This past weekend, our church body began a 12-week sermon series and study of The Apostles’ Creed. But what, exactly, is a “creed”? You may be thinking, “Isn’t Creed an alt-rock band from the 90s?” Certainly, Creed did a good job of asking the question, “Can You Take Me Higher?” But when Christians talk about creeds, the question we’re asking is, “What does the historic Church believe?”
In answering this question, I appreciate Roger Nicole’s definition of a creed in his article, “The History and Theology of Creeds.” He says, “Creeds distill, crystallize, and synthesize the teachings of scripture.” Creeds summarize the content of Scripture in a concise way that is faithful to Scripture and faithful to the Church. Creeds do not possess an authority over our interpretation of Scripture but are instead a result of our interpretation.
The Apostles’ Creed is one of four “ecumenical creeds”—the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed and the Athanasian Creed—uniting Christians across denominational lines, specifically in the early history of the Church. The Apostles’ Creed dates back to the early second century. Christians used it initially during baptisms, where new converts would recite the creed as their public proclamation of the Christian faith. In this way, the creed functioned much like our Statement of Basic Beliefs does today, representing the bare minimum that a believer had to affirm in order to be considered a part of the true Christian Church.
Each of the ecumenical creeds has made a significant impact in helping “distill, crystallize, and synthesize the teachings of scripture.” In no way do they diminish the role of Scripture but rather make the truths of Scripture, stretched out across the biblical narrative, accessible to new converts to Christianity. They serve as a helpful reminder to Christians in all stages of life.
One of the benefits of knowing and reciting The Apostles’ Creed, particularly in the worship gathering, is that it reminds us of our deep union to Christians who belong to other theological traditions and denominations. Because of the unity of faith expressed in the creed, we can count brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, across centuries, across a variety of Christian denominations, who may worship in different ways or have different, distinctive beliefs. Each week Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans and Roman Catholics, among others, recite the creed as they gather together in worship.
In this way, The Apostles’ Creed connects us to the global and historic Church, reminding us of the things of first importance that Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”
These “first things” unite us together as we look to our common Lord, Jesus Christ, and to His life, death and resurrection that testify to who God is, what He has done and how we are to obey Him. When we recite and remember The Apostles’ Creed, we join in the chorus of the global and historic Church. In a day when the cultural differences and divisions of humanity receive constant public attention, the bride of Christ stands shoulder to shoulder, made up of people from every tongue, tribe and culture as a reminder for us all: We belong to the same Lord and the same Church.