Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mindless Repetition

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is always good to remember why we do this, so consider just a few reasons:

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess--we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith--we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the
universe. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.
While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship each week in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.