The Creed: An Introduction

by | Nov 24, 2016 | Austin Hess

This is the first post in a series of posts studying the Apostles’ Creed. It serves as an introduction to the Creed and helps the reader understand the background of the Creed and the purpose of the series.

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven; And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy catholic church; the communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins; The resurrection of the body; And the life everlasting. Amen.

These words ring familiar and true to many ears as they had to memorize it for a confirmation class or for an academic class (like myself). However, many do not recognize this as the Apostles’ Creed because evangelical Christianity has started to move away from the ancient creeds and confessions. Therefore, I would like to provide a brief introduction to the Apostles’ Creed and familiarize the reader with a short history and usage of this creed.

 

Legendary Origins

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

— Matthew 16:15-16 (ESV)

The Creed (as it will be referred to henceforth) has legendary origins, which are exactly thatlegendary. The popular legend surrounding the Creed, which was believed to be fact until the middle of the 17th century, goes something like this:

The apostles met together before they all separated to go their separate ways after Pentecost to ensure unity in their teachings. They contributed twelve articles (one for each apostle) and came up with the Creed. Peter contributed the first article, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty.” Then all the apostles contributed their articles including their newest apostle, Matthias (who replaced Judas Iscariot), who contributed the final article of the Creed, “life everlasting. Amen.”

Although it is a good story and somewhat believable, it is incorrect. First, there is no record in the Scriptures of such meeting taking place among the apostles. Second, there is no record among the early church fathers of this meeting, nor even a hint of affirmation. Third, there are a variety of forms of the Creed, so if the apostles did actually compose it, there would not be such a variety.

Here is how the story actually goes. Around 100 AD, all the affirmations of the Creed were extant in early Christian writings, although the statements were not in their fullest form. The precursor to the Creed was the Old Roman Form which was conceived in 200 AD. The Old Roman Form is the basis of the Creed because when the two are compared together, they both consist of the exact same structure, though the Old Roman Form does not have all the words the Creed has. It was not until 700 AD when the Creed first came into existence in its fullest form.

Why was the Creed developed? The earliest forms of the Creed and the Creed itself were primarily developed to combat Gnostic heresies. The Gnostics started to take Christian doctrines and give “the real meaning” to them; or, in other words, their own meaning. In order to combat these heresies, especially to protect newer Christians, the Creed was developed from the teachings of the Bible so that the beliefs of Christianity would be clear and concise. So when heresies arose, they would be easily identified and refuted.

Content

[The] Apostles’ Creed . . . is the simplified road map, ignoring much but enabling you to see at a glance the main points of Christian belief.

 J.I. Packer, Affirming the Apostles’ Creed

Without diving too much into the content of the Creed, I would like to help familiarize the reader with some general basics.

The Creed is the gospel. This may come as a shock to some people, partly because of how simplified the gospel has been made to be, often known as the ABCsAll have sinned and come short of the glory of God, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, confess Jesus Christ as the risen Lord. As this series continues, it will become clear that the Creed is the gospel.

The question being asked when it comes evangelism is “how little do we have to tell someone for them to be saved?” In a society where the Bible is being removed from the public sphere, a generation of theologically ignorant Christians are being raised.  If we don’t start teaching Christians sound theology starting with evangelism, then they won’t know what is heresy and what is not and will be carried away by every wind of teaching.

 

The Creed is divided into three main articles which shows the Trinitarian nature of the Creed. The first section deals with God the Father and is rather short. The second deals with God the Son, which makes up  the majority of the Creed. Finally, the third deals with God the Holy Spirit (and other major Christian doctrines). Although it does not explicitly mention the Trinity, it is very much evident.

Along with the tripartite division, the Creed is mainly Christological. As mentioned before, the main section of the Creed is the second section as it has more articles than all the other sections. It puts Christ at the center of the faith because “we could not know about the Trinity or salvation or resurrection and life everlasting apart from Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Christ, in his redemption of all God’s people, who was the revealer of all these truths” (J.I. Packer).

Usage

As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation—from God and the creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting.

 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom

There are many uses for the Creed, so I would like to highlight several of them: 1) serves as a personal confession, 2) is used in the worship service setting, 3) is used as a baptismal confession, 4) combats against heresy and sin, and finally 5) unifies Christians.

It serves as a private confession of faith. “I believe …” is right at the beginning of the Creed and shows the personal affirmation of these articles. It also shows those who witness the affirmation of the Creed the reciter’s allegiance to the faith.

The Creed also has a place in corporate worship. For instance, during corporate worship at the church I attend, we often recite the Creed in unison to publically proclaim what we believe because as much as Christianity is an individual faith, it is also very much a corporate faith.

Along with the first thought, the Creed served another part in worship service. Throughout church history it was often used as a baptismal confession. In the early church, before someone’s baptism, they would recite the Creed before the congregation, sometimes it might be in question and answer format, to show publicly that they agree with Christian beliefs. This often took the form of reciting a confession of faith or memorizing a catechism and reciting it before the congregation.

The Creed was originally developed to combat against heresies, and it still has that function today. If any theological teaching comes along that contradicts one of these articles, then it is abundantly clear that this teaching is heresy and needs to be addressed accordingly.

Lastly, it unifies all Christians. Christians hold many diverse beliefs – continuationist/cessationist, premillennial/amillennial/postmillennial, paedobaptist/credobaptist, Calvinist/Arminian – and they are still considered brothers and sisters in Christ so long as they are genuinely saved and affirm the beliefs set forth in the Creed.

Final Authority

Receive, my children, the Rule of Faith, which is called the Symbol (or the Creed). And when you have received it, write it in your heart, and be daily saying it to yourselves; before ye sleep, before ye go forth, arm your with your Creed..

 Saint Augustine, On the Creed

Cautionary note: this is not the final authority when it comes to Christian belief – the Bible is the Christian’s final authority. The Creed is a norma normata, a rule that is ruled. It is very helpful to the Christian’s study of God’s Word, but one should not use the Creed as their Bible.

Now that all this introductory material is delivered, what is the point to this series? I am motivated to see people’s theologies become practical, so in this series I would like to revive interest in this ancient creed and show that though it may be a very brief statement, it is packed full of knowledge.

I do not want this to be knowledge that stays in the head. At the end of each post, I will help take the theology learned and offer advice to make the Creed applicable to everyday life.

I hope you, the reader, have enjoyed my post and found it beneficial. I believe this series will be beneficial to whoever reads it and hope that they would come along with me on this journey studying this historic, but completely relevant and powerful Creed.

Recommended Resources

The Creeds of Christendom by Philip Schaff
Affirming the Apostles’ Creed by J.I. Packer

Austin is currently taking classes through Lancaster Bible College in pursuit of a dual B.A. in Pre-Seminary and Biblical Studies so that one day he may be able to shepherd God’s flock. He currently fellowships with others at a PCA church on the Lord’s Day.

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