On the Creeds

In Reimagining Church, I set forth the authority of the Scriptures as being the unchangeable standard for Christian faith and practice – including church practice. In the course of the book, I also discuss the creeds of the Christian faith saying,

Historic Christian teaching on the essential doctrines of the faith plays a crucial role in keeping a church on scriptural track. Throughout the centuries, Christians have preserved the core beliefs of our faith: Jesus Christ is God and man, He was born of a virgin, He was crucified for our sins, He rose again in bodily form, etc.

These core beliefs do not belong to any one ecclesiastical tradition or denomination. Instead, they are the heritage of all genuine believers. And they reflect the voice of the church throughout history. These “essentials of the faith” embody what C. S. Lewis called Mere Christianity—“the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” (Vincent of Lerins in these words: “Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all.”)

Thus the call to recover the ecology of the New Testament church doesn’t translate into a summons to reinvent the religious wheel on every theological issue. Nor does it include a rejection of all that has been passed down to us by our spiritual forefathers. At the same time, everything that is postapostolic is subject to scrutiny and should be critiqued by the apostolic tradition itself.

The call to restore organic Christianity sides with every voice of the past that has remained true to apostolic revelation—no matter what segment of the historic church to which they may have belonged. The primitive church was rooted in the soil of Christian truth. And staying within that soil requires that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. As C. H. Spurgeon affirmed, “I intend to grasp tightly with one hand the truths I have already learned, and to keep the other hand wide open to take in the things I do not yet know.”

Reimagining Church, pp. 237-238

What follows are the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed — two creeds I believe all Christians should be familiar with as they are part of our heritage.

While these creeds aren’t complete theological statements, they are correct theological statements. And they represent the consensus of the body of Christ throughout the ages.

So while the language is archaic and the content is not exhaustive, the meaning is accurate.

While my fiercest critics have come from people who reject the authority and reliability of the Scriptures as well as rejecting my affirmation of the Christian creeds, I will not recant on either of these points as I have yet to see compelling evidence to overturn them.

Here they are . . .

The Apostles Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,  creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell.

On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy universal and apostolic church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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Comments

  1. Tyler says

    Hey Frank, I am currently reading your book “Jesus: A Theography” and I am loving it. I have one question though. Do you believe that we have an eternal spirit that will go on to either Heaven or Hell until the ressurection? Or do you believe that we are in a non-existant state once we die until Jesus comes back?

    • says

      I don’t know the answer to that. A case can be made for sleeping and being awakened at the resurrection, wherein time is lost at death. A case can also be made for being with the Lord in spirit at death.

  2. JoelCC says

    Considering all the influences you list in Pagen Christainity ,i.e. Greek and Roman culture and philosophy,Constatine’s and other’s political pressure, could any of this shaped any part of these Creeds? If not, why not? Did it only influence the Practice? I’m not a great church historian, this is a very sincere question.

    • says

      The question isn’t so much “what may have shaped xyz” but rather “is xyz biblical?”

      That’s the exact question Barna and I ask in “Pagan Christianity.” As we point out in the book, it’s irrelevant if something was invented in the post-apostolic period or if it was invented by non-Christians even. What’s critical is if it’s in line with biblical teaching or if it contracts it.

      The creeds are thoroughly biblical. Meaning, they reflect biblical teaching and do not violate it.

  3. says

    And here I thought Mark Driscoll coined this phrase:

    “C. H. Spurgeon affirmed, “I intend to grasp tightly with one hand the truths I have already learned, and to keep the other hand wide open to take in the things I do not yet know.”

  4. Thomas Loy Bumgarner says

    presently, the word “hell” is translated as the place of the dead. 2 other historic creeds are the “Athanasian” Creed(Qui que vult) and the Chalcedon Creed. Some historians say that Romans 10:9 & 10 are an early creed(creer-to believe).

  5. Rob Davis says

    Frank,

    Trying to pay careful attention to your language:

    You quote Lewis as saying “nearly all Christians.”

    Can someone be a Christian and not affirm the creeds?

    You also say “all Christians should be familiar with.”

    Should one merely be “familiar with” the creeds or mentally assent to them in order to be a Christian?

    Then, you say that “they represent the consensus of the body of Christ throughout the ages.”

    Consensus seems to imply unanimity. So, do those who have held ideas outside of the creeds not qualify as Christian or belong to the “body of Christ”?

    • says

      Evangelical Christians argue over this as they do a number of other things. For instance, there are many Christians who don’t believe that Jesus descended into “hell” as the creed affirms. Or they are divided over what it means. Others reject the idea of a “universal” (Catholic) church or disagree on what that means exactly. Then there’s the division between Eastern Christians and Western Christians over one line of one of the creeds, etc.

      Do you think Lewis was wrong about this and that Christians must both understand and affirm every word of the creeds or do you think it doesn’t matter? And how did you find this blog?

      • Rob Davis says

        I’ve been on a possibly futile mission over the past several months of trying to get clarity on some of this stuff. I think a lot of Christian theologians and pastors are not as careful as they could be about how they communicate these things. I think Christianity is a very large tent. Orthodoxy, however, is much more narrow – and not the same thing as Christianity in general.

        I’m an ex-evangelical who recently went through a long period of atheism. I’m mostly agnostic about a lot of the “essentials” of orthodoxy – not that I don’t care, but I don’t think that we can claim to “know” these things. And, I’m not personally convinced that they are “true” anymore. But, I still claim to be a Christian – and I think I have the freedom to do so. The version(s) of Christianity that I am attracted to and feel comfortable identifying with focus primarily on a way of being in the world (the Way of Jesus the Christ) – embodying the Kingdom of God – rather than a list of “beliefs” about some deity or historical person.

        I’ve read your blog on and off for a long time, and I’ve read a couple of your books.

        • Vinny says

          Rob, I relate to your spiritual journey and that’s why I love the quote from Spurgeon
          “I intend to grasp tightly with one hand the truths I have already learned, and to keep the other hand wide open to take in the things I do not yet know.”
          I also believe Jesus opens my eyes to know what I need to know when I need to know it. I hope your Journey is as awesome an adventure as mine. Be blessed.

          • Rob Davis says

            Thanks, Vinny.

            Though, I tend to think that a tight grasped hand easily – or even necessarily – becomes a fist (i.e. a weapon).

        • says

          Rob! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The question we are all asking is “Is Orthodoxy the same as Christianity?” And I agree, the thought that there is an “authentic” orthodoxy is absurd to me. The very origin of Christianity existed in multiple origins and debates. Thanks for putting it so clearly, Rob.

  6. Lee Zuber says

    I agree with most of what the creeds say; however, where the Apostle’s Creed says, “to judge the living and the dead,” is false. Those in Christ will NOT be judged–we are the “living”. We are all born spiritually dead…which is why Christ came–to give us life! As Christians, we were already judged–and found not guilty, because of the blood of Christ! Maybe the creed is meaning the walking dead, instead of living?

    • says

      Lee: That’s a direct quote from the New Testament. So if you disagree with it, you’re disagreeing with Paul. How one interprets that text is a different matter, and the creed does not interpret it.

      • Summer says

        Can’t one judge one righteous? In other words, I’ve taken to the idea that through the blood of Christ and my acceptance of Him, the judgement I face will be different with Christ in my corner.

        This has actually come up quite a bit lately – your thoughts?

      • Lee Zuber says

        I am not disagreeing with Paul at all. I am guessing that NT verse was placed in the creed out of context? Surely Paul wouldn’t have been saying that Christians will be judged? Thank you for your response, you rock Frank!

        • says

          Thx. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I don’t see the creed telling us that God is going to judge Christians. It says He will judge “the living and the dead” just as Paul did. Whether or not God will judge Christians is a different matter. Paul did say that “we will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ” and he was talking to Christians (Rom. 14). The question is what does he mean by that exactly.

    • Rick L says

      Actually, those in Christ will be judged but according to the deeds we have done, In Christ. Romans 14:10, 2 Cor 5:10. Most correctly under Matthew chapter 25 verses 31-46

      • Lee Zuber says

        I would have to disagree with you Rick. I could point out the context of each of those passages you mention, but I won’t. I would just encourage you to meditate on the love and grace of our Lord and I think you will find….well, what I found–that, “He who believes in Him is not judged” (John 3:18). Peace to you brother.

  7. says

    Interesting how you changed “catholic” to “universal.” That’s an accurate translation that better reflects the intended meaning without confusing modern readers. Would be good to likewise change “hell” to “hades” though.

  8. says

    Hey Frank, The creeds are great in so far as they go. What strikes me as their shortcoming is how little they say about the life of Christ. From the creeds, it seems that the only purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to die for our sins. If that was the extent of His mission, God could have accomplished that by allowing Jesus to be killed by Herod as an infant. So, no arguments with what the creeds say, more a disappointment in what they don’t say.

    • says

      Al: Yes, and thus why I said they are correct, but not complete. Stressed that twice in the post. They were a response to specific challenges going on at the time.

    • Rick L says

      Creeds were not intended to be full position statements on the faith but a standard list of the essentials that the Apostles agreed were the basics and critical elements of the faith. Couldn’t get baptized without agreement to the Apostles Creed in the later half of the first century and the 2nd century.

    • PrayerPunk says

      You have to understand the reason for the creeds. The Church was disputing who Jesus was. The Arians claimed that Jesus was only a man. The Docetics believed He was only God. The majority, who called themselves Catholic, believed He was fully God and fully human. So the creed cemented the issues being debated. The life of Jesus wasn’t under debate, so it wasn’t mentioned.

      • Leah Randall says

        Philip Jenkins book Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1500 Years is an excellent explanation of the councils in which the creeds were hammered out. Together with The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith, Jenkins’ book might make good background reading for those who wish to consider Jesus a Theography in light of where we are today. Thanks to Frank & Len for a much-needed contribution that puts Christ front and center in the “conversation”.

  9. Greg says

    Amen!

    It is a great joy and relief to be able to agree on the “closed handed” issues, possibly disagree on the “open handed” issues, and still be in the same family.

  10. says

    Hey Frank, I just taught on these historic creeds in my Christian History class. You should post a Rich Mullins video of his song, “Creed”. Also, Third Day does a tribute to Rich’s song.

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