Lesson 1: What is a Creed?

I BelieveBefore we examine the Apostles’ Creed, we had better remember the roles creeds play in the Church. Obviously, the first is to state what an individual believes. “Credo” is “I believe.” That is not to claim the creed summarizes a person’s faith. It addresses items that have been controversial. Many essential items, such as Jesus’ central teachings, are missing. Nonetheless, creeds help individuals to evaluate their personal religious experiences.

More important, creeds state what the Christian community believes. Again, that does not mean the creed summarizes Christian belief. The second article of the Apostle’s Creed asserts some things about Jesus’ birth and passion. It says nothing about his ministry, because people had fewer issues with these. That does not mean every member of the Church has to accept every item in the creed. I used to have worshipers refuse to speak “virgin birth”, thinking to do so would lack integrity. When professed in a Church meeting, it is used as a statement of some central community beliefs. Just because one does not believe everything does not mean you are a bad member. In fact, scholars are not even sure what some items, such as “descended to the dead” fully mean.

A third function is providing some standards for reading the Bible. Any honest reading of the scriptures recognizes it includes a number of different traditions. The creed states which traditions the Church has seen as essential. It, also, contains items, such as the Trinity, that are not developed in the Bible.

We should be aware Fundamentalism is really a creed that goes beyond the Apostles’. It not only claims the inerrancy of the writing, but also one and only one way to understand the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection, the second coming, and the miracles.

There is a difference between how the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds were formed. The latter primarily addresses one issue, the way to understand the Trinity. This was so controversial various groups went to war over it. The Apostles’ slowly developed over many years as item after item was added. Many believe it began with the biblical “Jesus is Lord” that Paul claimed as the only confession necessary (I Corinthians 12: 3, Romans 10:9, Philippians 2:11). I am more comfortable with that creed, because it emerges from the community experience rather than an ecclesiastical fight.

You cannot help but notice the creed has a Trinitarian structure. That leads Martin Luther in his Large Catechism to suggest it can be summarized as “I believe in God the Father, who has created me; I believe in God the Son, who has redeemed me; I believe in the Holy Ghost, who sanctifies me. One God and one faith, but three persons, therefore also three articles or confessions.”

In the coming weeks I hope to examine the different articles, trying to express them in our contemporary context.

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