The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest statements of faith proclaiming what Christians believe. Over time, it has been rumored that the apostles, Jesus’ disciples, gathered to write the creed just before going out to tell the world about Jesus. While the story is a fun tale to tell, it’s untrue.
What we now call the Apostles’ Creed is a longer version of a prior creed. This creed developed in the early church period, with slight variation. Neighboring churches would adopt the same creed or use a variation of it. This shorter version, or “rule of faith,” which was likely formulated in Rome around 180 AD.
What Is Its Purpose?
The Apostles’ Creed functioned as a seal. Think of it like an emperor sealing a letter with a wax emblem. When someone receives that letter with the emperor’s seal, they know they can trust it.
In the same way, the Creed was like a seal marking the authenticity of a church’s faith. If a church held to the Apostles’ Creed, it was a sign that they affirmed foundational teaching from the Bible about God’s nature, how people are saved, and Jesus’ identity. The Apostles’ Creed was a necessary seal, distinguishing correct doctrine from the surrounding heresies of the time. A heresy is a false belief about what the Bible teaches. At the time, the Apostles’ Creed distinguished true doctrine from counterfeit versions of Christian belief, like Gnosticism and Marcionism.
For example, the Apostles’ Creed immediately distinguished true believers from Marcionism by proclaiming God as the Father Almighty. Marcionites did not believe that God was the only God. Likewise, when talking about Jesus, the creed states that he was “born of the Virgin Mary.” This directly affirmed the fact that Jesus was human (John 1:14; Luke 1:30-35; Hebrews 2:17). Jesus did not just appear on earth as Marcionites believed.
Also, the creed affirms belief in “the holy catholic church.” This did not refer to the Roman Catholic church. “Catholic,” here, means global or universal. While Gnosticism had many contradictory schools of belief, the Apostles’ Creed affirmed that Christians were united in their belief. The early church, united in this creed, had greater authority than their disparate detractors.
What Was Its Use?
Practically speaking, the Apostles’ Creed was mainly used in baptism. For instance, the person baptizing another would ask, “Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?” The person getting baptized would then respond with the first few lines of the creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”
What Is Its Purpose for Today?
Though modern Christians don’t necessarily need to distinguish themselves from ancient heretics, they do need to affirm the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed continues to function as a seal that separates true Christianity from unbiblical beliefs.
The creed also retains its value as a baptismal response. Many churches use it in a call-and-response format to express to congregants of the church body that the candidate presented for baptism affirms the faith. Additionally, some traditions will recite the creed during church worship services in order to remind the congregants about their faith.
Although the creed was prepared either for an individual to recite at the time of baptism, or a body of believers to proclaim together, it can also be recited during a time of personal devotion. It’s helpful as a devotional practice to be reminded in a clear and concise way of what we as Christians believe, based upon the teaching of the Bible.
Take some time after reading your Bible today to reflect on the Apostles’ Creed. You could take one line at a time, such as, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” and ask questions like: Is that true in my life? Do I truly believe that God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit has forgiven me for my sins?
Could you stamp the Apostles’ Creed as a seal on your faith? Do you affirm what it affirms to be true?