To say the Apostles’ Creed is to be like a child dressing up in her mother’s clothes.
They don’t fit, they’re way too big, but she can grow into them.
In playing dress-up, she does more than she knows she does.”
When I’ve talked with seekers who want to discover the Christian faith and believers who want to develop their understanding of it, I’ve found an ancient tool to help both groups: The Apostles’ Creed. This Creed serves as the outline for the Anchor Course. Millions of believers around the world and down through the centuries have recited it every week:
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;
and descended into Hades.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit;
the one holy church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Here we have a summary of what was taught by those Christ chose to be the first apostles. In fact, this is why it is called the Apostles’ Creed. They did not write it, despite the old legend that the Apostles each contributed a point before they dispersed throughout the known world carrying the Creed. Few ever took that legend seriously; instead, the Creed dates back to the second century and it was used as a confession new believers recited before baptism.
We call it the Apostles’ Creed, then, not because the Apostles wrote it but because it summarizes what we find in the Apostles’ inspired writings. Every line in the Creed can be defended by reference to apostolic Scripture—in fact, most lines of the Creed are echoes or even quotes of Scripture.
I’ve found it a helpful tool in my work with both seekers and believers. As for helping believers, I’m not the first to see the benefits of the ancient statement as a training tool. When John Calvin wrote his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is still in use by pastors and professors today, he used the articles of the Apostles’ Creed as the outline for his work.
In addition to helping believers understand key Christian concepts, however, I’ve found that I can use the Creed in my work with people on a spiritual search. A study through the Apostles’ Creed gives them an overview of our beliefs.
What is it about these 1800 year-old words that resonate with both believers and seekers today?
First, the Creed has the authority of that which has prevailed from antiquity.
I’ve found that people are impressed with words that have been recited around the world for sixteen centuries. The late Christian musician, Rich Mullins, put the statement of faith to music in his number-one hit “Creed.” The bold commitment to the Creed in the song’s chorus connected with many listeners:
“I did not make it.
No, it is making me.”
Of course, even as I use the Creed, I emphasize that the statement is not the basis of truth but rather a summary of the truth found in the Bible. The Creed, like any teaching tool, is useful only to the extent that it gets believers and seekers into God’s Word. In the Anchor Course, we use the Creed as simply an ancient outline for a Bible study of key Christian beliefs.
Second, the Creed transcends denominational divisions to summarize what all Christians believe.
I think the Creed “speaks” to those in the Anchor Course not only because it is ancient but also because it is universal. The statement of faith is a brief overview of what all believers hold in common.
Believers need a grasp of the “basics,” of course, but I’ve found this to be especially attractive to seekers. The spiritually curious do not find the fine-points of denominational differences interesting. They simply want the key concepts explained to them so they can draw some conclusions about Christianity. In my talks with seekers, I’ve compared their understanding of Christian belief to puzzle pieces in a shoebox. Each time they attend a church or try to read the Bible, they toss another puzzle piece into that shoebox and shove the box back under their bed. Occasionally, they may pull that shoebox out and work on the puzzle, but they haven’t been able to put all the pieces together and make a decision about Christianity. I’ve told them that in our study together, we would set out what they are being invited to believe.
The points of the Creed become touchstones for good Bible study. The eight parts to the Anchor Course follow the flow of the Creed:
“I Believe”—In Part One of the Anchor Course we’ll look at the benefits and barriers to belief, and the role the Bible plays in Christian faith.
“I believe in God”—In Part Two, we’ll look at the evidences for God and the three most important things to know about who he is: He is my Maker, my Ruler, and my Father.
“I believe in Jesus”— In Part Three, we’ll look at the claims Jesus made about himself and his promise to return.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit”— In Part Four, we’ll look at the active role God plays in our world today. He works upon nonbelievers and believers alike.
“I believe in the church”— In this section, we’ll look at Christ’s vision for the gathering of believers he called his church. Neither our spiritual search nor our spiritual growth can be conducted alone; we need each other. By the way, most people are more familiar with the version of the Apostles’ Creed using the line, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” The Greek word translated “catholic,” katholikos, means “universal,” and refers to the universal oneness of all believers. Today, though, most people understand the word “catholic” to refer to a specific branch of Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church. Since a word that once referred to the oneness of all Christians is now identified with only a segment of the Christian body, I prefer to simply speak of the church as one instead of as catholic.
“I believe in the forgiveness of sins”—After we’ve tried unsuccessfully to deal with our failures through denials and excuses, we need to turn to the divine forgiveness available through the cross of Christ. In Part Six, we’ll look at this great truth.
“I believe in eternal life”—In this section we’ll explore the Christian conviction that life is a dressing room for eternity. We’ll look at what Christ-followers believe about the resurrection, heaven, and hell.
“Amen”—The word “amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “It is so . . . this is true . . . I buy that.” In this last section, we’ll look at the things that make people hesitate at the edge of Christian commitment, and the steps they need to take to cross the line into faith.
Third, the Creed helps us address the concerns people have.
Considering how brief and how ancient this statement is, I’ve been surprised at how clearly the Creed addresses twenty-first century concerns.
For example, consider the article about the church: “I believe in the one holy church” and “the communion of saints.” Seekers frequently tell me that Christians and churches have been the biggest source of disillusionment in their spiritual search. When seekers look at the vision Jesus cast for the church, though, they can see a vision worth pursuing. The church is to be “one,” “holy,” and “a communion.”
Think about this vision. Some seekers complain about churches filled with bickering and divisiveness, but Jesus had a vision for unity among his followers—we are to be “one” with others who believe the biblical teachings. Some nonbelievers tell stories about hypocritical and judgmental Christians, but Jesus expected his people to encourage each other as we learn to leave behind all that used to enslave us—we are to be “holy.” And some seekers see Christian groups as self-centered, cold and business-like, but Jesus expected his people to support and care for each other—we are to be a “communion.”
So, as believers and seekers study this line together in my course, one of the strongest objections against Christianity fades away. People discover that Christ’s vision of a church that is “one,” “holy,” and “a communion,” is worth pursuing, despite how some have failed to fulfill that vision.
According to Acts 2:42, one of the characteristics of the early church was that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” We need to devote ourselves to the apostles’ scriptural teaching, too. One tool I’ve found to accomplish this is the Apostles’ Creed. “It has the fragrance of antiquity and the inestimable weight of universal consent,” Philip Schaff wrote, “It is a bond of union between all ages and sections of Christendom” (The Creeds of Christendom).
The points of the Creed become touchstones for life-changing Bible study over the fundamentals of the faith. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, and it means, “I believe.” When we boldly assert what we believe, Christians will grow and seekers will find what they’re looking for.