March, 2016

The Apostles’ Creed: Amen

Every once in a while, I’ll stop the channel on one of the religious broadcasting channels. Why I do this, I have no idea. But I am often astounded and amused by the ubiquitous use of the word “Amen.” To a televangelist, it is as if the word amen has no syntax or defined usage. It can be used as an exclamation, “AMEN! Hallelujah, God is good.” It can be used as punctuation, “Just reach out…amen…and touch the TV screen, amen.” It can be an interrogative, “You don’t want to miss this blessing, do you? Amen?” After a few moments, the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride come to mind, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The word “amen” is often used without thinking about what it means. Sometimes it is merely a conditioned response. In prayer we tack on the word “amen” while rarely asking why. However, the word amen is a powerful word. It is with great reason that the Apostles’ Creed opens with the words “I believe” and ends with the word “amen.”

The word “amen” comes from a Hebrew root which means firmness or reliability. There is implicit in the word “amen” an indication of confidence and trust. This should cause us to think about that which is most faithful. The Creed, as we have seen, is an outline of the basic Trinitarian doctrine taught in the Scriptures. Because God is faithful, we can answer every, “I believe…” with a hearty “amen.” Does your “amen” come from a place of firm belief? Does it come from a place of faithfulness? Is it simply dead ritualism or is it a statement of assent that your firmly believe?

The word “amen” means firmness or reliability. The word “amen” is also a statement of application. Justin Martyr was a second century Christian. He commented that the word “amen” means “May it be.” In his Apology, he recounts the early church’s tradition of the Lord’s Supper. He writes:

Then bread and a cup of water mixed with wine are brought to the leader of the brothers, and taking them, this one sends up praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and he gives thanks for a long time for being considered by him worthy of these things. After he finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people who are present should assent, saying, “Amen!”[1]

Justin Martyr then includes a little parenthetical comment to explain the word, “amen.” “And ‘amen’ in the Hebrew language means, ‘May it be.’”[2] Justin Martyr wrote this in Greek. As he wrote it out, he transliterated the word “amen” but he used the word genoito to translate it in the Greek. This is the same word Paul uses in a negative sense in Romans when he takes a faulty presupposition and follows it out to its illogical conclusion. “What then, are we to think this? Me genoito!” Paul responses to these faulty presuppositions by saying, literally, “No amen” or as it is normally translated, “By no means!” or perhaps, more colloquially, “Heck no!” (see Rom 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11). This is what Justin Martyr understood by the word “amen.” All the people shout, “Amen!” and by this they mean “By all means!” “It is true!” or even “Heck yeah!”.

The word amen is a word of application. The English Puritan William Perkins wrote that the Apostles’ Creed serves as a storehouse of remedies against all troubles and temptation. For example:

  • If a man be grieved for the loss of earthy riches, let him consider that he believes God to be his Creator…. He has God as his Father, Christ as his Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit to be his Comforter.
  • They who are troubled for decrease of friends are to comfort themselves in the communion of saints, and that they have God the Father, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit for their friends.
  • Against bodily disease, we must remember the resurrection of the body.
  • If man fears death, let him consider that Christ died upon the cross, and that death vanquished death.
  • Fear of damnation is remedied by considering that Christ died, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and by the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.[3]

The Apostles’ Creed ends with “Amen” because it gives assent to the faithfulness of God and applies all the grace and truth of these statements to our lives. Amen.

 

[1] Justin Martyr, The First Apology, 65.1

[2] ibid.

[3] Perkins, William. Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. Accessed March 16, 2016. http://www.nesherchristianresources.org/perkins/default.shtml.

The Apostles’ Creed: Life Everlasting

Fairytales often end with the sappy conclusion, “And they lived happily ever after…” Finding one’s Prince Charming seems to guarantee bliss for the remainder of one’s days. Perhaps fairytales end on this note because it resonates with all our hopes and dreams. We all want our ending to be riding off into the sunset victorious, content, and happy. Thankfully for us, the promise of the Gospel is even better than “happily ever after.” It is life everlasting.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Christian’s “Life Everlasting” is that he already possesses it. Heidelberg Catechism Q58 asks, “What comfort do you derive from the article of the life everlasting?” And then it answers, “That, since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life I shall possess perfect bliss, such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man – therein to praise God forever.” We often think of everlasting life as a response to the specter of death that will eventually rest upon each of us. Though we will die, in Christ we will live. This is true, but it is incomplete. When phrased this way, we only see death and the everlasting life as a future event. But the Bible informs us that death is a current reality for the natural man. The natural man is already dead (1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1, 5). But for those who have repented of their sins and turned to Christ by faith, everlasting life is a current reality. This what is referred to in the Scriptures as the new birth or regeneration. Regeneration is the first installment of life everlasting.[1] The joy that comes with this new birth is now felt in the heart, and after this life the Christian will possess the fullness of that joy (see HC #58). The current joy of the believer is the appetizer to the main course of eternity. We are promised an eternal bliss, such as eye has not seen nor ear heard (1 Cor 9, 10).

It is important as we contemplate this doctrine that we remember that this everlasting life will be a physical life, not just a spiritual one. As we mentioned when talking about the resurrection of the body, the inclination of our modern Western mind is to think of immortality in a purely spiritual context. Platonic immortality viewed the soul as indestructible and housed in a corruptible bodily prison. Death will free the soul from this prison. When influenced by this unbiblical view, Christians think of the eternal life as sitting on a cloud in heaven with angel wings strumming a harp. This is not the life everlasting! We need to disabuse ourselves of this notion.

The Bible never places an intrinsically negative value on physical things. God created all things and declared that they were “good” and “very good” (Gen 1). All of creation fell in the sin of man and now suffers the consequences of sin. But we must remember that sin has no substance. Sin is a distortion of that which was created good. All sin is a distortion of some good thing given to us by God. Lust is a distortion of God’s good gift of sex. Drunkenness is a distortion of God’s good gift of drink. Obesity and eating disorders are a distortion of God’s good gift of food. Idolatry is a distortion of the good desire to worship the one true God. God created the physical and called it good. We shouldn’t think that life everlasting will be a rejection of the physical. The physical was created by God and it will be re-created by God.

When Peter speaks of the Day of the Lord, he refers to God’s creation of the world and then his destruction of the world in the Flood (2 Pet 3:6). The Flood was a judgment on the sinfulness of man. Through that judgment God purified the earth with water. In a similar manner, God will purify the earth again, but not with water. He will purify with fire. “By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:7, 10). By being “exposed” Peter is speaking of the purification of the heavens and earth. All will be redeemed and re-created. What we see now will be completely renewed and rescued from sin. Life everlasting will be our joy completed with resurrected and glorified bodies in a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). And the life everlasting will be fulfilling God’s will on the new earth as it is in heaven without the penalty, power, or presence of sin. Without disease, decay, or death we will reign with Christ over a redeemed creation that is good and very good.

[1] G. I. Williamson, The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 1994), 104.

The Apostles’ Creed: The Resurrection of the Body

The modern person has a remarkable inability to comfortably speak of death. We will use all manner of phrase to mask the reality of death. We might say, “He’s in a better place now.” “She’s passed on.” “He’s in heaven now.” “He got his wings.” “She went to be with the Lord.” We struggle when we have to say the words, “He’s dead.” Most of our experiences with funerals today reveal our discomfort with death. Why is there such anxiety when we are forced to contemplate the reality of death and dying?

It is because we are not just souls or spiritual creatures. We are also bodies. We were formed from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). There is a real, tangible substance to our existence. There is more to us than just bodies, but that reality is unseen. So, the reality of death creates anxiety because in death we are forced to wrestle with what seems to be the cessation of that substance and the questions of the future of the spiritual. The euphemisms ring hollow because they deny the importance of having an actual body. And denying the spiritual aspect of our being leads to despair and nihilism. The Christian, however, has answers to this difficulty, because it is to this angst that the Bible speaks so clearly.

RC Sproul notes that there is great confusion over our understanding of life after death. The reason is that we have often confused the Christian concept of resurrection with the Platonic view of immortality. The Platonic views sees the soul as indestructible. It will continue after death because it has always lived. It is eternal, nonmaterial, and incapable of annihilation. The body was simply a house (or even a prison) of the soul. But the Christian doctrine of resurrection sees life after death in a very different manner. The soul is created by God, not eternal. The soul does survive death in an intermediate existence, but there will be a bodily resurrection when soul and body are reunited. Eternity will be lived in a bodily as well as a spiritual existence. The Greeks saw redemption from the body. The Bible sees redemption of the body.[1]

There is debate among Christians as to what the resurrected body will be like. We can look to the resurrected Christ for some clues. He was the “firstfruit” of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). Our resurrection will be like his. We see in the Gospels that he was seen by others. He ate with them. He conversed with them. He was not immediately recognizable, but eventually was. The could be because his appearance was, to some degree, changed… or it could be because Mary was under such emotional stress (John 20:10-18). It would be speculative to say which is the case. But we should also note that the disciples on the road to Emmaus also failed to immediately recognize the resurrected Christ, though they eventually did. But we are promised that what he is now, we will be like (1 Jn 3:2). Paul adds, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:49).

Whatever the resurrected body will be like, we must reject the false dichotomy between our physical bodies and our spiritual existence. That dichotomy has more to do with Greek Platonic understanding of reality than a Biblical one. There is a biblical hope that God, through Christ, will redeem and restore all that is broken in creation. And that he will consummate a “new heavens and a new earth” (Rev 21:1) where death, disease, and decay no longer exist. Until then, we must look at death as the unwelcome invader, but one that will be evicted. We need not fear death. But neither should we ignore it. It is a reality of our fallen condition. But as a part of our fallen condition, we need not embrace it either. I often mention at funerals that death is not natural. It is not the way things ought to be. But through Christ’s victory over sin, death is defeated. Herman Witsius helpfully gives an appropriate response to the reality of the resurrection. We should:

by faith anticipate those times, or rather those everlasting ages, in which the body, freed from all the pains of sickness, raised from the dust of death, and conformed to the glorious body of Christ, shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of his heavenly Father; in which the soul, delivered from all the conflicts of temptation, shall rejoice in God and the Lamb. Let [us] anticipate those ages, when [we] shall see, possess, and enjoy, without measure, and without satiety, all those felicities, which here, amidst the numerous troubles of life, and in spite of the rage and malice of the Devil, [we] believed, expected, and very imperfectly tasted…Death, thou wilt terminate [our] miseries, and open wide to [us] the gate of heaven.[2]

[1] R. C Sproul, Renewing Your Mind: Basic Christian Beliefs You Need to Know (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998), 208–9.

[2] Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, 2 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 481–2.