Learning about Christian Creeds, Part 1

shutterstock_655305238Have you ever recited the Apostles’ Creed?

It is widely used in Western Christendom, both in the Roman Catholic Church and in various Protestant churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, among others). In fact, most evangelical churches have creedal statements that serve as something like the Apostles’ Creed. Some nondenominational churches even sing the creed in their worship services.

Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan says this about creeds and their use in Christendom:

Every Sunday all over the world, millions and millions of Christians recite or sing (or, at any rate, hear) one or another creed, and most of them have had a creed spoken over them, or by them, at their baptism.1

Let’s take some time to read through the Apostles’ Creed, and then we’ll learn more about Christian creeds in general:

Apostles’ Creed

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.

Five Important Points about Christian Creeds

Creeds have been an important part of historic Christianity from the very beginning. Christians recite creeds to confess or profess their faith publicly. The creeds serve as authoritative pronouncements that set forth in summary form the central beliefs of the Christian faith.

Let’s consider five points you may not know about creeds:

1. The term “creed” comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” The opening line of the Apostles’ Creed in Latin reads Credo in Deum—“I believe in God.” In the ancient world, the name of documents often came from the first words that were used in the statement.

2. There are creedal or protocreedal statements even in the Bible. The most often cited Old Testament passage serves as a creed and is called the Shema (Hebrew for “Hear”). This comes from Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The New Testament contains a number of ancient Christian creeds (1 Corinthians 8:615:3–4), with possibly the earliest creed being the statement “Jesus is Lord!” from Romans 10:9 and Philippians 2:11 (Greek: κύριος Ἰησοῦς, kyrios Iesous). So creeds have a clear biblical basis.

3. Christian creeds serve to both formulate and affirm essential Christian doctrine. For example, the Apostles’ Creed focuses upon a fully formed Trinitarian theology by having the three stanzas of the creed address the three distinct persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

4. The creeds can and do play a helpful role in catechetical instruction in Christian doctrine and theology. At a time when doctrine is often undervalued, the creeds can aid believers in developing an organized, precise, and correct understanding of the Christian faith.

5. The creeds have direct theological and apologetic importance. All of Christendom’s formal creeds were written to specifically combat heresies that had arisen in the early centuries of the Christian church (such as the influential Christological heresy known as “Arianism”).

So why do historic Christians continually recite their creeds? Theologian Luke Timothy Johnson has a very good response:

Some truths are so critical that they must be repeated over and over again.2

Join me next week for the second installment of this series in which we’ll examine the creeds further.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 1.
  2. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 40.

 

  One thought on “Learning about Christian Creeds, Part 1

  1. Dave Francis
    August 14, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    The Apostles Creed is what I chose to recite at my ordination. It covers all the major and essential doctrines. Thanks Sean.

    • August 15, 2018 at 10:12 am

      Great choice, Dave.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

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