The song names many of the crucial beliefs Christians have professed for the last two millennia – including God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and life eternal. Because this song has become so meaningful at Preston Trail, and because we all need clarity on what we believe as followers of Jesus, Jim and I have decided to teach a summer message series on the Apostles’ Creed.
Before that series begins in a month, however, I’d like to answer a question that is often asked in non-denominational churches like ours:
“Do we believe the Apostles’ Creed?” That’s a great question, one I’ve asked myself many times. Here are some guiding thoughts:
- The Apostles’ Creed was not written by the apostles (Jesus’ disciples) in the first century AD. Its name comes from the fact that it succinctly summarizes the key beliefs of the apostles’ teaching in the New Testament.
- The Apostles’ Creed does not have the same authority for Christ followers as the New Testament does. Therefore it must be weighed and evaluated by Scripture, which we believe is God’s written word to us.
- The Creed beautifully summarizes many of the foundational truths in the New Testament. Phrases like “I believe in God the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth” and “I believe in Jesus Christ his Son” roll off our tongues easily and express our heartfelt convictions. This is why the Creed is confessed every weekend in churches around the world: it allows believers to affirm what they believe.
- The Creed includes a few statements that sound odd to our modern ears. Without stealing the thunder from our summer message series, here are two phrases that can be confusing:
- I believe Jesus descended into hell.
- I believe in the holy catholic church.
I went to an Episcopal high school where we attended chapel weekly, and during the service we said the Apostles’ Creed. Being a Baptist boy, I had never heard about Jesus descending into hell, and I knew I wasn’t Catholic. So when it came time to recite the Creed, I stumbled over those two phrases. Eventually I closed my mouth so I wouldn’t have to say something I didn’t believe. I kept my integrity, but I always wondered what those phrases meant. Over the years I found out:
- “I believe Jesus descended into hell” is a belief based on two confusing passages in the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:18-22 and 4:6. Jesus “descending into hell” between his death and resurrection may be understood literally or figuratively. Without more New Testament evidence, I hold this belief loosely.
- “I believe in the holy catholic church” confuses people because it sounds like we are saying “I believe in the Roman Catholic Church.” But that’s not true. The word “catholic” originally meant “universal” and is used that way in the Creed: we believe in the universal church, that all Christians everywhere are part of the Body of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church did not formally exist until after the Apostles’ Creed was compiled.
- Do we believe The Apostles’ Creed?
Yes, I believe. It summarizes what Christians have confessed for over 1500 years.
Is it perfect? No, it’s human. But as my Episcopal mentor used to tell me, “Things don’t have to be perfect to be good.” The Creed is good. I am glad we sing it. I am glad we’re going to teach through it. I pray we all learn to live it.