The Apostles’ Creed isn’t just a statement of Christ’s past, present, and future life–it’s a reminder of our present and future lives too. Today, Barry Cooper walks us through this document that has been confessed by Christians for centuries.
Over the years, in different countries, I’ve visited some incredibly varied churches. Some have met in school gymnasiums, others in vaulted Gothic splendor. Some have sung ancient hymns; others preferred more modern songs. But one element has cropped up more or less consistently. At some point in the service, you hear what is known as the Apostles’ Creed.
It’s been used in more churches across more denominations and traditions than any other creed. You can also hear its influence in multiple Reformation-era catechisms, such as Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism.
The Apostles’ Creed is so called not because it was written by the Apostles but because it contains a summary of Apostolic teaching. Some scholars believe it dates from the second century—it’s certainly no later than the fourth century. And it sums up the Christian faith with wonderful clarity and economy.
It begins like this:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost . . .
The first thing you notice from that opening is how Trinitarian it is. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And then you begin to see that the focus of the Apostles’ Creed is on the headline facts of Jesus’ earthly life, atoning death, and His glorious resurrection and ascension. It continues like this:
. . . born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven . . .
But the creed isn’t just about what Jesus has done in the past. It also considers the present situation of Jesus and looks ahead to what Jesus will do in the future. The present is there in the next line:
…He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
John Calvin explains what “sitting at the right hand of the Father” means. It means that “Christ was invested with lordship over heaven and earth, and solemnly entered into possession of the government committed to him—and that he not only entered into possession once for all, but continues in it.” That means that Jesus rules over all things today and will one day be seen by everyone to be ruling over all things. That’s why the creed continues:
From where He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
“The quick” here simply means “the living.” In other words, when Jesus returns, He will judge all those who are living at the time of His return and all those who have already died, across the entire span of human history.
Then, as it closes, the Apostles’ Creed moves from what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. It becomes a reminder of what these historical realities actually mean for you and I, as believers. It says this:
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic church [“catholic” here simply means “universal”],
the communion of saints [in other words, the bond that exists between all those, across history, whose trust is in Christ],
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
So, the Apostles’ Creed is not just a statement of Christ’s past, present, and future life. It is a reminder of our present and future lives too. A reminder that our sins are forgiven, even the very worst of them; that those of us who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to all believers, are now members of a close-knit and yet worldwide and history-wide family; that our physical bodies will not be abandoned when we die but will instead be raised from death at the resurrection; and that our lives in those glorious resurrection bodies will last forever.
At my church, we stand together as brothers and sisters and say the Apostles’ Creed every week. And as we do, I’m conscious I stand with other brothers and sisters across the country, across the seas, and across the centuries. Have there ever been words that have united people for two thousand years as the Apostles’ Creed has?