Monday, December 11, 2006

What Are They Doing In There?

The Apostles’ Creed is about God, right? The three articles of the Creed specifically confess the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, respectively. But have you ever noticed that there are other people mentioned in the Creed? They almost might seem out of place when we are confessing the very faith of the most holy God. But there they are, Mary and Pontius Pilate. Two sinners, just like the rest of us. What are they doing in there?

But before we meet Mary in the Creed, the Holy Spirit makes an appearance in the second article (even before the third article), which confesses the work of Christ: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. In this phrase we are taught (and at the same time confess) a valuable doctrine: the work of salvation is the work of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father sent His Son and sent the Holy Spirit to bring about His being sent. Jesus Christ became a man upon His conception, nevertheless remaining true God because He was not born of the union of a man and woman, but rather of being born of a woman and having been conceived by the Holy Spirit.

And this is where Mary comes in. It was not above Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation to be born of a woman, a person just like you and me. It might strike us as odd that if in the Creed there is a person mentioned that it would be one of the “great” saints, not the simple girl Mary who isn’t mentioned nearly as much in the Scriptures as others. Think of some of the pillars of the Bible: Paul, Peter, Abraham, David, John, and the list could go on. Perhaps Paul’s statement about himself puts this into perspective when he said that he is the chief of sinners. These saints were great because God used them for His great purposes. They all were very much sinners in need of God’s grace. And Mary realized that, too. We give God thanks for all these saints, including Mary, for the blessings He gave through them. And we hold them in honor, remembering them so that we may follow their example.

So Mary makes sense after all. The point of putting her in the Creed was not to point to her but to show that God does amazing things through ordinary things (and people). But what about Pilate? Why is a pagan ruler in the sacred Creed of the Church? When we confess the Creed we are not confessing anything about him, but about what occurred historically which involved him. He was the one who gave the order for Christ to be crucified. This is a historical event, and the events of salvation are firmly rooted in historical events. Paul gives us a flavor of this when he says to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” [1Timothy 6:13].

What do the inclusion of the Holy Spirit, Mary, and Pontius Pilate give the Creed? An understanding that this isn’t just a theory that we are assenting to, but a creed; a real, factual confession of faith of who God is and the actual things He did to accomplish salvation.

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