Intro to the Apostles' Creed
Before examining the Apostles’ Creed (using the insights of the Heidelberg Catechism), I thought it would be beneficial to have a little background on the creed and to think about its value for today.
Origins of the Creed
Some have said that the Apostles’ Creed was effectively written by the 12 apostles ten days after the Ascension of Jesus (presumably after Matthias replaced Judas, see Acts 1:12-26), with each apostle contributing a line to the creed. That is a great story, but there doesn’t seem much evidence to substantiate it. While it might not have been written by the Apostles, its content traces itself back to their teaching, with forms of this creed dating all the way back to the second century. Irenaeus and other leaders in the early church talked about the core of the Christian faith (what Irenaeus called the rule of faith) in terms that draws upon language we find in the Apostles’ Creed, showing its early origins. In addition, Irenaeus and others (such as the church leader Tertullian) pointed out that these truths come from the teaching of the Apostles -- thus, the name Apostles’ Creed.
In some ways, the exact origin of the Apostles’ Creed is mysterious, especially compared to other creeds and confessions. It does not seem to have been written by a particular person or a council. Rather than arising as a response to some false teaching spreading in churches, this creed came about from the life and worship of the Western church. There were a series of questions that reflect the content of this creed a baptismal candidate answered before being baptized. The wording of the creed developed over time, and today we use the form written in the eighth century (its origins mean that it has not been used in the Eastern Church).
This use of the creed in worship shows that it seems to have been a guide for what a Christian believed. It was not just used in this occasion, however, as the church leader Augustine of Hippo encouraged Christians to memorize it and recite it each day -- akin to what the Jews did with what is known as the Great Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4). Just as monotheism was at the heart of the Jewish faith, so the belief in the Triune God who has created, saved, and now sanctifies (makes holy) His people is at the heart of being a Christian.
Today’s Implications of the Apostles’ Creed
The creed has great value for us today. It features key beliefs about the Christian faith and even points out that Christianity is not a philosophical set of beliefs that one simply affirms, but at its root, is the story of what God has done in creating the world and sending His Son.The creed goes from the beginning to the end of the world and God’s plan, with the ultimate hope in the resurrection of the body and eternal life. The Christian faith thus is not a set of truths to know or a set of practices to obey, but rather a story to enter into which causes us to believe certain things and live a certain way.
In addition, when we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we pledge our allegiance to this truth by saying “I believe.” We exercise faith, believing in God’s faithfulness as shown through His activity on earth; there is knowledge, but also trust. In confessing these truths, we point to both the simplicity and the complexity of the Christian faith. What I mean is that there are simple truths we can memorize, but these truths also invite us to think more deeply about what they mean. Even as we explore the truths found in the creed, we will eventually come to the end of our understanding; the creed points to mystery that we can believe but not fully understand.
In affirming key Christian beliefs, we can use the Apostles’ Creed as a guide when we read the Bible. The interpretation we have of various passages needs to fit within this creed of the church; when we have interpretations that go outside of it, we know our reading is outside of what the church has believed and taught from its inception (which we should then cause us to re-examine how we are reading the Bible).
While creating boundaries that separate Christianity from other belief systems, the Apostles’ Creed should be viewed as having more of a unifying than dividing function. I say that because in reciting the creed, we realize that we believe that same thing as countless men and women have believe throughout the past two thousand years -- we are not alone. Not only do we have unity across history, we also have unity across the world, as people across the world believe these same truths. We may speak different languages and have different ways of conducting our worship services, but we believe the same thing. In fact, the Apostles’ Creed is a reminder that people in other denominations and churches have the same set of core beliefs; what we affirm is more in content and importance than where we differ.
Therefore, the creed helps to clarify what we believe, but also reminds us that we alone do not believe it. May we know and understand this creed so that we can live as followers of Christ in this day and age.
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