Why Do We Do That? – The Apostles Creed
Taken with permission from Christ Church Presbyterian, Evans, GA.
“Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”
Martin Luther on the Apostles’ Creed
Creeds and Confessions of faith have fallen on hard times in evangelical churches. Accused of creating divisions and erecting walls that keep people out of the church, many congregations have adopted a “no creed but the Bible” stance in which statements like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are deemed outdated at best and, at worst, harmful.
It is true that creeds divide: they divide truth from error, and they divide true teachers from false teachers. It is true that creeds erect walls around a church: walls of protection and clarity within which Christians may pursue the Truth of God’s holy Word in relative safety. The creeds of the church were developed to defend God’s people against heresy and to define Christian orthodoxy.
The Apostles’ Creed dates back at least to the second century A.D., and perhaps earlier. St. Ignatius, who was born about the time Christ’s earthly ministry ended, wrote in familiar phrases that Christ was born “of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died and was raised from the dead.”
Even though it was not likely written by the Apostles, the creed bearing their name is in full agreement with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles and specifically attacks the heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostics believe that the physical universe is evil and that God did not make it (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth”). Because they believe that the physical realm is evil, they also deny that God took on a human body in Christ (“And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary”). Gnosticism holds that the most important Christian doctrines were mysteries reserved for a select few (“the holy catholic church” stresses the universality of all of Christ’s teachings) and they totally reject the resurrection of the body, because the body is part of the evil physical realm (“the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body”). If you think Gnosticism is no longer a threat to the church, read “The Da Vinci Code,” and then recite the Apostles’ Creed at the top of your lungs!
There are two phrases in the Apostles Creed that some folks find confusing. “The Holy Catholic Church” refers NOT to the Roman church but to all of the elect from every tongue, tribe and nation past, present and future. “He descended into Hell” refers to the reality that Jesus endured the wrath of God for the sins of His people in those hours upon the cross.
The creeds we use in worship are not the very Word of God, but they are distilled from it and true to it, and we recite them because they state in compact form all of the essentials for being a Bible-believing Christian. The creeds help us to pass along those essentials from one generation to the next, and they tie generations of believers together by laying down a specific set of fundamental truths.