A Revolutionary Act: Saying the Creed
Posted by Lee Gatiss, 14 Feb 2018
Lee Gatiss begins our blog series for Lent by introducing the Apostles Creed.
Believing, Living, Praying
The Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer
To say the Creed is a counter-cultural, revolutionary act. To some it may appear mundane, merely reciting some old words in a church along with others in the congregation. But what we are doing when we join in this public profession of faith is taking a stand against all that is evil in this world.
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 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 sits at the right hand of the Father.
From there he shall 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.
(The Apostles’ Creed from An English Prayer Book)
The history of the creed
The Apostles’ Creed has been a part of Christian worship since the early church. It probably started life as a declaration of faith designed for those being baptised as new believers. It sums up, in just over 100 easily memorised words, some essential Christian teachings. It tells us about the God we believe in — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It recounts the past, present, and future of the story of our salvation. And it briefly highlights the blessings we enjoy as believers, giving us a trustworthy summary of the faith as it has been passed down to us through the centuries from the very earliest witnesses.
It was not, as far as we know, actually written by the Apostles, Jesus’ inner circle of 12 disciples. But as it captures some crucial points from the Gospels and the earliest preaching of the good news, it came to be called the Apostles’ Creed. A slightly longer version, with more detail and clarity on certain points, was approved by the Council of Nicea in the year 325, and is known as the Nicene Creed. Another creed focusing in detail on the doctrine of the Trinity came to be associated with the early church leader Athanasius, and is called the Athanasian Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed has been included in Anglican services since the first Book of Common Prayer in English, in the sixteenth century. Before that it was recited all over Europe in Latin; the first word is Credo, which means “I believe”, and so it became known in English as the Creed. The Thirty-nine Articles, the Church of England’s official confession of faith, says that “The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”
Taking a stand
In many places, Christians literally stand to say these words every Sunday. Because it is not just a pithy summary of biblical doctrine on certain key points, and a reassuring reminder of the story of our redemption; it is also a statement of personal commitment: here I stand. Yes, me too. I believe.
It may get me into trouble — but I believe. My faith is not a private hobby or a game of personal “let’s pretend” — but I say out loud, I believe. It may attract unwanted attention — but I believe. My generation and many around me do not — but I believe. I don’t believe in “me” or the flimsy gods and human idols of this world— I believe in this God. I didn’t just make it up myself — but I believe this Creed.
It is important to be able to say the Creed for ourselves, with feeling and understanding, from our hearts as well as our heads. It would be possible to simply say it by rote because our parents or our friends at church do so, but it is meant to be a joyful statement of something deep in our own souls. Just because they are words said by millions of Christians through the centuries does not mean they cannot be my words too.
Many people reject or ignore the past because they think everything must be so much better in our day and age. So it is no small thing to express solidarity with Christians throughout the generations, and across the world, by declaring that we believe these universal, timeless truths from God’s word.
By adding our voices to theirs, we join the revolution. We take a stand against the godless culture around us, and the ungodliness within us, which is in rebellion against King Jesus. It’s a stick in the eye of the devil, who would prefer that we didn’t know or say the Creed with conviction.
Yes, saying the Creed is one of the most radical things you could ever do. So join us over the next few days as we explore what it says.
Questions for reflection:
1. Why would it be a good idea to memorise the Creed?
2. Do you agree that the things taught in the Creed can be proved from holy Scripture?
3. What questions do you have about parts of the Creed, which you are hoping to get clearer on?
Prayer: Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: By the power of your Spirit, enable us to stand firm in the faith we are taught by your word, with courage and clarity all the days of our lives. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Recently, after their cathedral church was bombed, some Egyptian Christians gathered outside of it to recite a creed, in defiance of the danger and stigma it may have attracted. You can watch the inspiring video of that here.
Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society.
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