As young as I am, I’ve been in church ministry for 17 years. I’ve been a worship leader, a youth pastor, an associate pastor, a preaching pastor, and a lead/senior pastor. In all that time, I’ve said some dumb stuff. I’ve put my foot in my mouth plenty of times. If you were to tell me 17 years ago that one of the brouhahas I would start would be because I led my church in the Apostles’ Creed, I would have thought you nuts.
Yet here we are.
I led my church in saying the Apostles’ Creed. It was only the second time in two years we had ever done it, but I was preaching on faith in Jesus and standing firm in one’s faith, so we closed the service by saying the Creed as one church.
I heard from several who were opposed to the Creed and thought it had no place in our church. So let’s talk about it.
The Creed first came on the scene in the 4th century. That’s about 1200 years before the Protestant/Catholic split. And about 600 years before the Eastern Orthodox/Catholic split. At the time, there was only one Church—the Christian Church. It was referred to as catholic (little c) which meant “universal”—but we’ll talk about that more in a bit.
The Church put together the teaching of the Apostles in a simple, succinct form that could be learned by every Christian. In a time where literacy levels were low, a Creed that could be memorized was a big bonus in teaching people the core elements of faith.
Here are the elements and the Bible verses that spawned the Apostles’ teaching:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him (Ps. 103:13).
Throughout the Bible, believers affirm that God is the source of everything, the magnificent creator of all things. Both Old and New Testaments refer to God as Father. God is neither male nor female, so Father isn’t a perfect metaphor for God, but in our limited language and human understanding it is how the Bible refers to God.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
Jesus was not merely a good man or a wise teacher—he was unique. He was one of a kind. He was God in the flesh.
…who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:26-37).
We don’t even have to get into Protestant/Catholic debates on the immaculate conception or perpetual virginity of Mary or any of the other stuff we like to fight over. We agree on this basic element: Jesus was a supernaturally born child born of a young girl who didn’t get pregnant by any man.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate (Mk. 15:1).
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified (Mk. 15:15).
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk. 15:37).
And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut from the rock (Mk. 15:46).
Jesus was an historical figure that actually lived, breathed, was betrayed, killed, and buried. Believe it or not, I’ve had conversations with atheists who genuinely believe that Jesus is a fictional character. They are blown away when I show them that Jesus was written about by secular Roman historians as well as the Bible and Christian historians.
…he descended to hell.
Here it is. This is the kicker—the one that throws a lot of people for a loop. What?!? Jesus went to hell?
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah… (1 Pet. 3:18-20).
There are several other passages used when talking about this element of the Creed.
…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption (Acts 2:31.)
The Greek use of Hades is not the same as our English understanding of Hell as place of torment. Originally, it was a holding place between life and death. Even the Jews had a concept of Abraham’s Bosom, and Jesus used it in a parable (see Lk. 16:19-31). The Bible isn’t saying that Jesus spent time in eternal judgment, but that he departed from this world and went to the afterlife, which could not contain him!
The third day he rose again from the dead.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Lk. 24:1-7).
Unlike leaders/founders of other religions, we affirm that Jesus is NOT dead. He is alive after a physical and bodily resurrection.
He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6-11).
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word… (2 Tim. 4:1).
This world is not the end of existence. The afterlife awaits us all, and we will all be judged. The old-fashioned expression is “the quick and the dead.” When I was a kid, I always wondered what that meant. What’s gonna happen to the slow people? But quick is an old way of saying “alive.” Those who are living and those who have already passed will face a final judgment before Jesus.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5).
The Spirit of God is active in the lives of believers. The Spirit leads us, guides us, convicts us.
…the holy catholic church,
…the sake of [Jesus’] body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister… (Col. 1:24-25).
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… (Eph. 5:25).
Here’s another one that bugs Protestants. Remember, catholic means “universal.” They weren’t trying to promote the Roman Catholic organization, but saying that all Christians around the world are united in Christ. In the Bible, the word for church is ekklesia and literally means “called out.” We are different from the world. We are an assembly of people called together through our common faith in Jesus. It’s not the buildings but the believers who ARE the Church!
…the communion of saints,
…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us… (1 Jn. 1:3).
The apostle Paul frequently refers to all Christians as holy ones or “saints.” Again, this isn’t about any Roman Catholic doctrine but about the bond and unity that all believers have in Christ Jesus.
…the forgiveness of sins,
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14).
In actuality, the Bible talks a lot about forgiveness of our sins because of the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s the whole point of the cross. So I think we can move on from this one.
…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:49).
The apostle Paul says, if there is no resurrection of the dead then we’re all screwed. Why bother being faithful? We can live and let live. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But no—there is more to this life than the here and now. We live in temporary bodies, but are eternal beings. Thank God one day we will shed these messes!
There, in a nutshell, is some of the biblical foundation for the Apostles’ Creed. While not appearing word for word in the Bible, the Creed has elements that do come from the Bible. It is not a Roman Catholic thing. It is a Christian thing that has been part of Christian worship services for 2000 years. Catholics use it, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Methodists, non-denominational churches, and on.
The purpose of reciting and using the Creed is to stand in solidarity with thousands of years of Christian faithful who declare, “We believe.” Every element of the Creed is biblical and represents the faith that has been passed down to us from the beginning of Christianity.
In a modern context, think about it like a contemporary church website. Every church website I’ve ever seen has a statement of faith/beliefs. The Apostles’ Creed is the statement of faith for the Worldwide Church website.
If you’d like to hear some version of the Creed put to music you should check out these: