Exploring the Apostles Creed
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Part 2: ‘...in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth’

by Rev. Robert Griffith
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I don't know if you saw the film back in 2011 called Melancholia. It won no awards other than on the Rotten Tomatoes website, but it was certainly well made. This film documents the last period in the history of planet Earth. Another planet is sited out in space which they name Melancholia and as they begin to observe this planet, they realize it is going to collide with Earth. There's a terrifying moment towards the end of this film where Justine, the main character, says, in a rather matter of fact way, “The Earth is evil, there's no need to grieve for it.” It's a shocking thought that someone might actually think that life on earth is evil. But in the ancient world this was quite a typical attitude. Generally speaking, people in the ancient world either assumed that nature was divine - something to be worshipped, feared and placated with sacrifice, or that nature was inherently evil, monstrous, and corrupt. It was against both of those views, that Christians would come to the waters of baptism and say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.”
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The great threat to early Christianity was the New Age movement which we now call Gnosticism. There are many varieties of heresy back then but this was a tremendously popular cultural movement which pushed the view that the material world is evil and that we need to be saved from it. Marcion was the greatest early heretic who lived just a short time after Christ's first disciples. He taught that the whole material universe has been created by a wicked God. ‘Just look how bad it is; just look at all the suffering and all the pain in this world.’ He also said the human body is the worst thing of all. ‘Look at it - it's a disgusting bag of flesh with dung inside it.’ Marcion and his horror view of the body and the world knew no bounds. He forbade all his followers from procreation. In order to become converted under Marcion, you had to renounce sex and child-rearing and the family completely. You had to devote yourself to a life that involved no physical pleasure at all. It’s hard for us today to comprehend how popular this view was back then, but many people really resonated with this idea that the world that we live in is an evil, bad world, and that we need to be rescued from it.
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One of the really interesting things about ancient Gnostic writings is the way they felt about the stars. I sometimes think you could do a whole history of human civilization based around the way people feel about the stars at different points in history. When the Gnostics would look up at the night sky, they would feel so infinitely small, as if the brilliance of the heavens were a crushing, devastating statement about us and they would feel so lonely and so empty - as if the whole universe were evacuated of any meaning, as if our lives were infinitely remote and meaningless. They would look at the stars like they were evil powers that were exercising wicked influence over us and we were trapped within their power. The stars represented everything that was the worst about the universe, for the Gnostics.
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How different is that from the ancient Israelite hymn,When I consider the Heavens.Not even the works of God's hands, but the works of God's fingers, these mega-majestic stars, just as if God was putting a delicate finishing touch on the cosmos, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you've created.

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the Son man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

The Psalmist’s attitude, Israel's attitude was diametrically opposed to this sense of horror, loneliness and coldness that the Gnostic feels when he looks up at the night sky. It was against this Gnostic attitude that Christians would be baptized into the faith of the Creed, confessing that the very same God we've met in Jesus Christ is the maker of the world in which we live.
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I am sure you have read that great creation story in Genesis many times and the gospel of John begins by retelling the creation story. “In the beginning was the Word” John says. John retells the creation story as the story of Jesus Christ because all things were made through Him. In Him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. So with this great Genesis creation story as a back drop, the followers of Jesus look at that and say, ‘Now that we've met Christ, we've actually met the creative energy at the source of this whole universe.’ In the New Testament Jesus Christ is called God's word, God's wisdom. It's as if He is the architectural blueprint of reality. It's as if looking at Jesus, you're seeing an outline of God's plan for the whole of creation.
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So the early Christians confessed that in knowing Christ, we get to know the very creative energy, the very creative principle underlying all of life in this world. That might seem like no big deal. But to be baptized into a faith like that was tremendously counter-cultural. It was an absolute refusal to see the world as divine - because the world is God's creation. It was also an absolute refusal to see anything in the world as inherently evil - because everything in this world is made by our good God Who we've come to know in Christ.
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I talked last week about how to be baptized into the faith of the Creed, to say the Creed in the waters of baptism, to say those three great “I believes ..” was a statement of deep personal allegiance to the God Who is revealed in Christ. But it's not only that, it's not just a spiritual faith. I'm not just saying “From now on my spiritual life will be oriented around God.” To be baptized into the faith of the Creed is to make an absolute commitment to God’s created world.
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Have you ever noticed that each of the three parts of the creed, centres on something about creation? The first part says that we believe in God, creator of heaven and earth - this world comes out of the goodness and love of God. The second part of the Creed says that God comes in Jesus Christ, born of a virgin into our world - that God, having made the world, doesn't stand at a distance from it, but enters into it and becomes united with creation, born of a woman, flesh and blood just as we are. And the third part of the Creed talks about where this world is headed, not towards destruction, not towards the great day when we can escape from the world and go somewhere better, somewhere spiritual, somewhere free of suffering and death. The creed ends by affirming the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, the One Who renews and transforms and how at the end there will be the resurrection of the flesh, when this whole created world is transfigured and transformed and flooded with light and glory when we witness the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
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Right from the start to the finish, this Creed is about creation, that the God revealed in Christ is a God who brings forth creation, redeems it and will one day transform it eternally. That salvation will never be an escape from this world, but rather God's loving restoration of a good creation. I think the spirit of this confession of creation, and in our baptism, we are pledging ourselves to God’s creation; we are taking a stand on behalf of creation. It's often said today that creeds are rather intolerant and they are always excluding somebody and that we should be more tolerant and sophisticated and that’s why we don't need creeds anymore. Today we just believe in some sort of universal harmony .. blah, blah, blah. Historically though it was exactly the reverse. The Creed was precisely a rejection of cosmic intolerance. The greatest threat to the early Church were these Gnostic movements that were rejecting the whole material world and rejecting anybody who lived out the life of the body in an ordinary way – the way God ordained.
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So it was the Church that took a stand on behalf of creation and said no to any doctrine that makes creation evil and any doctrine that makes the body evil. We believe in the virgin birth and the resurrection of the body. This was an affirmation of the amazing fact that God is not so pure, as to remain untainted by human flesh, God touches flesh, makes contact with the life of the body. If the Creed is intolerant, it's simply intolerant of intolerance. It's a rejection of a cosmic intolerance of the very environment in which we live. In this Creed the Church is taking a stand on the side of God’s creation and the flesh - the body, and resisting anything that disparages God's good creation.
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I think the Spirit of this is most vividly captured by St. Francis of Assisi, that great medieval saint.  Many of his writings have come down to us today and we sing some songs which come from his poems. But one of his poems has survived which we call the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister moon.Against the back drop of Gnostic teaching saying all creation is evil, St Francis sings to creation; he sings to the sun and says, ‘brother sun.’He says, “Praise be to You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.”
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How different this is, again, from that feeling of coldness, loneliness, smallness, insignificance, that the ancient Gnostics felt when they looked up at the heavens. St. Francis looks at God’s creation and addresses the sun, moon, stars, wind, water and fire as brother and sister. Then he sums it all up by saying ‘Mother Earth.’This is not some kind of pagan, pantheistic view that the whole world is divine. This language is used because St. Francis has gotten to know the Creator God in the person of Jesus Christ. He realizes that the whole environment in which we live is our friend. Anywhere St. Francis looks, all he sees are more friends and family. Perhaps that is why St. Francis was well known as one to whom the animals would come so freely and he fed and befriended the animals all the time. Perhaps they sensed his incredible respect for all of God’s creation, simply because it is God’s.
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This sense of intense belonging in this world, is what it means to confess God as Creator, not that the world is an alien, cold, inhospitable, hostile environment. Life on Earth is not evil, as Justine says in Melancholia. The whole earth exists in this intimate kinship with human beings. We are at home in this world. Brother Sun ... sister moon ... brother fire ... sister water. St. Francis addresses the creation not in worship - he doesn't worship creation. He calls on the creature to give praise to God the Father Almighty, Who is the creator of heaven and earth.
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As I reflect on this reality I can think of four main truths which we should embrace about creation. Let me share those with you as I wrap this up. First and foremost, creation is good. Genesis 1 is like a poem about God as the Creator and in this poem there is a refrain that is repeated seven times.  “It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good.  It is good. It is good.  It is very good.” Now the statement that the creation is good probably doesn’t sound profound. We live in a world that appreciates creation, at least in theory.  However, as I have already explained, for the early Church this was a radical statement because it stood apposed to the heretical views of Gnosticism which was running rampant at the time.  But the early believers affirmed that because God created it, the creation is good. It is good in its abundance. It is good in its beauty. It is good in its variety, its vastness and its complexity.  The creation is good.
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Secondly, God not only created the world but God also loves His creation. God cherishes it. Tony Campolo tells the story of how God made daisies.  He talks about his grandson, Roman.  Campolo loved playing with Roman.  He would throw him up in the air, catch him and then put him down. Roman would laugh and shout, “Do it again, Pop-pop.”  Tony would pick him up and throw him again.  Each time Roman’s joy and enthusiasm got bigger.  “Do it again!  Do it again! Do it again!”  Tony got tired of the game long before Roman ever did. Then Tony asks the question. How did God create the daisies?  Did God just say “Daisies be!” and all of them bloomed?  Or, did God create one daisy and then look at it with delight, and cry out “Do it again!  Do it again!”  And after 50 billion daisies God still was jumping up and down with joy.  “Do it again!”  God did that with daisies and every other plant and flower. God did that for the mountains and rivers and valleys, and for very animal and God did that for you and me.  “This is great!  Do it again!” God cherishes the creation.
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Thirdly, God is the creator, which means that God is separate from creation. If Gnosticism was the primary heresy that competed with early Christianity, today one of the heresies that competes with Christianity is an idea called pantheism.  Gnosticism claimed that the creation is evil. Pantheism claims that the creation is good, so good, in fact, that it is divine. There is a divine nature inside every part of creation, rocks and trees, eagles and whales and in you and me. Salvation, then, becomes realizing your divine nature and living out of that divinity. The Bible and the Apostles Creed completely reject that idea. God is the Creator Who is separate from the creation.  We can certainly experience God through His creation. God sometimes reveals Himself in a beautiful sunset, or in a majestic, snow-covered mountain, or in the vastness and complexity of the oceans or the stars.  But the creation is not divine. The Bible tells us that because of sin the creation is also broken and waits for its renewal and salvation just like we do.  If the creation is broken, then creation is not divine, because God can’t be broken. Our salvation and our hope are not found through our efforts in realizing our divinity and living out of that divineness.  Our salvation is found in God alone, who is separate from His creation, and chose to enter the creation in the person of Jesus Christ.
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Finally, as human beings we are also part of the creation, but we have a special role to play in God’s creation. We are called to be stewards of His creation, to care for creation. How we actually live out that stewardship and how far we go in taking responsibility for all that happens in creation, is a matter for hot debate and I don’t expect that will change anytime soon. The main point from the Apostles Creed and from this Bible is simple: God created heaven and earth and that has many implications for us, who are citizens of both and who are called to proclaim Jesus Christ, and His Lordship over all creation. The opening verses of Psalm 19 try to capture this reality:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”  ( Psalm 19:1-2 )

And this from the book of Job:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”( Job 12:7-10 )

And the final word from Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” ( Romans 1:20 )

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FEEDBACK: robert@gunnedahbaptist.org.au
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