The Apostles' Creed: An Introduction
An Early Christian Creed Which is Needed Today!
When beginning any historical journey, it is logical to start at the beginning. For a study of the main creeds, confessions, and catechisms (the 3 C's) of the church, that would mean the Apostles' Creed. While there were undoubtedly earlier creeds in use (as early as the Apostolic age), the Apostles' Creed is the one which gained the widest early acceptance. It was first mentioned, by name, in the writings of Ambrose around 390 A.D. However, there is evidence for it existing much earlier. Individual parts of the Apostles' Creed are to be found in baptismal catechisms as early as around 220 A.D. In fact, a generation earlier, Irenaeus seems to quote from a portion of the creed. It is certainly possible that such quotations are of earlier creeds which were collected into the Apostles' Creed; some evidence seems to point in this direction. Regardless, the truth of the creed was being quoted, taught, written, and transmitted throughout the early centuries of the church.
Why would this surprise us? After all, it was named the Apostles' Creed specifically because it was a short encapsulation of the doctrine handed down by the Apostles. While it is not my purpose to argue again the need for creeds (please refer back to last week's post), it is noteworthy that such creeds arose in the first place. The Scriptures are authoritative, infallible, and sufficient; the emergence of the 3 C's does not contradict that fact. These statements arose in light of the need for a succinct doctrinal statement in an age of emerging heresy. The Apostles' Creed was an important early tool in the fight to preserve orthodoxy. It is an equally important tool for us as well.
What do we, through the Apostles' Creed, confess? We confess the following:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again 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.
* This denotes the catholic or world-wide church of believers, not the Roman Catholic Church.
Next week, we will begin our journey through the statements of this creed. As we prepare for that, consider reading this creed daily. Further, consider utilizing Martin Luther's approach of praying through the Apostles' Creed. For more on this approach, consider reading the excellent book, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, found in our church library. Although it is a children's book, it is a book which can benefit adult believers as well. Regardless of how you prepare for this journey, please do some work of preparation.
When Martin Luther traveled to visit the churches in the late 1520's, he was shocked at how little basic knowledge there was among the church people. This was far enough into the Reformation era that he felt more progress should have been made. His approach to remedy this problem was to emphasize the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles' Creed. Additionally, Luther wrote two catechisms (a shorter and a longer) which had the same focus. Now, we stand nearly a half-millennium beyond Luther's day and are not significantly better off. What is our road forward? I believe that it is the same one Luther proposed then:
Emphasis on the marks of the church (Scripture, Baptism, the Lord's Table, and Church Discipline)
Emphasis on the 3 C's (creeds, confessions, and catechisms)
Emphasis on foundational Biblical knowledge (10 Commandments, Lord's Prayer, etc.)
Focus on the Gospel
We would do well to move forward in light of how God has reformed His church in the past!
Join us next week as we look at what this creed declares about our heavenly Father