Introduction to the Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried;
He descended into Hell;
the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty;
From thence He shall come to judge the quick 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.

Introduction

“These words which you have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slow [uneducated] persons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes.”  This quote comes from Augustine, one of the great saints of the early church, in a sermon to those who were preparing to be baptized.  If ever the enduring value of the Apostles’ Creed is questioned, Augustine demonstrates that both in the first centuries and now for us today, this short, memorable creed serves as a foundational articulation of Christian orthodoxy.

Creed simply means “belief.”  The Apostles’ Creed is, then, a short statement of Christian beliefs. Formulated in the early years of the church, the Apostles’ Creed unites Christians across a wide spectrum of denominations and traditions as brothers and sisters in Christ to this very day.  In this unit we will study the origins of the Creed, its content, and its importance for the church today.

The Origin of the Creed

Legend has it that on the day of Pentecost, the twelve apostles, beginning with Peter, each uttered a phrase that, put together, constitutes the Apostles’ Creed.  It’s a nice story and certainly would give weight to the words of the Creed.  It is, also, not true.

Rather, the origin of the Apostles’ Creed is directly connected to baptism.  By the middle of the second century A.D., some form of the Creed was in use.  In order to be approved for baptism, an individual would affirm their faith by responding to questions such as “Do you believe in…?” Thus, the Creed began as a series of answers to questions of faith. Today, we handle this very similarly when someone applies for baptism.  According to the Book of Church Order, we are to ask a series of questions, including, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?” That is originally how the Creed functioned: as an affirmation of faith for someone seeking to be baptized.  Over time, instead of a question and response format, the elements were combined to form a singular Creed.

Interact: What do you believe? Can you concisely and clearly articulate it?

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Why study early church history

Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, has famously said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  If we ignore history, we will be undone by the same obstacles and same tests that those who have gone before us have already faced.  Our challenges today are eerily similar to those the church has encountered throughout its history.  Our doctrines are under attack and people are dying for their faith.  For example, Did you know that there were more martyrs for the Christian faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined?

The church where I serve, Glasgow Church, has just begun a new sermon series entitled, “Heroes and Heretics: The Battle for the Church.” Heroes and Heretics: The Battle for the Church is not a history class about the early church.  It’s a journey into the first centuries after the ascension of Christ.  It’s an exploration of Scripture.  It’s a formulation of Christian doctrine.  It’s a battle for truth.  It’s a glorious recounting of God’s providence in expanding Christianity from the upper room to the far corners of the earth.

And, finally, it’s our story too. For we face many of the same challenges as the early church. For the sermon series, I am writing a study guide as a companion to the preaching. Over the next weeks and months, I will share what I am writing by way of my blog here. First up, the Apostles’ Creed.