Founding Documents (7)
For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3.14
From rule to confession
The ancient rules of faith, which were in use among churches throughout the Roman world in the second and third centuries, reflect the work of God’s Spirit in sanctifying His Church according to the Word of God in Scripture. Early on it became important that those seeking membership in the believing community should be able to confess their beliefs before the church prior to being baptized and received into communicant status.
For that purpose various forms of the rules of faith began to come into use. Most of these were organized around a Trinitarian formula. Catechumens (candidates for church membership) would be trained in the doctrines of faith represented in the main headings of the confession, and would then be expected to recite their faith with confidence in order to be admitted into the fellowship.
This practice gave rise, over the first three centuries, to what Christians in all communions confess as The Apostles’ Creed. An early report indicated that the Creed was actually developed by each apostle contributing a teaching. That is highly unlikely. Earlier forms of the Creed were in use in various parts of the Empire, but the Creed as we have it today can be found to have been fairly uniformly in use from the fourth century on.
As the earliest Creed of the Church, the Apostles’ Creed is a kind of prelude or preamble to the rich history of the making of creeds and confessions. It provides a succinct Trinitarian formula which is the cornerstone for subsequent doctrinal development, and is thus a very important part of the literary corpus of the founding documents of the Kingdom of God.
We will briefly consider its teaching according to the Trinitarian outline it presents.
God the Father
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”
Christian faith requires belief in God as Creator, Sovereign, and Father of His people. The God Whom Christians know and serve is one, but He exists in three Persons. The first in order – although not in time, since all are eternal – is the Father. The idea of “Father” expresses the Christian’s belief that his relationship with God is based on love, the love of a Father for His child and the child for his Father.
At the same time, this Father is “Almighty.” He is sovereign, ruling over all things, and there is nothing outside, beyond, or above the scope of His power. He Who redeems His children rules all that is.
He is able to do this because He is the Maker of all things; the cosmos and everything in it are His. His children are thus heirs of all He has created and, at the same time, stewards of His riches. By this opening confession, therefore, the Christian declares his love for, dependence upon, and commitment to serve the Father, Maker, and Sovereign God of heaven and earth.
God the Son
“…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
The Creed next takes up the Person and work of the Son of God. He is both God and Man, both Suffering Servant and reigning Lord. The historicity of Christ and His finished work of redemption are declared, as are His ascension, session at the right hand of God, and imminent return as Judge of all mankind.
As Christ, Jesus is our Redeemer, sent by the Father’s love to secure our salvation through suffering. His suffering was not for His own sin, but ours, who, in the person of Pilate, are guilty of His death. The separation from the Father, which He experienced while bearing our sins (cf. Ps. 88), amounts to His descending into hell. But death could not hold Him. He is risen as Lord and King to receive and administer the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven; and He is coming again to consummate His great redemptive work and bring the Kingdom to fullness for the glory of God.
God the Spirit
“I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The final section of the Creed concerns the work of the Holy Spirit. The deity of the Spirit is assumed from the second section, where He is the Agent of the Son’s conception. The work of the Spirit is to bring the Son’s redemption to the chosen people of God, constituting them as the Church and building them into a communion of saints. Thus the Spirit effects not only forgiveness of sins, but the sanctifying and keeping of believers as they pursue holiness, maintaining their confession and confidence unto the day of resurrection. The Spirit Who raised Jesus will then raise the bodies of all saints into the bliss and glories of life everlasting with God.
The Apostles’ Creed is thus a rich and concise declaration of faith in the Gospel of the Kingdom. Believers should use it not only in worship, as a common confession, but as a touchstone for prayer and evangelism, a guideline to study and sanctification, and a song of praise to God for His many and abundant good gifts to undeserving sinners such as we.
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