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Why We Read the Apostles’ Creed Last Sunday

This past Sunday (11/2/14) we read the Apostles’ Creed during our worship services as a one-time part of our worship service. It served to introduce the song, “We Believe.”[1] Now this isn’t a normal thing for us at epikos church and probably won’t become a regular part of our services; while there is great value in it, there are also a lot of questions that come with it.[2] There are plenty of churches in Milwaukee where this is a weekly practice— some denominational and even some non-denominational churches in Milwaukee read them every week. Because this isn’t our normal practice, I thought it would be helpful to write what creeds are and briefly explain some parts of the creed we read. Finally, I will share how they can be beneficial.lightstock_15484_xsmall_user_5172329

What is a Creed?

The word creed comes to us from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe.” In other words, a creed is a statement of belief. There are many different creeds that have been embraced over the history of the church, but the Apostles’ Creed is the most well known. Though the author(s) is unknown, the creed has been traced to the teachings of the apostles (thus the name) and dates back to the second century. So, the Apostles’ Creed is a statement of belief that reflects the earliest teachings of the church.

Some Explanations

For those familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, there were two minor changes made to what we read this Sunday.

“I believe” vs. “We believe”

The Apostles’ Creed is written in the first person singular (“I believe…”) because the original intent was for individuals to recite this as a confession before being baptized. We recited it in the first person plural (“We believe…”). We made this choice because we were reciting it together as a congregation, allowing us to affirm our faith together as one body.

a line we left out

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed include the line, “He descended into hell,” referring to Jesus and is placed after the phrase, “he was crucified, died and was buried.” This line is often omitted by churches when it is read because this teaching isn’t supported by the Bible; because there is nothing in Scripture that states that Jesus descended into hell after his death and burial, we chose to omit it as well. *Note: We discuss this topic in Christianity 101 if interested to learn more about it.

“the holy catholic church”

Hearing the word ‘catholic’ in this creed probably came with connotations for many, as though this creed is only affirming the Roman Catholic Church. However, catholic means universal and is referring specifically to the worldwide body of Christ. In other words, the Apostles’ Creed affirms that there is one holy, worldwide church that has existed over the centuries, made up of all believers over time. To affirm this creed is to acknowledge one’s place in this community of faith and the importance of it to the Christian faith.

How are Creeds Beneficial?

The Apostles’ Creed was used early on to teach new believers about the Christian faith. Though not a replacement for reading the Bible, its concise format and inclusion of the essentials makes it very useful for learning the basics. It also reads quite rhythmically. A recent survey showed that only 30% of Christians use creeds as a regular part of their Christian life. Interestingly, the same survey revealed a major lack of understanding of the basic Biblical teachings about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church. Would learning creeds help this? They could certainly help. We have a tendency to reject older things as though they are now irrelevant; C.S. Lewis called this “chronological snobbery.”[3] Instead, we should consider how they might be helpful to deepening and improving our understanding of the great doctrines of God. The concise teaching of creeds can help us to learn truth that is then followed up by reading the Bible to understand from where the credal statements came.

[1] Written by Matthew Hooper, Travis Ryan and Richie Fike, 2013

[2] To be clear, we would want to unpack the historical background of it and help people to know the meaning of certain statements before including it in the worship service again.

[3] Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-208

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2 Comments

  1. I’m writing a paper on the creeds for my theology class at CUW. The differences in the early church that lead up to the writings of the creeds gave me pause.

  2. The church I attended in the past used “The Holy Christian Church” perhaps this is something that might be considered for any that are uncomfortable using the word Catholic.

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