The day has finally arrived for both of our children to ask theological questions, and the moment arrived almost unexpectedly on this Taco Tuesday in our house. The moment was met with Kristina shouting resoundingly through the house. The question, first initiated by Jon Andrew, was, “What is heaven?” For a boy who mostly talks about Hot Wheels, monster trucks, and the never-ending humor caused by natural bodily sounds, this question was unexpected and exciting. How did I answer? How would you answer? Or, maybe, how have you answered?
Danika picked up the conversation, explaining what she believed happened after death, and while I encouraged her attempt, I pointed to the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as ways to form our thoughts on these theological inquiries. We pray the Lord’s Prayer every night after we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and during the season of Advent 2022, we started saying the Apostles’ Creed on Sunday evenings. Kristina and I have realized the differences between our upbringing in the Church and our children’s, and so we have attempted to teach our children what we learned in Church as children, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. At one time in history, both were considered equally reverent, but both are significant in what I call, ‘raising theologians.’ Why?
The Lord’s Prayer, taught to the disciples by Jesus, teaches us to pray like Jesus. To date, I still believe the best work on the Lord’s Prayer is in Eugene Peterson Spiritual Theology series, “Tell It Slant.” In this book I learned that the Lord’s Prayer was the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them. They could have asked to learn how to walk on water, heal infirmities, multiply food, but instead they asked to learn how to pray. I’ve created a study on the prayers of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke that I loved teaching, and I would love to teach again some day. The Lord’s Prayer is THE prayer to learn, and it’s the one we pray with our children every night. Regarding Jon Andrew’s question, ‘What is heaven?’ I believe the Lord’s prayer offers an answer.
‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN…’ (Matt. 6:9-13) Jesus taught his disciples to pray for heaven on earth. Jesus also proclaimed that the Kingdom of heaven [or God] was [and is] at hand, and called us to repentance of sin [changing our mind and turning it towards Jesus, to be brief] (Matt. 3:2, 4:17 to name a few places)
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God for ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ and this request we expect to see. So, in teaching our children this prayer, we are teaching them to think about the proximity of heaven is closer than we think. In this way, we are giving our children Jesus’ own words to think differently about heaven. Jesus said to repent [turning our minds towards Christ] because heaven is near – for which we ask God’s will to actualize that on earth. That may change the way we think about what we do daily. Maybe you’ll think about it, too.
The Apostles’ Creed, a formulation by the Church, teaches us to believe in Jesus. For more reading on the Apostles’ Creed, I recommend the Introduction chapters of Justo Gonzalez’s, ‘The Apostles’ Creed for Today,’ (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) and R. Albert Mohler, Jr.’s, ‘The Apostles’ Creed,’ (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019). Both of these sources were consulted for the writing of the following section. A creed is a statement of belief, usually on behalf of a larger body. This Creed is historic, but not necessarily ‘Apostolic,’ in the sense that the Apostles of Christ wrote it. Scholarship agrees that this creed was written for the Church to know her doctrine when faced with oppositional thoughts. The Creed can be divided into three subsections, each demonstrating the Church’s belief in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the Church states this Creed, it is not necessarily personal; rather, it is a belief on behalf of the collective historic Church.
As a child, I may not have known what I was saying, but I said it. For now, Jon Andrew and Danika may not understand what they’re saying, but they’ll learn it because the historic Church formulated it for us to state in with the expectation of growing in our faith in Jesus. As Gonzalez and Mohler both note, the Creed was used as a way of teaching the faith to those who were candidates for baptism. When considering infant baptism in some traditions, such as my own, there is a problem of expecting the infant to articulate the creed, obviously. But for those traditions that practice infant baptism, the role of the Church and those who represent the infant at baptism is to teach the faith of Jesus so that one day the child can decide for him or herself if they want to own their baptism – a person’s incorporation into the Body of Christ by the cleansing of original sin.
As a child, I said things that I may not have understood. But, as an adult, I learned what they meant, and I had to decide if I still believe in them or not. The Apostles’ Creed is not my personal creed. It belongs to the Church, because it was created by the Church and for the Church. The elements found within concisely communicate the historic and orthodox beliefs of the Church which is: Jesus is Lord. (Emphasis mine)
We will teach our children the Apostles’ Creed, along with the Nicene Creed, so that when asked a theological question from friends, they can reply, “I believe…”
We may not understand what we believe today, but a life with Jesus is one in which we pray to him, knowing him more, so that our, “I believe” is a daily growth in faith by his grace. I believe that Jesus is real and heaven is near because I’ve spoken with him this day in prayer, heard his voice in Scripture, and I hope my life indicates such a phenomenal interaction.
So, what do you believe?