The Apostles Creed.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

Whenever I bring up the Apostles Creed to Christians, I tend to get one of two reactions: Positive and negative.

I tend to get the positive response from Christians who grew up in formal, liturgical churches. Most of ’em can recite the creed right along with me… though the version I memorized is the Book of Common Prayer version, and most of ’em tend to know one of the Roman Missal versions. Minor wording differences.


Third Day and Brandon Heath perform Rich Mullins’ “Creed.” YouTube

If they didn’t grow up in such churches, or their churches never taught it to ’em, they might still know it. ’Cause they learned it as lyrics from a Rich Mullins song. Or someone else’s cover of that song. Or John Michael Talbot’s song, though that’s lesser-known.

Negative reactions typically come from anti-Catholics who get weirded out whenever I dare bring up any form of ancient Christianity they don’t recognize from bible. (And sometimes not even then.) They don’t see the point of creeds. Yet at the very same time, they’ll go on and on about the need for necessary foundational beliefs… which is exactly what creeds are.

The Apostles Creed is Christianity’s simplest, most basic creed. Here it is… in my translation from the Latin. As far as I can tell, the Latin’s the original.

I believe in God,
the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit;
born from the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the afterlife.
The third day, he was resurrected from the dead.
He ascended to heaven;
he sits at the almighty Father’s right hand.
From there he will come;
he is judging the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
communion of saints, forgiveness of sins,
bodily resurrection, and eternal life.
Amen.

A creed, like this creed, is a faith statement. But unlike the faith statements which’ve been drafted by various churches and denominations, these creeds were written long before the Great Schism and denominational divisions, back when Christians considered ourselves only one church. When over-innovative preachers were trying to pass off their new ideas and hypotheses as authentic Christianity, and instead created division and disharmony, the leaders of the various churches gathered, discussed, checked the scriptures, and wrote creeds to reflect the orthodox point of view. Every true Christian should be able to say the creeds and mean ’em. Only heretic Christians get tripped up by them.

Tradition has it that the Apostles Creed is the very oldest of the creeds; that it’s called “the Apostles Creed” (sometimes with or without an apostrophe) because it was written by the Twelve. I don’t know about that. It’s certainly old, and consistent with other creeds. But the oldest full copy we have of it, comes from St. Permin’s Dicta Abbatis Pirminii/“Abbot Permin’s Sayings,” written after 710. It looks far more like it’s a short version of the Nicene Creed—probably drafted by someone who couldn’t remember the full creed, but could remember the basics.

Using the Apostles Creed.

One of the more common Christian mistakes is we believe our beliefs make us Christian: We’re Christian because we have faith. Because we believe all the right things. Because we’re orthodox.

We even get a little of that in Rich Mullins’s song, in the chorus:

And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am
I did not make it; no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man

True, what we believe influences who we are. But more importantly, more central to Christianity, is not our beliefs, but who we follow. What makes us Christian is we follow Jesus. When we intentionally, devoutly follow him, he makes us Christian. Not our orthodoxy. True, when we authentically follow Jesus, our beliefs get sorted out and we become orthodox. But Jesus is the engine propelling the whole train. Not our beliefs.

Creeds are simply part of the sorting-out process. Again, like Mullins wrote, we don’t make it: We don’t invent our own faith statements, and pick ’n choose some eclectic form of Christianity which suits our prejudices best. Or at least we’re not supposed to. Too many Christians do. It’s why they’ll write you the nastiest, vilest things on Twitter… and when you look up their profile, their bible says, “Jesus first!” Yeah right.

When we’re truly following, instead of cobbling together our own hodgepodge of beliefs, our religion isn’t gonna be a reflection of ourselves which we’re trying to pass off as Jesus. It’ll be a reflection of him. It’ll conform to the creeds, instead of ditching them to write our own, new ’n improved versions.

Knowing the creeds doesn’t prove we’re Christian. Nor that we’re saved. This only proves we know what true Christians oughta believe. Now we gotta believe it, and live it out. And once we do, we’re likely to hand down the truths of the scriptures, hand down the apostles’ traditions, hand down the stuff previous Christians have always believed. We’ll believe in the trinity, in Jesus’s supernatural birth, that he really suffered and died, really rose from the dead, and is really coming back.

We’ll believe in the universal church which Jesus runs, which transcends all our little local churches and denominations. We’ll believe Christians should meet regularly, and forgive others. We’ll believe when Jesus returns, he’ll resurrect us, and we’ll live forever with him.

If we don’t, we may still call ourselves Christian, but we’ll be heretic. We’ll have incorrect beliefs about God which may, and too often do, get in the way of a growing relationship with him. Possibly even in the way of our salvation.

From time to time I meet people who claim they’re Christian, and orthodox… and yet they can’t conform to the Apostles Creed. They don’t really believe Jesus was concieved by the Holy Spirit, but by Joseph of Nazareth. They don’t really believe he went to the afterlife when he died; they think he bypassed that and went to heaven (’cause he’s God, right?) and didn’t have a truly authentic human experience as one of us. They don’t really think he’s returning, or that he’ll resurrect us when he does. They don’t believe Jesus has a universal church; they only believe in their church, and the rest of us “so-called Christians” are suspect. They often have mighty weird ideas about trinity. And yet they insist they’re still orthodox—because they imagine they get to define orthodoxy.

No they don’t. Jesus does, and we follow. The creeds, notably the Apostles Creed, help us follow.