Ever hear the expression “No book but the Bible, no creed but Christ”? Ironically, it sounds a lot like a creed.
Some Christians who attend churches that do not use a formal creed wonder how creeds are related to Scripture in terms of authority. From a Protestant evangelical perspective, the creeds derive their authority by faithfully conveying the message of Scripture. Consider Christian historian Mark A. Noll’s comment about the ecumenical creeds of Christendom and their relationship to Scripture:
The ancient creeds became authoritative in the early centuries because they were thoroughly, profoundly, comprehensively, and passionately rooted in Scripture.1
Does your church recite 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.
Take some time to read through the Apostles’ Creed, and then we’ll discover more about it:
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 the Apostles’ Creed
Creeds have played a significant role in 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 about the Apostles’ Creed:
1. This creed is called the “Apostles’ Creed” not because it was written by the apostles of Jesus themselves but because it contains a brief summary of apostolic teaching.
2. The Apostles’ Creed in its present form is dated no later than the fourth century and was probably completed in the eighth century.
3. The shortest and simplest of the major creeds in Christendom, the Apostles’ Creed presents the essential elements of the faith.
4. The Apostles’ Creed is the most widely accepted and frequently used statement of faith in Western Christendom. It is recited in both the Roman Catholic Church as well as in many traditional Protestant churches. Possibly more than any other creed (at least in Western Christendom), it may appropriately be called an ecumenical symbol of the Christian faith.
5. While sometimes called “the Creed of creeds” for its beauty and simplicity, the Apostles’ Creed has been used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates and as an affirmation of faith in Christian worship services.
In the third and final installment of this series, we’ll examine five questions that Christians commonly ask about the Apostles’ Creed.
Reflections: Your Turn
Consisting of just over one hundred words, could the Apostles’ Creed serve as an effective tract for the Christian faith? How do you use the creed?
- For more about the creeds of Christendom, see chapter 4 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.
- For more about the Apostles’ Creed, see chapter 6 of my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
- Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 2.