separate, yet coexisting divine and human natures of Christ, denied by Eutychianism.  Caspar Schwenkfeld denied all these ancient heresies and stated so.[8]  Churches, both Catholic and Protestant have endorsed the ancient creeds in an effort to separate themselves from these heresies which exist in other forms today.

The earliest portions, found in the Old Roman form, date back to the mid second century, around 140 AD.  Today, it is the most basic statement of the contents of the Christian faith.  It is the greatest commonality among Christians: Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and the Schwenkfelders.

It was thought to have been a baptismal formula; something that was recited when individuals converted to Christianity.  At Central, we recite the Creed on the days we practice communion.  The creed is a response to God; A statement of communal identity and reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hades. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

It presents the significance of the three persons of the Trinity.  The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer and the Spirit is our Sanctifier/Sustainer.  Last week, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We also quoted both the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in our traditional worship service.

It is important that we recognize that the Christian faith is not what we make it, but what is handed down to us.  We are not given options on what to believe.  Rather, our faith is that which is once and for all delivered to us, as Jude 1:3 indicates: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

We cannot believe some parts and reject others, nor can we understand the faith without knowing its parts.  How can a plumber do his work without knowing connections and joints?  How can a Mathematician operate without knowing Algebra?  So, it is necessary for believers in Jesus to know the basics of the faith, more than just quoting the creed, but believing it also.  Let us not only remember what to believe, but

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO BEHAVE.

The Ten Commandments have functioned as our basis for ethics in this country since its inception.  Could you name the Ten Commandments by heart?  If you can’t, it could be that their power has slipped from your radar.  The first four, specifically define our love for God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that we would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  We do this by having no gods before Him; by abstaining from idols, whether they be the television, the golf course or the internet; that we revere God’s name and hold it in the highest respect; that one day per week we abstain from work to rest and worship Him and meet with God’s people.

The last six commandments teach us how we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  That we first honor authority, given to us in mom and dad; that we preserve the lives of others with both deed and word, that we keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and sexually committed inside marriage; that we seek to protect the property of others; that we tell the truth and are content, being happy for others when they are blessed.

The Ten Commandments are designed to be moral guide for our decision making and to remind us that we need a Savior, that Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s demands.  There are moral absolutes, though the culture would disagree.

If you wonder about the relevancy of God’s moral law, just consider the events of this past week, when 25 year old Lee Rigby was brutally massacred outside of London in broad daylight, a result of Muslim extremists. He leaves behind a two-year-old son.

Or Jodi Arias, the young lady from Southern California who murdered her boyfriend, Travis Alexander by shooting him, stabbing and slashing him nearly 30 times.[9]  Or Kermit Gosnell, who murdered innocent children in his doctor’s office in West Philadelphia.  You say, “Well Pastor David, that’s the world.  That has nothing to do with me.”  Actually, that is the world that you and I live in.  We are called to know and love God’s law, when the world disregards human life and promotes filth and promiscuity every day.  We must recover the sense that sin is first an offense to God, then an offense towards others.  Lastly…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO PRAY.

Prayer is a popular subject.  It is a spiritual exercise that is quite popular.  And it was quite popular in Jesus’ day.  Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I have to say that I was blessed to be a part of the Claire Schweiker funeral yesterday.  It was said of Claire that she would pray 2-3 hours per day.  Her son Rich, a lawyer, was experiencing a particularly challenging trial.  She wrote him a note of encouragement to say that she and Mr. Schweiker were praying for him morning and evening and several times in between.  Claire made it her practice to encourage others with Scripture verses.  Prayer should be a regular part of our daily duties, as easy as exhaling.

I have a friend that does not attend church, but claims that he prays.  Books are written by scads of people that advocate a form of spirituality, with or without the guidance offered by Scripture.  So the Christian notion of prayer is in the backdrop of a world that practices prayer.  But not all prayer is heard by God or is legitimate.

What follows Matthew 6:9 is the Lord’s Prayer, a logically guided dialogue with God consisting of six requests: that His plan and desires would be accomplished with our full cooperation and participation; that He would grant us our needs as we depend upon Him; that He would not only cancel our moral debts as we violate His law, but that we would also forgive others when we are wronged; that we might be kept from temptation, or when it is necessary, we would be delivered from it.

Just a word on forgiveness.  Notice that it is believed on in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  And practiced in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  In case you don’t think it is practical, remind yourself of the need to forgive others the next time you’re offended or wronged in some way.  I knew a woman who was married for nearly 60 years.  You might assume that such a couple was happily married, but such was not the case.  They struggled and fought to get along and be happy for most of their married life.  At a critical time, the husband did something foolish and incurred the wrath of his wife for most of the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, she went to her grave, possibly not forgiving him.  Not only did this bring added misery in their marriage, but also damaged her walk with Christ.

As Christians, we must conform to God’s wishes, God’s character, even when we don’t feel like it.  Our lives are not our own.  We don’t dictate what we are to do.  We belong to the Lord and we are accountable to Him.  It is the best thing for us.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember.  “To remember,” means “to bring to mind or think of again.”  We must remember and in some cases, relearn what belief, behavior and devotion mean within a Christian context.  It is easy to live life without a sense of accountability to God.  Oh, we have the civil authorities to remind us that there are consequences to bad behavior.  But if we are not careful, we can fall prey to the idea that life is just an endless search for the next form of entertainment.  Something that traditionally might be wrong, is now acceptable, as long as we keep out of trouble and don’t hurt others.  But what about the condition of our souls?

Pastor John Piper writes: “The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.”


[1][1] Book of Worship for Church and Home, “A Service for the Reception of Members into the Church,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1928), 38-41.

[2] For instance, the divorce rate among Christians is similar to that of the unchurched.  See. http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-14-divorce-christians_N.htm.

[3] A recent survey confirmed that most youth in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.

[4] Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20-21, 2011.

[5] “Few U.S. Protestant Teens Regularly Read the Bible,” found at http://www.youthandreligion.org/news/2004-0623.html.

[6] Amy Frykholm “Loose Connections,” Christian Century, 31 May 2011, 20-23.

[7] Statistics shared at the Area Representative retreat for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, February 7-9, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  Much information taken from David Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 37-39.

[8] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief. Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2005.

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