Believe is a popular enough word today. We hear it used in reference to sport, we are encouraged with the words ‘believe in yourself’ & of course there are popular songs like ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R. Kelly that we've probably all sang in the shower. There seems to be something within the human heart that longs to believe. Perhaps believing is part of what it means to be human. Christians believe Christ is the only true resting place for this human longing to believe. The Apostles' Creed opens with the words ‘I believe’. It is a confession many Christians have repeated over the centuries & all around the globe, yet at its heart it is a personal confession of faith.
There is evidence something very like The Apostles’ Creed was used at Christian baptisms as early as the second century. It was used as a public confession of personal faith years before the books of the New Testament were canonised. The Jews who believed on the day of Pentecost were baptised there & then for they had Old Testament understanding that helped them realise the significance of what they were doing. However as the Gospel continued to spread further into Gentile nations, which knew little of the God of Israel & his promised Messiah, more teaching was needed so baptism became meaningful to new Christians. A creed very like The Apostles Creed summarised what these very early Christians had learned & come to believe.
What It Means To Believe
J. I. Packer writes in his book Affirming The Apostles’ Creed that; “The Creed’s opening words, “I believe in God,” render a Greek phrase coined by the writers of the New Testament, meaning literally: “I am believing into God.” That is to say, over & above believing certain truths about God, I am living in a relation of commitment to God in trust & union. When I say “I believe in God,” I am professing my conviction that God has invited me to this commitment & declaring that I have accepted his invitation.” True believing means hearing, trusting, confessing, loving & obeying God. Paul says in chapter 10 of Romans; “With the heart one believes & is justified, & with the mouth one confesses & is saved.” James says in chapter 3 of his letter; “faith apart from works is dead.” This reveals to us something of the depth & commitment which should accompany a personal, public & ongoing confession of Christian faith.
How the Creed Came About
The Apostles’ Creed is not called The Apostles’ Creed because it was written by the Apostles’ but because it summarised what the Apostles’ taught. It came about for the same reasons other creeds came about, to protect the Gospel & Church from heresies which threatened to undermine apostolic teaching. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders of coming ‘fierce wolves’, for this reason John in his first letter strongly encouraged Christians to abide in what they had heard from the beginning & Jude was eager to write about what he described as “our common salvation” & appealed for Christians “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” because false teachers had crept to pervert the Gospel of grace.
The early creeds helped early Christians safeguard themselves & the Gospel from error & continue to help us do so. While the precise wording of The Apostles’ Creed wasn't fully crystallised until the beginning of the 8th Century the main tenets of it can be dated back as far as the 2nd. Very little changed over those five centuries! Christians can disagree & debate many things but more often than not the difference between being part of the Church & joining a cult comes down to acceptance or rejection of something in the ancient creeds. In fact every line is a response to some error & every line confesses something key to our understanding of the Gospel. For example one of the things being undermined was the humanity of Jesus; this is why The Apostles’ Creed so firmly roots Jesus’ birth, death & resurrection in history while still confessing him as the second person of the Trinity.
How the Creed Relates to Scripture
Some Christians object to creeds with a “no creed but the Bible” mentality as if to believe & recite a creed is somehow at odds with Biblical Christianity. In his book The King Jesus Gospel Scot McKnight says that when people object to the Creed he simply asks them what part of it is they disagree with. Personally I’d be more concerned about the biblical basis of some songs sung in Christian worship today than a creed that has served the church for almost 2000 years. The fact is the earliest form of what eventually became The Apostles’ Creed helped the journey towards the canonization the New Testament. Michael Bird in his book What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to the Apostles’ Creed writes; “The point to note is that the writings that make up our Old & New Testaments shaped the developing creeds, the creeds established the orthodox faith & determined the criteria for books to be included in the biblical canon. In which case, we have to say that there is a symbolic relationship between creed & canon, as the two entities were mutually creating & mutually reinforcing.” So to adopt a slogan like “no creed but the Bible” is actually to shoot oneself on the foot. In short the Creed makes sense only because of the apostles teaching found in the New Testament.
As well as this the New Testament itself uses creedal statements. One example is at the end of 1 Timothy 3 when Paul quotes;
“He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken into glory.”
Reciting creeds is biblical, both in the Old & New Testaments. Creeds have always played a part in clarifying faith & protecting God's people from wrong ideas, including wrong interpretations of Scripture.
How the Creed Can Help Us Know & Share the Gospel
The best way to show how the Creed helps us know & share the Gospel is simply to walk through it, which is the aim of the new sermon series I've stared at Amazing Grace. The fact that many people from the different Christian traditions in Ireland grew up reciting this Creed gives us a bridge, not to get people onto our denominational (or 'non-denominational') team, but to help them think through the truth expressed in it. So they can cross over to the point they personally believe & confess the Gospel from the heart. The Christian’s role is to help others come to real & personal faith in Christ while leaving them space to work out the finer details for themselves. The Creed clarifies without over clarifying. It affirms what is most important, what all Christians ought to believe, & leaves room for debate around other details. In this way it also serves as a meeting place towards the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17 as well as a bridge to help others understand the Gospel. As Michael Bird notes; “It doesn't say everything there is to say, but it gives the basic outlines into which other beliefs can be seamlessly added to fill out the picture.” Part of our role in evangelism can be viewed as colouring in the Gospel picture this Creed outlines so that Christian faith can come alive for others.
Affirming the Apostles' Creed by J. I. Packer
What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael Bird
John Fitzsimmons, pastor at Amazing Grace Fellowship