A Case for the Creed

Trends and Themes

A recent Barna Group research project revealed six “megathemes” which emerged in 2010.[1] Among trends including a lack of interest in spiritual principles over pragmatic solutions and a lack of outreach in many churches, Barna listed theological illiteracy as the number one “megatheme” for 2010. Comparing our current-day to a “theological free-for-all,” this article suggested that many Christians are growing ignorant of the significance of such Christian celebrations as Easter as well as the proper understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit among other examples. How can we address a growing lack of theological literacy? Do we even need to? Does this research reflect reality in our churches, or is it merely another scare tactic? I want to suggest that it does, at least in some form, reveal our present day circumstances in regards to Christian faith and the understanding of that faith. This is why I am making a case for the Creed; the Apostles’ Creed. I believe the Creed will help restore right understanding of the Christian faith by orienting believers to Scripture as understood by every believer since the beginning of the faith, giving us a guide for which to affirm our faith in God and his plan of salvation.

History Lessons

The Creed summarizes that which has always been believed by Christians since the very beginnings of the faith.  The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is an early Christian writing outlining the way of life and the way of death.[2] Using teachings of Jesus and other Scripture texts, the Didache gives believers a way in which to understand the faith and structure their practice. Many scholars conclude that the Didache was produced before the close of the first century.[3] Why is this important for us? The Didache reveals the need from the beginnings of the church to have a proper interpretation of Scripture for Christian faith and practice. The Apostles’ Creed, a later Christian writing, serves this same purpose. St. Ambrose says of the Creed, “Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the [Roman] Church has always kept and preserved undefiled.”[4] This writing of Ambrose comes to us from the end of the fourth century, revealing a clear understanding of the Creed by the time of his writing. The intention is to guard against wrong belief and divergent practice. As true then as it is today, stray doctrines or cultic beliefs when compared to the light of the faith as found in the Creed, immediately become shadowy and obscure. True confessing Christians can all agree upon the doctrines of faith as explained by the Creed, giving us unity while leaving room for discussion on various other issues involving our faith.

Why use the Creed today?

J.I. Packer compares the Creed to a map, a necessary tool for traveling across country.[5] The Creed is a simplified roadmap, enabling old believers and newcomers alike to reflect upon crucial matters of Christian belief. Packer goes on to state that the Creed is helpful both as a “preliminary orientation” and a “preliminary analysis of the convictions on which faith in Christ must rest.”[6] Scripture is always primary in our foundation as believers, yet we must have a guide for which to understand Scripture otherwise we are capable of misunderstandings and worse, heretical errors. Many cults today use Scripture within their practice, yet their conclusions and understanding of God and his work do not conform to the historical Christian belief as clarified by means of the Creed.

Alister McGrath warns his readers that there is more to faith than just being “caught, not taught.”[7] While it is true that faith comes from hearing, seeing it lived out and personally experiencing God’s salvation through Jesus Christ and the continually indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we must address the specific things we believe about God, rather than ambiguously stating that we trust and believe in him. The Creed strengthens while reaffirming our belief in God and his work of salvation. Continuing in his introduction, McGrath makes an appeal to our unification as believers, using the Creed as the outward badge of our Christian coalition. He says, “Many evangelical Christians tend to be individualists, with no real sense of belonging to a community. The creed’s affirmation of belief in the church reminds us of the corporate dimension of faith and helps correct any unhealthy individualism.”[8] Individualism goes against the entire teaching of Scripture; the church is called to be a functioning organism working together for the spread of the Gospel. The Creed helps to align us together for the advancement of that goal.

Conclusion

So why use the Creed? First, it comes from a proper understanding of Scripture as taught by Christ, the apostles and the early church practices. Second, as an aid it directs the believer, both old and new alike, to focus on the main points of belief in the Christian faith. Both pointing to and interpreting Scripture in a proper fashion, the Creed gives us a map for deciphering the wrong routes to take and the false road signs for which to be aware. Finally, it gives believers a basis for truly knowing and growing in their faith. It builds up the community of believers by giving us a focal point for which our faith commitments are to rest. While we do not have to agree on every point, we must agree on these central ones, lest we find ourselves outside the faith. The Creed is our banner of truth, written from the pages of Scripture for the goal of making and supporting disciples throughout all generations to the glory of God and until the return our Lord Jesus Christ.

– Coleman


[1] Barna Group, “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010,” http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/462-six-megathemes-emerge-from-2010 (accessed December 20, 2010).

[2] Didache, 1.1-2.

[3] Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English, (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2007), 159.

[4] St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 42.5.

[5] J.I. Packer, Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, (Crossway: Wheaton, 2008), 11.

[6] Ibid., 12.

[7] Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, (IntervarsityPress: Downers Grove, 1997), 10.

[8] Ibid., 15.

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