Why the Apostles' Creed Matters

Why the Apostles’ Creed Matters

Michael Agapito     |     APRIL 8, 2019     |    4 MIN READ

It’s very easy for heresies to creep into correct theology. For example, only 47% of evangelicals strongly agree that “Biblical accounts of the physical resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate.” In addition, only 44% of evangelicals strongly believe “there will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.” 1

How can we counter this trend and help our fellow Christians to fully understand the breadth and depth of the Gospel? Perhaps we should take another look at the Apostles’ Creed.

What is the Apostles’ Creed?

The Apostles’ Creed contains the essentials of Christian faith within a few succinct lines. It is one of the earliest statements of faith, and for centuries (indeed, for most of the past two millennia), the Creed was recited regularly by millions of Christians – a practice that still continues in many denominations to this day.

The statement was dubbed the “Apostles’ Creed” not because it was written down by the apostles, but because it passed down clear, apostolic teaching and is heavily based on Scripture. Scholars such as Carl Trueman and Scot McKnight have written about how the early Christians looked at Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 15 and established a “rule of faith” (or “regula fidei”) – a clear standard for biblical, apostolic doctrine. 2 The result was the Apostles’ Creed and others like it.

The early Christians would use the Creed to teach the faith to new converts. They would go through it line by line in a process called catechesis, which is similar to a modern-day catechism class. In addition, Christians would affirm the Creed or recite it right before their baptisms, much like saying wedding vows before the pronouncement of marriage. In other words, it was a tool that Christians used to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). To know the Apostles’ Creed, then, is to adhere to historical Christianity.

Why is “Catholic?” in there?

Some people might raise their eyebrows at the word “catholic” found in one of the last lines. But the word “catholic” (small “c”) simply means “universal,” not “Roman Catholic” (though it also subscribes to the Apostles’ Creed). The word refers to what Christians have historically and essentially believed in: the “true Christian church of all times and all places” under the headship of Jesus Christ.

Protestants have historically affirmed the Apostles’ Creed. The Reformers (such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, and Melanchthon) all affirmed the Creed, and often included it in their written confessions of faith.

Bringing the Creed Back

In the past 200 years, the Apostles’ Creed fell into disuse because of rapid changes in Western culture ranging from modernization, secularism, and fundamentalism (e.g. “no creed but the Bible”, which was an overreaction to the former two). In addition, evangelicalism has sometimes been in danger of sacrificing doctrinal clarity for the sake of overt emotional expression. But some Christians are rediscovering the Creed and are beginning to recognize its historical importance in the life of the church.

“Creed” comes from the Latin word “credo”, meaning “I believe”. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our solidarity with the historic Christian witness of ages past and stand in line with those that have come before us. It serves as a symbol — the basis for our unity in faith with one another — and is indispensable for the church.

Many congregations and denominations still recite it regularly as part of their church tradition. I’m part of a church congregation that sings a hymn adaptation of the Apostles’ Creed to the tune of “Highland Cathedral” before we take communion with one another. In a more modern version, Hillsong Worship released a song titled “This I Believe” (explicitly subtitled “The Creed”), which contains the poetically stylized words of the Apostles’ Creed to the tune of contemporary worship music.

Around the same time, the Christian band Newsboys released a song titled “We Believe”, which contains the words of the Apostles’ Creed in its earworm chorus. I’m hopeful that practices like this might become more commonplace.

From Gen X to Millennials to Gen-Z: We all need tools like the Apostle’s Creed. We need historical Christianity, we need to be grounded in our faith, and we need to be pointed back to Jesus.

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles that explore historical creeds and confessions of faith throughout the history of the church. We have begun by exploring the ecumenical creeds of the early church and then will transition into studying the confessions of the Reformation Era. Some readers may discover facts about their tradition or denomination that they had not known previously. For the next article, we will examine the Nicene Creed.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article was originally published on The Confessing Millennial. It has been updated and republished here with the author’s permission.

Michael Agapito is the Resident Director at University Baptist Church, ministering to the students at the University of Illinois. He is also a seminary student, pursuing a Masters of Divinity in the hopes of becoming a pastor. He has a B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois and M.A. in Counseling from Wheaton College. Michael has been happily married since last July to his wife Amy, who is his partner in ministry and biggest cheerleader.