D. A. CARSON
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” So begins what is universally called the Apostles’ Creed. Strictly speaking, it was not formulated by the apostles. It emerged in the second century. But it is called the Apostles’ Creed because the summary of what is given in the creed reflects the doctrine of the apostles, the doctrine of the New Testament in summary form. It’s an early Christian confession. But it is so early, and has been used so widely across Christian denominations all around the world, that it is one of the rare things that unites all Christians in common belief.
If you read it through carefully and slowly, you’ll see there’s explicit mention of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, of creation, the virgin birth, the coming of Christ, his rising from the dead, who Christians are, what it means to have the Holy Spirit working within us, and so forth, all in very brief compass in words that millions and millions of Christians have either memorized or recite every Sunday or sometimes use as part of their private devotions.
It’s important to remember that creeds are shaped, at least in part, by the era in which they are formulated, not because the Bible changes, but because the questions that we ask of the Bible change just a wee bit from time to time. Other creedal statements, for example, that were made at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century ask and answer slightly different questions. But the Apostles’ Creed is regularly said by Christians all around the world because it was written so early that it was used before a lot of the later important doctrinal divisions set in. And within this framework, it very ably summarizes the gospel in just a few sentences. In some ways it is a kind of second-century attempt to recapitulate what we read, for example, in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15, which itself is a very simple creed. What is the gospel? Paul asks. Well, first, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and then various things are added and added and added until we have a summary of the great good news and its content—that God in the fullness of time sent forth his Son to die on the cross, rise from the dead, and bring to himself a vast number of the people that Paul calls the new humanity.
So when you gather for public worship on the Lord’s Day and recite the creed, remember that behind the mere words on the page are two thousand years of Christian history. The creed serves to link Christians across cultures and languages and space and time as together we say we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.