The echoes of centuries resonate deeper and louder than the currents of the present.
Think about the songs we sing as a gathered church. How many of you have sung these songs in worship in the last six months: “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”; “Shout to the Lord”; “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord”; “Mighty to Save”?
Perhaps a few. Yet these were the most used songs in churches around the United States just ten years ago.
How about these? “Holy, Holy, Holy”; “It Is Well With My Soul”; “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”? I would be surprised if most churches had not sung these songs at least once in the last six months. And they are hundreds of years old.***
The songs that survive the centuries have done so for a reason. They speak with a depth and clarity that resonate deep within us and compel us to sing them over and over again. They connect us to truth that transcends time, culture, and circumstance and reminds us that there are realities deeper than our personal experience.
Singing these songs connects us to our theological and religious heritage of years gone by. But I can’t help thinking that the past has more to say to us than just its songs. Along with its songs, the past has handed down theological truth in the form of creeds and confessions. And they should be a part of our worship as well.
Creeds and confessions are relentlessly God-focused. They are timeless because they are rooted in the One who transcends time. When God’s gathered people hear or speak together words about Him that were written over a thousand years ago, we join our voices through the ages to declare, “Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever!”
In what time, place, culture, or life circumstance are these words not true? “We believe in our one Lord Jesus Christ…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.”
As a husband and father, I want my family’s perspective to be shaped by truths like these. As a pastor, I want my people to know and believe these things. As a Christian who wants to shine the light of the gospel in our community, I want anyone I bring with me to church or who walks into our gathering to know that this is the ground of our hope. And this has been the hope of God’s people down through the centuries; it has not changed, it will not change.
We should strive to incorporate not only the songs but the confessions of centuries past into our modern worship. It connects all who are present with truths that are unchanged and unchanging.
As a conclusion, here is a sample of how we try to incorporate an historic creed into one of our recent worship services:
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:1-3
Sing: Come Praise and Glorify
Scripture Reading and Prayer: 2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Corporate Reading of the Nicene Creed (we read the section about God the Father)
Sing: Holy, Holy, Holy
Corporate Responsive Reading of the Nicene Creed (we read responsively through the section about God the Son)
Sing: In Christ Alone
Congregational Reading of the Nicene Creed (we read the section about God the Spirit)
Sing: All Must Be Well
Congregational Reading of the Nicene Creed (we read the final section)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 (the creed ends on a note of God’s everlasting kingdom and this section of Isaiah speaks about that)
Partaking in the Lord’s Supper
Closing Hymn: Last Verse of Holy, Holy, Holy
Benediction: 2 Corinthians 13:14
Let us link arms with the past in proclaiming the unchanging truths of God and His gospel, for His glory and our everlasting joy.
***I got this illustration from a breakout Mike Cosper did at a conference I attended.