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New Horizons

The Apostles' Creed, Part 1: I Believe in God

Sandy Finlayson

When we say the Apostles' Creed in worship, we are joining with Christians around the world who have said these words for at least 1,500 years. J. I. Packer has called the Apostles' Creed "a power-point declaration of the basics of the Christian message—in other words, of the gospel itself."[1] Packer's statement may seem odd to some. There are people who would argue that the Creed expresses unwarranted certainty. Cornelis Venema observes:

Ours is an age which prizes as a virtue the attitude of open-mindedness or broad-mindedness. We praise the person who is willing to consider a variety of viewpoints, who does not too hastily commit himself to one over the other.… Conversely, we are suspicious of those who are confident about what they believe and confess it to be true.[2]

While we would not want to identify with those who advocate uncontrolled open-mindedness, many evangelicals are suspicious of saying the Apostles' Creed repeatedly. Couldn't such repetition lead us to say the words just for their own sake? In addition, we may be concerned that since the Creed is not inspired, it should not be given undue prominence. It wasn't written by the Apostles, and it isn't in the Bible. So why study it?

There are a number of answers to this question. First, the Apostles' Creed embraces the biblical worldview that God's truth can be known, believed, confessed, and acted upon. Second, it reflects the truth of the Bible and is an excellent summary of what Christians believe. Third, the Apostles' Creed and other confessions are safeguards against heresy. They tell us what is true, which helps us know what is not true. Fourth, the Apostles' Creed is an excellent teaching tool, which can be used to instruct those who are new to the faith.

While the Apostles' Creed does not cover all points of doctrine, you cannot be a believer in Jesus Christ if you cannot say that you believe what is taught in the Creed. In this series of articles, we will briefly survey where the Creed came from and then look at each of the main points of doctrine it covers.

For well over a thousand years, Christians in Western Europe knew and said the Creed in Latin, which begins Credo in Deum, "I believe in God." Historians are in general agreement that the Apostles' Creed originated as a simple statement of faith that Christians were required to recite when they were baptized and received into the church. Evidence for this may be found as early as A.D. 150. In subsequent centuries, the Creed was expanded until it reached the form in which we now have it. In the eighth century, during the time of Charlemagne, the final form of the Creed was fixed.

It is helpful to remember that the idea of confessing and telling others what you believe is biblical. In Deuteronomy 6:4–7, the children of Israel were told to confess that the Lord is one. They were to teach this confession to their children and talk to them about it. The book of Psalms contains examples of confessions of faith (see, e.g., Pss. 9:11; 66:16; 96:2). Jesus told his disciples to confess their faith: "Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32–33).

The Creed is divided into three parts. It begins by confessing belief in God the Father. The second paragraph contains seven affirmations that deal with the person and work of God the Son. The third paragraph contains four affirmations, beginning with God the Holy Spirit and then moving to the church, salvation, and the Christian's hope.

The first affirmation of the Creed confesses belief in the Trinitarian God. The fact that we confess God the Father reminds us that "God is the Father of the Only Begotten Son who lives eternally with the Son in the Communion of the Holy Spirit."[3] This is the same Trinitarian expression found in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20).

The first affirmation states three things. First, it states that God is our Father. While the analogy between God our Father and human fathers isn't perfect, there are some helpful similarities. God cares for his children in the same way that a good human father cares for his (Matt. 7:9–11). Children bear some resemblance to their fathers, and so we are told in Genesis 1:26–27 that man is made in the image of God. Human fathers have authority over their children, and so God has authority over us.

Of course, where there are broken families with absentee fathers, the image of God as Father may not be instinctively helpful. But Alister McGrath has pointed out that "the analogy of God as Father indicates what human fathers ought to be like. The same care, compassion and commitment God shows toward us are meant to be reflected in the attitude of human fathers toward their children."[4]

Second, the Creed affirms that God is almighty. Romans 13:1–2 tells us that God is the source of all authority and that we must submit to those whom God places in authority over us. Because God is almighty, he is capable of doing what appears to us to be impossible. This does not mean that he will ever act inconsistently with his character, but it does mean that he is capable of doing things above all that we can ask or even imagine. We are also taught that because God is almighty, he is also totally reliable. We can be unreliable at times because of our sinfulness and the flaws in our character. Our word can't always be trusted, but God's can be.

Third, the Creed affirms that God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth. The universe didn't come into being by random chance, but by the word of God's power. We are living in a day when many people try to rule God out of creation, and the creed reminds us that this is not an option for us.

There are a number of positive implications for us in believing that God is the Creator. First, the creed is reminding us that there is a distinction between God the Creator and we who are created. There is, therefore, a clear distinction between the Creator and the creature. This distinction reminds us that we are made in God's image and not the other way around. None of us would want to endorse the view that God is just a projection of what we think he should be. But all too often we fall into that trap.

Second, we are taught here that since God has created the heavens and the earth, he has given it to us to be stewards of creation. To quote Packer again, "We serve God by using and enjoying temporal things gratefully, with a sense of their value to him their Maker and of his generosity in giving them to us."[5] It's all too easy to dismiss tree huggers and environmentalists as the lunatic fringe who confuse the creation with God, and worship what is created rather than the Creator, but it is important that each of us take responsibility for how we relate to what God has created and live in a responsible way toward what he has given us.

Third, the reality of God the Creator helps us to deal with a world that can at times be very difficult to live in. There are times when we can feel alone and frightened by what we experience. From one point of view, we are mere specks in a vast universe, but we are far more than that. God has created us in his image, and he has provided redemption for us through his Son. We aren't alone in the world. God is present and active.

This first affirmation of the Creed has pointed us to the true and living God, who is our Father, who is almighty, and who has created and continues to sustain everything that exists. In the second part of this series, we will look at the seven affirmations about Jesus Christ: who he is, what he has done, and what he will do in the future.

Endnotes

[1] J. I. Packer, Affirming the Apostles' Creed (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 15.

[2] Cornelis P. Venema, What We Believe: An Exposition of the Apostles' Creed (Grandville, Mich.: Reformed Fellowship, 1996), 1.

[3] Venema, What We Believe, 18.

[4] Alister McGrath, I Believe: Explaining the Apostles' Creed (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 28.

[5] Packer, Affirming the Apostles' Creed, 57.

The author is the director of library services and professor of theological bibliography at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2010.

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