The Apostles Creed
One of the most recognizable and universal part of Christian worship is the recitation of either the Apostles or the Nicaean Creed. These two creeds serve to define the core beliefs that all Christian groups share and that are viewed as the fundamental core of Orthodox Christian faith. Soon we will be talking about the Apostles Creed in our worship service and at our Wednesday night Adult Bible Study. You may have already seen the Creed posted in the church for you to be able to mark the lines you either don’t understand or aren’t sure you agree with. These lines will be the ones that we focus on explaining and teaching. Before that some information on the purpose and origin of the Apostles Creed will be helpful.
What purpose does a Creed serve? In 1627 Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius coined a phrase, “In essentials unity, in nonessential liberty, in all things charity.” Of course the Creeds are much older than the phrase but it helps us understand part of the purpose they serve. They define the unity. The Nicaean Creed is agreed upon by both the Western (Catholic and Protestant) Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Apostles Creed is used only in the Western branch of the church but contains the same fundamental truths. These Creeds define the essentials on which there needs to unity. All that is not contained in the Creeds are the nonessentials which is not to say unimportant issues in which good faithful Christians can have different understandings. So, we say the creed to remind ourselves of the Core beliefs we share with all Christians.
Where does the Apostles Creed come from? While it’s exact origins are lost to history it has its beginnings in the statements of faith, or confessions, said by converts to Christianity before their baptisms. These statements varied from place to place in wording and language but from an early time shared remarkable similarity. By the second century these baptismal confessions has largely reached a common form in the major Christian communities in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. From that time we have the earliest written record of what would become the Apostles Creed. It is called the Roman Creed after its place of origin. The Roman Creed was expanded slowly over a long period of time until it reached its final form known then as the Apostles Creed around 460AD. The final form of it spread throughout the Church as different communities began to use it as part of their worship and practice. In a real since the Apostles Creed has no one point of origin it was out of many different communities over many different generations that it came to its final form.
Who wrote it? I know that since its called the Apostles Creed it seems like the Apostles should have written it. They did not it. It is called the Apostles Creed because it is based on their teaching not because they authored it. As it has no one place of origin it has no one writer. It is the product of the lived beliefs of the early church and of the whole community. It was not written by a council of Bishops or Theologians. It is the product of the community of faith. As some point someone would add a few words and if they were good and right others would begin to use them. If the community did not find the added words right and valuable they fell away. Slowly but surely the Creed came to a point where nothing needed to be added and nothing needed to be taken away. Whoever said the final version first and wherever they did it is unknown. What is known is that it spread not by the direction of a particular council or direction of any one group or person but by adoption by different Christian communities.
Final thought. The Apostles Creed is a consensus document. It does not come from some people trying to tell everyone else what to believe. It represents the work of the whole holy Church declaring what it believes to be the core of their shared Christian faith. Like all good theological work it is the work of the community. When we say the Apostles Creed we are sharing in a great inheritance of faith from those believers who walked the path before us.