Do we need the Apostles Creed?

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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”[1]

“There is brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source.”[2]

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.”[3]

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.

Father

  • Almighty
  • Maker of heaven and earth

Son

  • Incarnation
  • Suffering
  • Death
  • Burial
  • Resurrection
  • Ascension

Holy Spirit

  • 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.

Other Doctrines

  • Universal Church
  • Salvation
  • 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…


[1] Origen, On First Principles, Preface

[2] Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, Section 9

[3] Augustine, a sermon to the Catechumens: On the creed  (Augustine was actually referring to the Nicene Creed)

 

LESSONS FROM MY FIRST THREE YEARS OF MINISTRY (PART 3)

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This week I am reflecting on some of the lessons that I have learned in my first three years of ministry:

Lesson 1- Jesus is Faithful

Lesson 2- God’s Word is Sufficient

Lesson 3- Bible College: The Most Effective Method of Training? 

Lesson 4- Don’t Neglect Yourself Spiritually

It’s way too easy to neglect your own soul as a pastor…

The danger of writing sermons and talks every day is that you can fall into a trap. If you spend the day laboring at a text it can be easy to justify not reading the bible for yourself since you have spent the day saturated in God’s word. However personal bible reading is vital for our souls.

Acts 20:28 says:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,”

Lesson 5- Know when to Pull the Plug

Sometimes a ministry reaches the end of its life. That’s OK.

I think it is important to be reviewing all of the ministries and programs that a church runs. We need to ask what is it’s purpose and then consider if that purpose is being achieved. If it is, great. If not, something needs to be done.

There may be scope to change the program so that it is able to achieve its aims, but sometimes, you just have to pull the plug. These are often difficult decisions to make, particularly if that ministry has existed for years in your church or if it is an individuals project.  However there is no point pumping time, resources and money into something that is unable to achieve it’s aims.

This was a decision I had to make last term for one of the ministries I was involved in. We realized that we were unable to achieve what we had set out to do. So as a team we reviewed our options, and as a result we had to pull the plug.

These sorts of decisions are not the easiest to make, but is is important not to bury our heads in the sand.

Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (part 2)

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On Monday I began reflecting on some of the lessons that I have learned in my first three years in ministry. Over the next week or so I will post some of these reflections on the blog.

Lesson 3 – Bible Colleges: The Most Effective Way of Training?

Perhaps I went to bible college with naïve expectations…

When I signed up for Bible Collage  I thought that it would all be about Jesus, that it would be super practical, it would give me all the tools I needed to handle the bible and together, we would storm the gates of hell…

Some of it was great, particularly the stuff that was all about Jesus and was super practical. There was some really great teachers and classes which have equipped me to this day. I also have met some of my best friends (some of them contribute on the blog) at bible college and that was a really important aspect of my own growth.

However it wasn’t all like that.

A lot of my lessons consisted of ‘Ivory Tower Theology.’ High theology without the ‘so what?’ factor. Some of it was interesting, some of it boring, some of it fried my head… But it was often left without application. I often left puzzled, asking my self; ‘what does this mean for me?’ or ‘how will this apply to my future ministry?’  Sometimes there was some fantastic application, but for the most part there was none. The lack of application was one of the biggest disappointments.  Perhaps  I was supposed to apply it myself, perhaps I wasn’t bright enough…

Another expectation that I had was that I would be able to hear from seasoned pastors, passionate missionaries and ministry leaders. That was the case. However opportunity’s to hear about how they dealt with pastoral situations and complex issues was not an important aspect of most classes.  That would have been a real blessing to hear about some of these things so that I too could learn to deal with similar issues. Don’t get me wrong, some of the teachers did this, and those are the classes that I remember clearly.

Some of the lessons were way over my head and I didn’t have a clue what was going on and at times my grades reflected that. Perhaps this says more about me and my academic ability.

Perhaps my experience would have been very different if I had years of ministry experience in my belt before signing up. Perhaps my experience would have been different if i had a better attention span.

I appreciate that people may disagree with this particular lesson and that other people may have had completely different experiences.

However this has left me wondering if bible college/seminary is the best or only route into pastoral ministry.

During my first 2 years of ministry I was able to attend a course which my area ‘Gospel Partnership’ put together.

The morning’s consisted of lectures, bible overviews, expositions of various bible books.

The first session of the afternoon was a time to practice preaching. A group of guys would get together lead by a local pastor and take turns to preach sermons that they had prepared and then everyone would give feedback, advice and tell you how you can improve on your content, style and delivery. These afternoon sessions were priceless.

The second session of the afternoon would be practical it might be about counselling, sexuality, addiction, mission or evangelism.

This course was a great blessing and in many ways complemented my time at bible college. Most people who were on this course were church apprentices who were being trained for ministry while working in a church under the close guidance of a pastor. They had the opportunity to shadow a pastor, quiz him, be taught by him but were also sent on a day release for some more rigorous training

I’m left thinking that bible college is perhaps not the most effective method of training for ministry. I think church apprenticeships is a more natural and organic method of training complemented by things like the ‘Gospel Partnership’ courses and ‘Cornhill.’

Bible college does have its place, but i don’t think it is the most natural method of training. Perhaps after an apprenticeship bible college may be of much more value.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a completely different experience of bible college? Are you a church apprentice? Leave a comment below.

Faith Under Fire – Egypt

Christian, how would you respond under persecution?

I’m sure most people are aware of Christian persecution in Egypt at the moment. Many Churches, schools and shops are being burned to the ground and the christian community have been threatened, attacked and killed. Islamic Extremists have used the civil unrest to ethnically cleanse their neighborhoods.

How did they respond?

We must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt.

Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (Part 1)

bibleThis week marks my third year anniversary of full time pastoral ministry. On the Sunday the 5th of September 2010  I was inducted as the youth and children’s worker (later to become youth and children’s minister) for a group of three churches in Staffordshire. So far this week I have been reflecting on some of the highs and lows of my early days of ministry and I have realized that i have a lot to be thankful for. As you can imagine I have learned quite a few lessons in these three short years. Over the next week i want to share some of these lessons that i have learned with you.

Lesson 1: Jesus is Faithful

For years I felt a draw to pastoral ministry, but one thing held me back… fear of man.

I’m dyslexic and as a result for years I hated reading, especially reading aloud! Public speaking terrified me! I was afraid of ‘getting up there’ and making a fool of my self. The first sermon I preached was in Romania when I was 17, it was a train crash! I got up there and told the people everything I knew about God. After that i thought, ‘Never again!’ This held me back from taking part in many opportunities that were presented to me. Over time I began to realize the reason that was holding me back was pride… During this time some verses from Exodus were continually in my head:

“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.'”

The battle that was going on in my own heart was to do with the faithfulness of God. I was terrified of getting into the pulpit and it being a disaster. However I was forgetting that I serve a faithful God who made my mouth, a God that is mighty and is not silent. All this was going on in my heart even when i was at bible collage, top notch bible student I was!

I remember a point where i realized that it was pride that was holding me back, i repented and prayed a prayer basically saying ‘I’ll preach, as long as you come with me.’

Not too long after that God called me to the post where I am now at.  What did i have to do on the first week of the job? Preach at the midweek service!  God was faithful! His Word never returns void.

In a way having dyslexia and some of these fears is a good thing. It keeps me dependent on God.

Lesson 2: God’s Word is Sufficient.

As I look around at the world of youth work I have the strange desire to bang my head on the table. So much of the youth ‘ministry’ that goes on is nothing more than entertainment and gimmicks. I’m not saying youth ministry shouldn’t be fun, it should be.

However if we long to see lives transformed by the good news of Jesus, gimmicks are a waste of time. What they need is the word of God! When God’s word is taught, lives are changed.

Over the years it has been amazing to see many of the young people grow in their faith and to bear fruit that is lasting. It has also been a real blessing to lead some young people to Christ during this time.

Cool Jesus Culture music, flashing lights, lots of trips, bribing young people into church with iTunes vouchers are all gimmicks that save no one.

Faith comes by hearing, God’s word is sufficient.

A Gay Mayor, An Evangelical Pastor and the Welfare of a City

This week I came across this fantastic video produced by Tim Keller and co as part of the Center Church studies. It really got me thinking!

In a post modern age where the Chrsitian Worldview is alien to our culture how can we be a blessing to our communities?

Sam Adams, former mayor of Portland said:

“You can’t choose how the mainstream portrays you, but I was desperate and impressed with how evangelicals offered to help.”

In a British context, how can we partner with our local councils, MP’s and Community Police to be a blessing and to work for the common good?

Portland Case Study: Kevin Palau and Sam Adams from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

H/T: Gospel Coalition

Have we Neglected an Important Aspect of our Protestant Heritage?

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechising is something that’s not really done any more, at least not in the circles that I have moved in. I wonder if we have lost something by neglecting the practice that the reformers regarded as a key spiritual discipline.

Catechisms through out Christian history have been regarded as an important part of the discipleship of both children and adults. Have we as ‘Evangelicals’ neglected this to the demise of discipleship. Do we even have a an understanding of what discipleship is? It’s interesting to think that the children of a couple hundred years ago were more theologically literate than most of us ‘evangelicals’ today. I’m not claiming that theological literacy is discipleship, however if we long to know and love God then surely learning about His character our responsibility to honour and worship Him is a useful tool in ones spiritual formation.

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

I guess as good ‘Evangelicals’ many of us were taught bible verses as children. Indeed this also is an important practice that perhaps today has been sidelined.  I remember many many verses that I was taught around the breakfast table, with my dad banging on the table to keep a rhythm to make it easier for us to learn.  I guess at the time I wasn’t the most thankful for him doing this… However now I am incredibly grateful that I am able to recall various verses that i learned all those years ago, particularly helpful in pastoral ministry.

Maybe its about time that we begin to start memorising scripture again. Perhaps we should be thinking about catechising each other…

The good news is that Tim Keller and the guys at the Gospel Coalition have developed a fantastic catechism for both children and adults. Its called the‘New City Catechism’ There is an iPad app, and the material can be used online (sadly no Android app yet) or downloaded as a pdf.

The New City Catechism is based on the Geneva, Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms and consists of 52 questions, one for each week of the year. The catechisms of the reformations times were much larger but the New City Catechism has been developed especially for the busy family today. For each question there is a prayer, a exposition of the Q and A and a short video reflection.

So have we neglected an important aspect of our Protestant heritage?