“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” These are the opening words of the Apostles’ Creed, a wonderful document that comes down to us from the early church. Many churches today recite the Apostles’ Creed. It reminds us that we stand with the church throughout the ages, that this church in the twentieth century is not the first one to exist, but that we belong to a great line of the faithful people of God. And as we say those words, we are uniting our voices with the voices those who have been reciting these words down through the centuries.
The Apostles’ Creed dates from the early centuries of the church, and it was not written by the Apostles; it was called the Apostles’ Creed because it represents the Apostolic teaching. One of the other early creeds of the church, the Nicene Creed, says, “We believe in one holy catholic apostolic church.” This emphasis on the Apostolic is an emphasis on the teachings of the Apostles, which are codified for us in the four Gospels and the Epistles in the New Testament.
What we find in the Apostles’ Creed is a summation of the New Testament beliefs about God and about Christ. The phrases that form the Apostles’ Creed come to us from the first and second centuries; they were from early bishops’ creeds. Bishops in various cities created these creeds for catechumens (those who were seeking membership in the church) as a way of teaching them the basic beliefs of the church. It was a way of saying, “If you join with us, you are affirming this set of beliefs.”
In addition to being used as a teaching tool, the Apostles’ Creed also made its way into the liturgy of the early church. One of the texts from the early church, the Didache (“teachings,” meaning the teachings of the Apostles), speaks of the use of the creed in the liturgy.
The creed has a wonderful Trinitarian statement—a firm statement in the belief in God, a statement of the belief in Christ, and primarily in His work and what He’s done, and then also a belief in the Holy Spirit.
Each phrase of the creed opens up for us multiple passages of Scripture and multiple theological themes and ideas. But the phrases at the end of the Creed are particularly worth pondering: “I believe in the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” Think about each one of those phrases and its impact on how we live. Think about the perspective on life that those phrases give us. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own moment, in our own day, and get caught up in the pressures and not realize that there is the life to come.
As we think about our own church communities, relational struggles, issues at work, and those sorts of things that can fester, it is good to think about what it means to speak of the forgiveness of sins. And then we’re reminded of the life everlasting. And this creed that reminds us is a great gift from the early church.