If you belong to a historic protestant denomination, chances are, that you will be familiar with some ancient creeds of the Christian faith, particularly the Apostles Creed. However if you are from a Baptist, Pentecostal or Independent church tradition it is quite possible that the Apostles Creed is not that familiar to you.
Coming from an Independent church background I wasn’t that aware of the ancient creeds, and I have never spent a great deal of time studying them. However, I now serve on the staff team of an Anglican church, where week in week out we recite a creed together as a congregation. Due to my lack of understanding of how these ancient creeds came into existence I thought that it would be a good idea to spend a few weeks studying them.
Over the next few weeks I will blog about the development of the Creeds, how they came into existence and why they were needed. I will also reflect on what the church fathers regarded as the essentials to the Christian faith and discuss the relevance of creeds today.
The bulk of these blog posts will be focused primarily on the Apostles Creed as the later creeds, for the most part, are clarifications regarding the Apostles Creed.
The Apostles Creed is as follows:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
History of the Apostles Creed
The Apostles Creed was the standard statement of faith for the universal church by the 8th century, but how did it come into existence?
Throughout the years there has been claims that the Apostles Creed was actually written (in its earliest form) by the apostles. The first written claim (that has been discovered) that actually suggests the creed was written by the Apostles dates around 390 AD, by Rufinus whose writings discuss the early development of the creed.
Despite the claims that the Apostles were responsible for the authorship of the creed there is no real evidence to suggest that they actually did. Nearly all church historians would be in agreement that the Apostles Creed was not written by the Apostles but it is rather a summary of the Apostles teaching, which was used in its earliest form (40-50AD) for baptism candidates to declare their faith in God. In time where pluralism was rampant, it was important for the early church leaders to school the new converts in the Apostles teaching and to be clear on the basics of the Christian faith.
As important as the creeds where, it is clear that the early church fathers believed that scripture was the final rule of faith and practice.
“All who believe … Derive the knowledge which incites men to good and happy life from no other source from the very words and teachings of Christ…And by the words of Christ , we do not mean those only which He spoke when he became man… For before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the Prophets… Moreover… After His ascension into heaven He spoke in His Apostles”
“There is brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source.”
The Apostles Creed served as a clear summary of the Christian faith. In an age of illiteracy, it was important for the church to disciple people in a way that would teach them the key doctrines of the church and would equip them to stand firm against heresy.
The Apostles Creed gave all believers an overview of the Christian faith, of course this was not exhaustive, but it was regarded as the minimum standard for belief and practice. According to the church fathers and the great councils throughout the ages; if you cannot subscribe to the Apostles Creed, you have no right to call yourself a Christian.
“These words which you have heard are the Devine scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that memory of slow persons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes.”
The Theology of the Apostles Creed
Although short, the creed covers a wide range of key doctrines. Over the next few blog posts we will go into detail and explore some of the theology presented in the creed.
The creed is broken into 3 sections, each section focusing on one of the persons of the God-head. Although the trinity is not explicitly mentioned, it is certainly implied in the way that the creed is broken up.
- Maker of heaven and earth
- Caused the virgin Mary to become pregnant with Jesus
- A distinct person of God.
- associated with the Church and fellowship
- The Spirits role in regeneration in implied.
- Universal Church
- Resurrection of the body
As stated previously the creed was not intended to be exhaustive, but rather it is the most generous of creeds, that must be affirmed by all who would call themselves Christian.
The Apostles Creed leaves us with a firm foundation of theology which draws from the full expanse of scripture. Knowing and understanding the doctrine set out in the Apostles Creeds leaves us able to build our theology in assurance that the core from which we build upon is correct. Any doctrine we have that is not compatible with the Apostles Creed has no place in our theology.
Someone once described the Apostles Creed as being like the source of a river, and the rest of our theology being the river that naturally flows from the source. If our theology does not naturally flow from the source (primarily scripture) we have somehow gone astray…