What is the Apostle’s Creed?

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President Trump has received a lot of heat and backlash this week for being the only one in the front row of George H.W. Bush’s funeral service to not recite the Apostle’s Creed. I’m personally not a huge Donald Trump fan, and I wasn’t crazy about his claim that he didn’t need to ask for forgiveness from God (spoiler alert: everyone needs to ask for forgiveness from God). That being said, it’s pretty over the top and presumptuous to be judging someone for not having recited the Creed, just as it was for people having judged Obama for not placing his hand over his heart during the national anthem.

I’m not disappointed in President Trump. He hasn’t given me any reason to believe he understands the gospel, so I can excuse him for that. What I am disappointed in is the vast majority of evangelicals that are completely unfamiliar with the Creed. For centuries (indeed, for most of the past two millennia), the Creed was recited regularly by millions of Christians throughout the history of the Church–a practice that still continues in many denominations to this day. The few, succinct lines contain the essentials of the Christian faith and is one of the earliest statements of faith ever made by the Church. It was not literally written down by the Apostles, of course, but it was carried on in the church by those that were passing down clear, apostolic teaching and is heavily based on Scripture. Scholars such as Carl Trueman and Scot McKnight have written about how the early Christians looked at Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 15 and established the a “rule of faith” (or “regula fidei”)–a clear standard for biblical, apostolic teaching. The result was the Apostle’s Creed, and others like it. (See the books The Creedal Imperative and The King Jesus Gospel, by Trueman and McKnight respectively.) The early Christians would use the Creed to teach converts about the faith line by line, and would have them recite it or affirm it right before their baptism (much like saying wedding vows before the big moment). In other words, it was a tool used to “make disciples of all nations” as commanded by Christ. To know the Apostle’s Creed, then, is to adhere to historical Christianity.

Some people may raise their eyebrows at the word “catholic” found in one of the last lines. The word “catholic” (small “c”) simply means “universal”, not “Roman Catholic” (though they too subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed). In fact, Protestants have historically affirmed the Apostle’s Creed. The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Melanchthon, etc.) all affirmed the Apostle’s Creed (as well as the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds), and sometimes even included it in their confessions (what we might call “statements of faith” today). It’s mostly in the past 200 years that the Apostle’s Creed fell into disuse, due to rapid changes in culture ranging from fundamentalism, secularization, etc.

I’ve written elsewhere (here and here) about why creeds, confessions, and historic Christianity is so important for the millennial generation. Ours is an untethered, unanchored generation floating in the ocean of postmodernism and going with the current:

 “…orthodoxy by definition has to do with historical Christian teaching. In a generation and culture that wants to deconstruct anything that smacks of authority or traditionalism as “power plays” in favor of individual autonomy and self-expression, creeds and confessions are typically the last place we look to steer our lives and give us guidance.”

I’m part of a church congregation that sings an adaptation of the Apostle’s Creed as a hymn to the tune of “Highland Cathedral” once a month. Many church congregations and denominations still recite it regularly as part of their tradition. I’m hopeful that this might become more common place.

A few years ago, Hillsong United released a song titled “This I Believe” (and explicitly subtitled “The Creed”), which contained the words of the Apostle’s Creed, poetically stylized and put to the tune of contemporary worship music. (The Assemblies of God–the denomination that they were a part of during the time of release– is historically Pentecostal and not typically known as creedal.) Around the same time, the Christian band “Newsboys” released a song titled “We Believe”, which despite its simplistic tune also contains the words of the Apostle’s Creed in its chorus.

Millennials need things like the Apostle’s Creed. We need historic Christianity. We need to be pointed back to Jesus.

 

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and 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.

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