As a pastor, I am a big proponent of studying and understanding the history of the Christian Church. If we don’t understand where we come from, we will not be able to rightly comprehend where we are going. There are times, however, that I look at a document from an earlier age, and cringe a little inside. Maybe it was a culturally conditioned comment about the role of women or slavery or even something as big as trying to baptize violence in Jesus’ name. Not everything in our collective past is worthy of praise and imitation. When I’m honest, I hesitate a little whenever I am asked to recite to Apostles’ Creed.
Now, I need to state clearly at the outset, that I still recite the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis. I believe that it is one of the best summary statements of the historic faith of Christianity. According to tradition, the 12 apostles each contributed one of the 12 articles of the creed in order to unify their teaching before going out to “make disciples of all nations” and peoples. While this is unlikely from a historical perspective, we can clearly see how this statement served to unify the church in its early years in the area of belief.
The Creed is divided into three sections, one for each member of the Trinity. In the second section (the one on Jesus) we read the following:
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.
OK. Not bad. That hits the highlights, I suppose. If you are at all like me, though, you may read this and wonder to yourself: What about Jesus’ life? Why did we jump right from his birth to his trial under Pilate? Was his life not important? Was Jesus just biding time between his entrance into the world and the events of Holy Week?
I remember an old country pastor growing up preaching a sermon entitled: “What’s Your Dash?” In it, he talked about visiting a cemetery and looking at the gravestones. Each one of them had a date marking the beginning of life and one marking the end of life. The only thing marking the life itself (the time between birth and death) was a dash. “But this,” he said, “is the most important part. This is the part that really matters. How are you living? What are you doing with your dash?”
The Apostles’ Creed looks like a gravestone of sorts. Birth. Death. But wait a minute! What about Jesus’ teaching? The Sermon on the Mount? Loving your neighbor? Forgiving those who wrong you? Doing to others as you would have them do to you? These seem like pretty important things to me. Why would we just skip over them?
What about his healing? The blind man on the roadside? The man with the legion of demons? The 10 lepers? The woman with the issue of blood? Jairus’ daughter? Lazarus? What about those?
And what about calming the sea with a word? What about walking on water? What about the multiplication of the loaves and the fish? Can you just leave those out and still understand the story of Jesus intact? Are they not essential?
This kind of focus has led to some very distorted theology in the western church. We place such an emphasis on “getting people saved” so that they will “go to heaven when they die.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing . . . but it’s only part of the story. What about the time that comes between our initial conversion and our entrance into eternity? Are we just treading water, waiting on the good stuff to happen? Are we just biding our time? Does life really matter? If you talk to some Christians, you might be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t. This world is just going to hell in a hand basket, after all, and we’re just watching the clock, waiting on Jesus to come back. There is more to the story, however.
In theological terms, the time between regeneration (the rebirth that marks the beginning of the life of faith) and glorification (the goal and fulfillment of faith) is a process known as sanctification. It refers to the idea that we are always growing in Christlikeness and holiness. It means that we are on a journey. Like the Israelites wandering in wilderness, we are being shaped by the journey out of captivity to sin and into the freedom of holiness. We have not fully arrived yet. We are works in progress.
Sanctification refers to the idea that we are constantly learning new disciplines and new ways of living with others that fundamentally alter us. It means that our day-to-day life – our going to work, buying groceries, taking care of children, answering emails, mowing the yard, paying the bills kind of life – is precisely the training ground for eternity. In each of these places, God is giving us opportunities to act like Christ, to love like Christ, to forgive like Christ; in short, to become like Christ.
The bottom line is this: life matters. It mattered for Jesus. It was his life – his sinless, expansive, selfless, powerful, healing, articulate, revolutionary life that gave credence to his death – that gave clarity and meaning to the sacrifice he offers on the cross. It was his life that gave humanity a way to follow. Maybe this is why the book of Acts refers to the early believers as “People of the Way.” Subsequently, life matters for us as well. It is here in the living of our day-to-day existence that we are shaped into the women and men God intended for us to be from our inception. It is here in the hopelessly ordinary and everyday that we find God molding us and fitting us for eternity. It is here that we are truly becoming Christian after all.
So, even if I may cringe when I repeat the Creed, I know that the dash is there – tucked somewhere between Mary and Pilate. You may have to focus your eyes carefully and tilt your head a bit to see it . . . but once you do, you’ll find that it makes all the difference.