Last week we introduced creeds and confessions and catechisms generally. Today we begin to think about them more specifically. The logical place to start is, of course, the Apostles’ Creed, because of its historic pride of place. To say that the Apostles’ Creed is old is an understatement. Forms of it date back to the middle of the second century (ca AD 140)! Its age no doubt gave rise to the myth—and it is a myth—that the Creed was written by the apostles themselves. Twelve lines, each written by one of the apostles. It’s better to see the appellation “Apostles’” as a reference not to authorship but to content. That is, this Creed summarizes the Apostles’ teaching.
Back to age for a moment. To put that in perspective, those who crafted this document likely had contact with those who had direct contact with Jesus and the apostles. Amazing. I find particular comfort in the fact that the Creed has been around for so long and that it has been so widely embraced by all branches of Christendom. A general rule of life is that if something has stood the test of time it is worth considering very seriously. Additionally, as C.S. Lewis has noted, aged documents can protect us from what he calls chronological snobbery.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specifically good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it…None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books…The only palliative is to keep the clean breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.
This is the power of the Apostles’ Creed. Sure there are things Christians quibble over—Jesus “descended into hell” and the belief in a “holy catholic church”*. But on the whole there is so much to celebrate and to embrace that joins us with the broader communion of faith rather than separating us from others.
It’s little wonder why, then, historian Phillip Schaff said, “as the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.” It’s little wonder why the Book of Common Prayer calls for the recitation of the Creed at both morning and evening prayers. It’s a document we would do well to put to good use both corporately and individually. Memorize it. Mull it over. Muse on it. Teach it to your kids. Say it with your family. And, in the end, let your heart soar because of the good news of the gospel of Jesus and of the life to come.
*If you have questions about these phrases or any phrase of the Creed, expositions can be found on my blog, briantallman.com. Search “Apostles’ Creed.”