The Apostles’ Creed: Its nature and use at Berean Bible Baptist Church

Apostles Creed

Women’s Ministry: The Saturday Morning Quarterly Bible Study will meet this Saturday, September 25th, from 10:00am – 12noon. Presenter Johnnie Dixon. The topic discussed “Pursuing Hospitality”. Romans 12:13 is the key verse for this biblical study designed to teach the benefits and rewards awaiting those who obediently pursue godly hospitality. Please contact Deborah Ponder if you need additional information.

In his 2 volume work, History of Christian Doctrine, William G. T. Shedd made the following statement about this relationship between creed and doctrine, “The construction of single doctrines by the thinking of the church is succeeded by their combination into creeds and confessions of faith” (p. 423). Dr. Shedd’s point was a simple one, if someone is concerned enough to take the time to formulate doctrinal statements, eventually they are going to organize those doctrinal statements into formalized statements of belief. And so, we see throughout the history of the church the development and publication of creeds and their extended or developed siblings, confessions.

The situation painted above, was an important step in the development and growth of the church. While Christianity was, and still is, fully based upon the Scriptures, in the Old and New Testament form, much of what we as Christian believe from the Scriptures is not formulated into succinct statements of belief. Take for example the doctrine of the Trinity. One will search in vain for a statement that reads God is three person in one essence. Yet, Christians would unwaveringly affirm that such is exactly what they believe. Why is that the case? Because we believe that such a statement accurately organizes the essential truths about God as a being which are taught in various places throughout the Scriptures. The importance of such formulations can only be fully felt when one has the daunting task of having to state clearly what one believes regarding God. Such succinct and clear statements that articulate Bible teachings help us to both positively affirm the faith (polemic) and defend the faith (apologetic).

Although the preceding discussion highlights the benefit of creeds and confessions, it also alerts us to their extremely limited nature. A creed or confession will only be as good as the interpretation of the Scriptures that stands behind its formulation. Several realities flow from this truth: 1) these documents have no independent authority in and of themselves; they are only as authoritative as the accuracy of their background interpretation; 2) these documents are obviously simply human in their origin and scope and thus have no assistance from nor bearing upon our doctrine of special revelation or illumination, save but to articulate what these doctrine teach; 3) these documents must not be substituted for the Scriptures, nor be used as a means of imposing a meaning upon the Scriptures that is not contained there, thus the Scriptures are not interpreted by creeds and confessions, but are analyzed by the Scriptures; and 4) these documents should be limited in their use as a means of grace, never replacing the Scripture in priority of attention or appeal.

Given these concerns regarding creedal statements, one might wonder why we would choose to use such in our worship service. Well, in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul made the following statement, “2 1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Within this statement, the apostle Paul articulated the essential priority of unity within the body of believers. Here we see that the experience that marks all those of the Christian faith served as the foundation of the union that should be evidenced in their relationship, one with another. That union stretched across a number of realities, thinking, affectionate attachment, spiritual efficacy, and intention. This extreme connectedness has implications not just for all those brothers and sisters that presently make up the church, but also those who have gone to Heaven as victors. Surely it was such a reality that at least partly fueled the concerns of the Thessalonian church as evidenced in Paul’s words which began his discussion of Christ’s rescuing of His people, “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:13-14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:18).

The affirmation and or acceptance of creeds and confessions is one of the ways in which the modern believers can demonstrate their continuity with the historical church that preceded them. Through these documents, present day believers are enabled to stand along side both great and small alike who have affirmed the same truths articulated in these statements of faith. We show that not only are we thankful for that which we have received from them throughout the ages of the church, but we are also unashamedly adherents to the same truths that led them to lay down their lives for the cause of the faith.

With all this being the case, why have we chosen the Apostle’s Creed as the statement of faith that we will affirm at the beginning of our Sunday morning service. Without question, the Apostle’s Creed is both the most popular and longest running creed to be used in the worship service of the Christian churches which make up Western Christianity. Its history of use is probably only rivaled by that of the Holy Scriptures themselves. The form of the creed as used today finds its first occurrence in the early 8th Century recorded by Saint Pirmin, a missionary monk who recorded it in a series of resources for others seeking to do missionary work. However, echoes and ripples of this creed can be heard throughout the history of the church that preceded him.

In 650 a.d. a creed very similar to it was standard in Gaul, Western Europe. Caesarius of Arles, a leading monk of the 6th century, had in his writing a form very similar to our present day form in approximately 542 a.d., again in Gaul. We see a similar creedal statement again in the writing of Rufinus, monk, historian, and theologian of the 4th and 5th century, whose writings not only contained the creed, similar in form to ours, but who also wrote a commentary on the apostle’s creed in 407 a.d. in Italy. In 320 a.d. there was a similar creed in the writings of Marcellus of Ancyra.

Tertullian, a great author, theologian, and defender of the faith, born and raised in Africa, a true father of the faith, had a early Latin version of this creed in his writings from 220 a.d. Evidence of this creed appears in 200 a.d. in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome, theologian of the church in Rome, who used a creed just like this as a confession to be affirmed in a question and answer format by baptismal candidates while in the baptismal waters. Irenaeus, church father, apologist, and formative influence of early Christianity, was a disciple of Polycarp a second century bishop, who was a disciple of the apostle John, in 180 a.d. described a creed similar to what we call the Apostles’ Creed.

What we see from this brief survey of history is that creeds have a long history of being useful to the church. That is pretty obvious. But something else of which we should make note is that the Apostles Creed or a creedal statement very similar to it, existed in the church dating back to the century following the establishment of the church in the first century. Its use by Hippolytus as a baptismal confession demonstrates just how central church people thought its affirmations were to the Christian faith. Although the legend widely propagated that this creed was composed by the apostles, with each offering one of the stanzas, is undoubtedly false; few creeds or confessions if any have experienced this type of widespread acceptance and usage in the history of the church. No doubt some of this is due to its succinct nature, which lends to its easy usage in a church service, but its combination of central affirmations cannot be ignored.

It is for these two reasons that we have chosen to use this particular creed in our church service. It is both brief and directly to the point of what we believe as a church. Its affirmations are weighty enough to distinguish us from false churches and systems of belief and yet are central enough around which the other key doctrines that define us can be grouped. The Apostles’ Creed is neither replacing nor supplementing our Statement of Faith, found in our constitution, we are not officially adopting it as our church creed, it is simply serving as a liturgical element of our worship service, as an affirmation of our beliefs in reference to God, to correctly focus our attention upon our Triune God. It will provide our worship service with a historical affirmation connecting us to the many believers who have preceded us to glory, setting us in the historical flow of the Christian church throughout the ages. What follows is the creed itself, the biblical justifications of its teachings, and a listing of the doctrine taught within it.

The Apostles’ Creed

Symbolum Apostolorum

I believe in God,1 the Father Almighty,2 the Creator of heaven and earth,3 and in Jesus Christ,4 His only Son,5 our Lord:6 Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,7 born of the Virgin Mary,8 suffered under Pontius Pilate,9 was crucified,10 died,11 and was buried.12

The existence of God
The omnipotence of God
The creator God
The messianic nature of Jesus
The deity of Christ
The humanity of Christ
The eternal sonship of Jesus
The virgin birth
The incarnation of Christ
The passion of Jesus Christ
The glorification of Jesus Christ
The session of Jesus Christ
The personhood of the Holy Spirit
The deity of the Holy Spirit
The Trinity
The universal church
The redemption of the saint
The glorification of the saint

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