The Value of Thankfulness in Worship

One of the chief elements of worship is thanksgiving.  Being thankful lies right at the heart of the reason for our existence, because we are created to be in relationship with a gracious God and thankfulness recognizes that relationship.

Thankfulness does not mean being happy that I have something good.  It means recognizing the good gift I have received and acknowledging the goodness and benevolence of the one who gave it.  Romans 1:21, in discussing the essential nature of sin closely links the refusal to acknowledge God with a lack of thankfulness.

This means that the one who does not believe in God cannot be thankful, because he cannot recognize where his good things have come from.  He thinks they just happened through random happenstance or were the result of his own hard work or character.  If I give my child some good gift, and he is very happy that he has it and goes off and tells his friends that he bought it himself at the store, is he thankful?  Thankfulness requires acknowledging where something comes from.

Directly connected to this truth is the idea that if I am truly thankful to God for the things I have, then I will seek to use those things the way God says to use them.  This is because I will always want to use things according to what they are.  For instance, if I buy something from a manufacturer then, if I am wise, I will use it the way the manufacturer specifies.  Likewise, if the things in the world were given to me by God, then I can only use them the way God specifies, since He is the manufacturer. But if I think the things in the world just happened, then I am the only real judge of how to use them.  If I believe that, then the misuse of those things is inevitable, because I will not understand the nature of those things.

Food, drink, clothes, my body, money, relationships, and everything else about this life are all given to me by God.  If I am truly thankful, then I will learn to use things the way God teaches.  This is why Paul can tell Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:4 that everything God created is good and to be used with thankfulness.  Acknowledging God as the source of everything is the first principle that will guide us to its right use.

In our worship, therefore, we have a wonderful opportunity to be trained in thankfulness.  We gather together to give thanks to God and acknowledge Him as our creator.  We are reminded that our very lives are gifts from God and therefore are to be used in His service.  Worshiping God trains us to be true human beings, because the creator / creature relationship defines us, and if we are to have any hope at all of a profitable existence, we must understand the relationship we bear to the God who made us.  We are created by God for amazing things, and restored to that purpose from the ruin of sin by the death of Christ.  Thankfulness for that creation and restoration will enable us to understand how to rightly use our existence and enjoy the great gift God has given us.

The Value of Reciting Creeds

In the late 3rd and early 4th century AD the Christian church experienced a fierce conflict over the exact nature of Jesus’ deity. The conflict was over a doctrine called Arianism, after Arius, a priest who was one of the doctrine’s chief advocates. The doctrine denied that Jesus was truly God, and became very popular. In 325 AD the Council of Nicea was called to settle the matter by the new Christian emperor, Constantine. They rejected Arius and affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity and the full deity of Christ. They wrote a creed, known as the Nicene Creed (along with some later additions from the council of Constantinople in 381).

But that, unfortunately, was not the end of the matter. No doctrinal matter has ever been truly resolved by simply calling a council. Many people, including emperors and barbarian kingdoms such as the Goths and Vandals, professed Arianism.  For a time it very much looked as if Arianism would be the dominant belief of the Christian church.

But over time, a practice developed which ended up being far more determinative; in the church service, the people would recite the Nicene Creed together. Over time, this ensured that the people of the church thoroughly learned the doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ’s full deity which was expressed at Nicea. This, far more than the decision of the council by itself, gradually led to the eradication of Arianism.

The recitation of creeds continues to have this value. The Scriptures were not given alone, but were given to a church to teach to the world. The medieval church and the institution of the Papacy made the mistake of thinking that the Scriptures meant what the church said it meant, while the Reformers recaptured the truth that the Scriptures gain their meaning and authority from the Spirit of God, not from the church. But all too many Protestants entirely discard the role of the church in promoting and teaching the Scriptures and act as if the Scriptures were given to them as individuals apart from the historic church.

Therefore the ancient creeds, as well as those of more modern origin, can be of great value to the church. A child who grows up reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed learns a great deal of theology as he does so, theology which will be at his fingertips for the rest of his life. Tools such as the Heidelberg Catechism supplement this with doctrinal insights and precision from later stages of the church’s development.

Reciting creeds in church does not place them above Scripture any more than singing hymns with non-inspired words places those hymns above Scripture. In both cases, those creeds and hymns express the doctrine of Scripture, and are therefore dependent on it. But their use recognizes the role that God gave the church in teaching the doctrine of Scripture to people. Heretics always come with the words of Scripture, and therefore the church uses these summary statements to clarify and explain what the church believes the Scriptures to teach. Doing so is a useful and valuable practice that has served the church well for all of its history.