The Apostles’ Creed: What Christians Believe
Mar 9, 2020 · Courtney Jacob
What do you believe? What do Christians believe?
If you’ve ever been asked questions like these and wondered where to start, you’re probably not alone. It can be intimidating to try to distill the whole Bible into just a few beliefs, much less try to prioritize them. But there are times when this work is necessary for believers. At crucial points in the history of the Church, Christ-followers have united to write declarative statements that summarize aspects of Christian belief. The Apostles’ Creed is one of the first of these statements and it identifies and states the most essential points of Christian doctrine. In our Groundwork series, “The Apostles Creed: What Christians Believe,” we’ll study each of the statements in the Apostles' Creed and the scriptures from which they’re drawn. Through this study, we’ll gain a better understanding of our essential beliefs and grow in appreciation for the value of the Apostles’ Creed in our formation and discipleship today.
What is a creed?
Creeds have been around for a long time and they are not unique to the Christian faith. According to Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his book A Place to Stand: A Study of Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions, “...we ordinarily use the term creed to refer to the formal beliefs of a large group of people instead of the personal beliefs of an isolated individual.” So he defines a creed as “the formal statement of a group’s set of beliefs” (p. 5).
The Apostles' Creed is a formal statement which professes what we believe about the persons and work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Why start with a creed?
It may seem odd to start with a creed and not the Bible itself, but as Kevin DeYoung writes in The Good News We Almost Forgot, “...if you are looking for a succinct summary of the essentials of the faith, there is no better starting point than the Apostles’ Creed” (p. 47). Here are three reasons we think the Apostles’ Creed is a valuable place to start talking about what Christians believe:
- The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the Apostles’ teachings. So even though you might not find the creed itself in the Bible, each of its statements is rooted in the Apostles’ teachings. This means you’ll find more than one scripture passage to support and expound upon each claim.
- The Apostles’ Creed is ecumenical. Creeds that are ecumenical “are broadly accepted by the churches. They express a core of belief that unites the Christian churches of the West” (Plantinga, A Place to Stand, p. 7). So if you’re trying to understand or explain the beliefs that Christians of many denominations hold in common, an ecumenical creed is a great place to start.
- The Apostles’ Creed is useful for teaching and understanding. The Apostles’ Creed developed over time as early Christians taught new believers about the Christian faith. At the time, books were expensive, so easily memorized ideas that communicated the heart of Christian doctrine were very important. To learn more about this history, I encourage you to listen to the opening episode of our series, “I Believe.”
Study the Apostles’ Creed
The Apostles’ Creed has stood the test of time and continues to unify Christians across denominations today. It’s a valuable way to summarize and share what we believe, but Plantinga’s caution in A Place to Stand is a valuable one. He reminds us, “Saying “I believe” is like saying “I do” at a wedding. You want to do it carefully. After all, you are not merely describing a vow; you are actually vowing” (p. 10). For this reason, our study of the Apostles’ Creed is ultimately a study of scripture and an affirmation of its deep truths.
I invite you to plumb the depths of the scriptures with us and dig into the passages that inform each essential statement of Christian doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed through our Groundwork series “The Apostles Creed: What Christians Believe.”
- I Believe - Romans 10:9 and Deuteronomy 6:1-9
- I Believe in God, the Father Almighty - Ephesians 1:18-21 and Romans 8:15-17
- I Believe in God, the Creator - Psalm 19:1-6, Job 38:34-41, and Psalm 104:27-30
- I Believe in God, the Son - Matthew 16:13-16, John 1:1-18, and Philippians 2:9-11
- I Believe in the Son’s Life and Death - Luke 1:26-35, Matthew 27:11-26, Luke 23:44-46, and 1 Peter 3:18-20
- I Believe the Son has Risen - 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Luke 24:36-48, and Revelation 1:12-18
- I Believe the Son Ascended to Heaven - Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11, John 16:4-15, and Ephesians 1:18-23
- I Believe the Son will Judge - Mark 13:26-27, Acts 1:11, 2 Peter 3:3-13, and 2 Corinthians 5:10
- I Believe in God, the Holy Spirit - Matthew 28:19, John 14:16-17, Acts 2:1-4, and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
- I Believe in the Church, God's Community - John 10:14-16, Colossians 1:15-18, Ephesians 4:4-6, John 17:21, 1 Peter 2:9, and Acts 2:42-27
- I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins - Psalm 103, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Romans 8:1-2, and 1 John 2:1-2
- I Believe in Bodily Resurrection and Everlasting Life - Job 19:25-26, 1 Corinthians 15:20, 35-54, Revelation 21:1-5, and John 5:24-30
...and together we’ll grow in the knowledge of and relationship with our Triune God as we focus on faith formation and discipleship.