If you have been to a wedding in the last twenty years, and especially in the last five, you might have noticed a trend. More and more couples are deciding to write their own wedding vows. This change no doubt reflects the desire for the couple to really 'own' their vows, to put their own spin on the words they would nervously utter while exchanging rings.
I understand the desire to do this; after all, our society is now very far removed from using words like 'with my body I thee worship' and all the other antiquated phrases that have been used through the centuries. There isn't anything wrong with altering the vows, given that the bride and groom understand and thus mirror the oaths that the older vows represent.
You might think me old in saying this, and that is of course your perogative. But I do think it very important to maintain the ideas behind our older ceremonies, even if we change the words. It would be appropriate to vow your devotion and service to your spouse, regardless of situation or feeling. But it would be less than fitting on your wedding day to say, "Hey, you're pretty cool and I think we can take a swing at life."
Well, there is power behind words. Despite our society's desire to deny this truth, it remains unaltered. When we vow and affirm our promises, we say something about our ability to hold to them. Understanding what millions of people throughout history have said and believed and held to can help connect us to a community that spans even time.
This is why we need to understand our spiritual heritage and the words and vows that our ancestors made. It is a good thing that we are always trying to relate to the world in ways that make sense. We employ technology, sound, visual aids, and modern vocabulary because without these things, we aren't very relevant! But as we do this, we must also keep the same message. We can change the wrapping, but the gift still needs to be the same.
It is with this understanding that I want to present something I wrote a few years ago regarding the Apostles' Creed. If you aren't familiar with it, or want to commit it to memory (a very good idea), I will include the text below.
No doubt, many of you who are reading this blog attend non-denominational churches. Churches like these are relatively new, historically speaking. They are usually independent congregations, made up of believers who come from every conceivable background. This tells me why some of my readers may be cautious about the study of doctrine. Their unity in Christ is precious. They want to guard it. Believers in these churches have enjoyed a generation of unity because they decided not to discuss doctrinal differences. The problem is, most of these churches have now come to the time when they must decide what to teach their children and new converts. Trying to meet this need often opens up the potential for disunity. When I served at a church in central Phoenix, this very dilemma pushed us towards a new and, for us, a surprising insight. We decided that if we could go back to the days before Christians began to divide from one another, back to the days before the great denominations were formed, we would find the common deposit of faith, the essence of "Mere Christianity. " We wanted to get in step with the steady beat of the Great Parade.
For three centuries after the death of the apostles, Christians struggled about what they believed. Even when the apostles were alive, Christians often disagreed among themselves over issues such as how to interpret various portions of the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). Then, immediately after the apostles, they argued about which writings should be included in the New Testament. Early Christians also held different beliefs about Christ. Some of these beliefs questioned the deity of Jesus Christ. Others questioned His humanity. Differences like these left Christians divided and discouraged.
To settle such issues, the Christians held special gatherings called councils. Christian churches all over the known world sent representatives to these meetings. In these councils, the believers worked to define and describe the doctrines that would be common to all Christians. The first of these councils is recorded in the Bible itself, in Acts, chapter 15. In the next few centuries there were several more church councils. In them, the Christians decided things like which writings would or would not be included in the New Testament, how much of Jewish practice would or would not be retained in the Christian Church, and what Christians would teach about Jesus Christ. Through the ages since, the overwhelming majority of Christians have agreed with the decisions these early councils made. They have played their music to the steady beat established in the church counsels. The decisions of these councils have stood the test of time through countless trials and tribulations. They are important to all of us.
The early councils struggled over how to describe Jesus Christ and the doctrines about Him. Their decisions were then worded in such a way that they could be memorized and used in public worship by common people. We call these doctrinal poems "creeds," since the first word in each of these doctrinal poems is the Latin word "credo," which means, "I believe."
The first and most important of these creeds is called the Apostles' Creed. No one knows for sure when it was written. We do know that Christians were quoting it in the second century. A couple of centuries later another important creed, called the Nicene Creed, was written. There are few Christians anywhere, with all our differences, who do not accept the doctrines that these creeds teach. So it is in these creeds that believers in Christ find their common doctrinal heritage. The creeds contain what C. S. Lewis meant by "Mere Christianity."
The Apostles' Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy *catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
*The word catholic refers to Christ's universal church, not to the Roman Catholic Church. You will often hear this replaced with 'holy Christian church' to promote clarity.