“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.” Acts 1:1-2
The evangelist Luke explains the purpose of his gospel to Theophilus. He wanted to accurately record all that Jesus began to do and all that Jesus began to teach. What Jesus “did” is embodied by the early church in her sacramental worship and ministry. What Jesus “taught” concerning the Kingdom of God was codified by the early church in her creeds. The word “creed” comes from a Latin word, credo, and is translated simply, “I believe”. A creed, in its simplest form, sets forth words for public use that express with a certain authority the things that are necessary to believe for personal salvation and for the wellbeing of the Church. Creeds are milestones that embody the living faith of generations.
There are several things that we can say about the historic creeds of the church. First, a creed originates in faith, which like all strong convictions desires to express itself (Romans 10:8-11). Second, the creeds never precede faith, they presuppose it. Even if there had never been any doctrinal crisis that required formal creeds, just the presence of faith would have brought them forth. We see these spontaneous creeds throughout scripture (Matthew 16:15-16, John 1:1-5, or I Timothy 3:16 for example). Third, a creed is nothing more than Jesus Christ and His work confessed. Psalm 107:2 commands, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, the ones He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” A creed recounts the mighty work of God’s grace in bringing about our deliverance. And fourth, the creedal confession can be very simple and still be made effectual by the working of God’s power. In Acts 16:30-31 the Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your household.” The historic creeds always begin with Jesus, their truths were proclaimed with power by the apostles, they were developed and explained in the writings of the New Testament, they were faithfully passed down through each generation of believers, and they were recorded in the forms that have survived to our present time.
The most popular creed is the Apostle’s Creed. It is the simplest summary of the gospel story and has been used throughout the centuries as the confession of faith repeated by those who were to be baptized into the Church. An early Church tradition holds that it originated directly from the apostles, and up until the middle of the seventeenth century both Roman Catholics and Protestants believed the creed to be composed by the apostles in Jerusalem either on the day of Pentecost, or prior to their scattering as a means to secure unity of teaching. Each apostle contributed one part. The story says that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit began, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” John continued, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Andrew went on, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”; then James the elder, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried”; Philip, “He descended into Hades, the third day He rose again from the dead”; Bartholomew, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty”; Thomas, “from thence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead”; Mathew “I believe in the Holy Spirit”; James, the lesser, “the Holy Catholic Church”; Simon, “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins”;, Thaddeus, “the resurrection of the body”; and Matthias, “and the life everlasting, Amen.”
Although the notion of direct apostolic authorship is no longer held by most scholars, the tradition is still a reflection of the power, simplicity, and faithfulness to the gospel message that is present in this creed. Embodied in its words we hear the gospel earnestly spoken and we are moved to speak those words of personal faith, “I believe…”. A creed’s chief purpose is always to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and because of this a creed is not a systematic, logical statement of doctrine, but a profession of living, saving faith in the work of God through His Son Jesus. It is given so that a child can recite it, not so that a scholar can explain it.
“I believe…” These are powerful words that break the power of sin, that open the soul to the work of God’s grace, and that change a life eternally in a moment.