Every Sunday, we say the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes, we even sing the Apostle’s Creed while singing, “We Believe.” Be why do we say it? Is it just to say it or is there a reason behind it? Let’s take a real quick look at the origin of the creed.
First thing is first. What is a creed? According to the definition given to us by Alister McGrath in his book, Christian Theology: An Introduction, “The word ‘creed’ has come to refer to a statement of faith, summarizing the main points of Christian belief, common to all Christians. For this reason, the term creed is never applied to statements of faith associated with specific Protestant denominations” (14). So, creeds are beliefs common to all Christians. The universal church has two main creeds, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.
But what is the purpose of the creed? For that answer we will look to Justo L. González’s book, The Apostles’ Creed for Today, for a relatively brief summation:
The differences among the various creed…show that there is another common notion regarding the creeds that is not quite true. We tend to think that the purpose of a creed is to summarize all the content of Christian doctrine. But in fact creeds were composed in order to bolster particular points of doctrine that were under attack–which is precisely the reason why there is so much of the Apostle’s Creed about Jesus and so little about the Holy Spirit. This also explains the silence of the Apostle’s Creed on matters such as Scripture, the sacraments, and many others.
Thus, the original purpose of most ancient creeds was to affirm faith in the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and to bolster believers against those views that at the time seemed the greatest threats to Christian faith–views the church saw as contradicting some of the essential points of Christian faith. On the other hand, the Apostle’s Creed…was composed when Christianity was trying to define its own identity in the midst of a society where all sorts of religions vied for people’s allegiance. In this sense, it clearly sought to be “apostolic.” Its purpose was to define the identity of Christianity in the midst of the wide variety of religions, superstitions, and syncretistic belief systems circulating in the first centuries of the Christian era. For this reason, the creed does serve to remind us of some of the central doctrines defining the identity of Christianity: the universal power of God, creation, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (4-5).
I hope this brief history and introduction to the Apostle’s Creed has helped you to better understand why we say it every Sunday.
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty
creator of heaven and earth
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy catholic Church
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
González, Justo L. The Apostles’ Creed for Today. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.