A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

If you come from a non-creedal Christian church tradition—and there are a good number of them within Evangelicalism—you might wonder what a creed is and why other Christians include them in their worship services. Historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan defines a creed thusly: “A creed is a concise, formal, and authorized statement of important points of Christian doctrine.”1

One of the great things about the creeds of Christendom is that they introduce us to the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why theologian Alister McGrath says that the creeds “allow us to recognize and avoid inadequate or incomplete versions of Christianity.”2

In this series, we’re specifically looking at 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 time to read through the Apostles Creed, and then well examine some common questions about it:

Apostles Creed

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.

5 Questions about the Apostles Creed

Creeds have been an important part of 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.

Lets consider five questions that Christians commonly ask about the Apostles Creed:

1. Why is it that creeds are continually repeated? Confessional churches affirm that ones deepest Christian beliefs must be confessed or publicly stated (Romans 10:9–10). Reciting creeds also helps in the catechetical (educational) process. But as theologian Luke Timothy Johnson notes, “some truths are so critical that they must be repeated over and over again.”3

2. Was the creed actually written by the apostles? No. 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.

3. What does the phrase he descended to hell” mean? The phrase “he descended to hell” was added late in the creed’s formation. Anglican theologian Alister McGrath says that it likely means that Christ is “among the dead” (a possible reference to hades, emphasizing Christ genuinely died). The Reformed tradition generally interprets it as a reference to Christ suffering God’s wrath (a type of hell) on the cross. So, I think a Christian can recite this somewhat controversial phrase in the creed in good conscience. However, some theologians find the phrase objectionable and suggest it be omitted from the creed.

4. The creed includes the phrase the holy catholic church. Isnt this a reference to the Roman Catholic Church? While the Roman Catholic Church does use the Apostles Creed, Protestant versions of the creed intentionally lowercase the words catholic church. The word catholic means universal, and all of the original Protestant churches considered themselves legitimately part of the “catholic church” (or the universal church of Christ). So Protestants can affirm their commitment to catholicity (universality) without being officially part of the Roman Catholic Church.

5. Why doesnt the creed explicitly mention such important doctrinal truths that continue to divide Christendom—like the authority of Scripture vis-à-vis tradition or the exact relationship of grace, faith, and works in salvation? It is true that the Apostles Creed doesnt address all the doctrinal issues that divide the branches of Christendom (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), but it powerfully summarizes the essential doctrinal elements that they all share in common. The original branches of historic Protestantism valued the ecumenical creeds but insisted that there remained other issues that needed to be addressed, which they set forth in the longer and distinct confessions of faith.

The ecumenical creeds remain a critical part of Christendom and the devotion of millions of Christians.

Reflections: Your Turn

How have creeds been helpful to you? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 3.
  2. Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles Creed (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997), 15.
  3. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 40.

Check out more from Dr. Kenneth Samples @Reasons.org

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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