There are many great tools out there to help you
dig into God’s Word, from theological dictionaries to commentaries to study Bibles. But have you ever thought about using the Apostles’ Creed as a study guide?
The origins of the Apostles’ Creed can be traced back to the Roman church in the late second century ad. It probably started out as a written profession of faith for baptismal candidates or new converts, but it soon became a popular summary of the main teachings of the Christian faith. In fact, it became known as
the Symbolum Apostolorum—
a “symbol” of the apostles’ teaching about Jesus. It is quite short—only 75 words in the original Latin—but it is a pristine summary of the Christian faith that has been handed down through the generations and used widely in the Western churches, both Catholic and Protestant, for more than 1,800 years.
Maybe the world of creeds and confessions is a bit foreign to you; perhaps you’ve never belonged to a church that uses creeds as part of worship or discipleship. If so, I want to suggest seven good reasons for incorporating the Apostles’ Creed in your study of Scripture.
1. The Apostles' Creed is Christianity's oldest teaching syllabus.
There are a number of different ways to teach the basics of the Christian faith. I sometimes use the Gospel of Mark to introduce people to Jesus and Christianity; the Reformed catechisms (e.g., Westminster and Heidelberg) are popular in some circles. A short volume like J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology also can be a useful introduction to Christian theology.
What I love about the Apostles’ Creed is that it is the probably the oldest and most popular syllabus there is for learning about the faith. It follows a logical and sensible order: God Almighty as our Creator, the story of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, the Church, the forgiveness of sins, and the future. I might quibble over other teachings that I wish were included, like God’s covenant with Israel, the teachings of Jesus, the Bible as inspired and infallible, and the human and divine natures of Jesus. Those absences notwithstanding, what the Apostles’ Creed does contain are certainly the main points for a crash-course on Christianity.
If you are going to devise an outline for teaching the basics of Christian beliefs, this creed is an effective resource for what to say and in what order. You could easily teach an adult Bible study or preach a sermon series using the Apostles’ Creed as your outline, working through one line every week. (As a good example, I recommend Matt Chandler’s sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed at The Village Church, viewable on YouTube.)
2. The Apostles’ Creed tells us the main teachings of the faith.
I think it would be fair to say that there is a triage of Christian beliefs. There are some beliefs that are essential to be a Christian (like believing that God is the Creator, Jesus is God’s Son, Jesus died for our sins, etc.). Then there are some beliefs that are important to church life and how we do church, but nobody’s salvation actually rests on them (e.g., models of church government, views of baptism, beliefs about Jesus and a millennium, etc.). And then there are beliefs that are matters of conscience or personal conviction (e.g., your favorite Bible translation, Christian schooling, or whether Christians should drink alcohol or eat meat).
The Apostles’ Creed clarifies which are the central Christian beliefs—the non-negotiable, hill-to-die-on sort of things that we should never abandon or compromise. While there are many things we can debate and dispute, the Apostles’ Creed reminds us that the most important thing is to make sure that the most important things remain the most important things.
3. The Apostles' Creed provides an outline for prayer.
Another application for the Apostles’ Creed is its use as a template for prayer. First, the creed helps us recognize reasons for praise and thanksgiving—like creation, forgiveness, and the church. Second, the creed provides us with a prayer list, covering our fellowship as a church, the Spirit’s work in our cities, and our hopes for the future.
4. The Apostles' Creed helps us memorize key biblical points.
While memorizing Scripture should always be paramount, I also recommend memorizing the Apostles’ Creed because it reminds us of the core teachings of Scripture.
5. The Apostles' Creed reminds us that our faith is ancient and universal.
One of my pet peeves with contemporary evangelicalism is that it can be very faddish. We’re always after the latest and greatest. However, the Apostles’ Creed reminds us not to revere what is new and shiny, but rather to cling to what is tried and tested. That old-time religion is much better than snazzy sound-bites of whatever’s trending in theology.
The faith we profess has such strong roots! Taught by the apostles, affirmed by the ancient church, shared by all major traditions—Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox—and professed throughout the entire world, the Christian faith is beautifully summed up in the Apostles’ Creed. In this short text, we have a deposit of ancient testimony about God, God’s Son, and God’s purposes for the world. We have a testament to the gospel, confessed amidst persecution, prayed with tears, scrutinized by the brightest minds of the church—and its longevity and consensus proves it worthy of our attention and affirmation.
6. The Apostles' Creed forces us to think about our faith.
One thing I’ve learned in my Christian life is that faith is not for lazy minds. We are called to think biblically and theologically, to be guided by the Spirit into the truth, to have a God-centered worldview, and to pursue and profess Christ-centered wisdom. The Apostles’ Creed is a good starting point to train your mind to think as a Christian so that, in turn, you can live faithfully as a Christian.
7. The Apostles' Creed calls us to resist the world's ideologies.
The Apostles’ Creed is something we confess about what we believe—and what we believe is vital, because what we believe shapes who we are. When we confess the Apostles’ Creed, we saying that these are our convictions, and they are not open for negotiation. We are declaring that we are the people of this story, committed to praising this God, following this Jesus, and obeying this Spirit; we are the people who will not bow down to the idols of this age or be bullied into changing our beliefs to fit the latest fashion. The Apostles’ Creed is not merely a list of quaint things we believe about religion; it is far more than that. Our creed is our defiance against the world.