Introduction & Part One of a Series
Let us first give some introductory comments, starting with the basic fact that “A creed is a statement (written or spoken) of what a person believes.” (p. 89, Luther’s Catechism, Sydow ed.)
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the three ecumenical (general or universal) creeds of the Christian Church; the other two creeds are the Nicene (A.D. 325) and the Athanasian (A.D. 450). These three creeds have been used regularly by Christians around the world for centuries.
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
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 the dead; He ascended into heaven
and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
Along with the Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles’ Creed is perhaps the most familiar religious statement of Christians today. Unlike the other two Creeds whose dates of origin and specific reasons for authorship can be traced, the history of The Apostles’ Creed is a bit more nebulous.
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest of the three creeds. For centuries it was believed that the apostles of our Lord gathered to write the specific words of the Creed, thus providing its name and authorship. Some accounts even relate that the Creed was composed on the festival of Pentecost with each apostle contributing one statement to it. Since no biblical testimony can be found for such a contention, this is, no doubt, the stuff of legend. The statement of Christian faith most resembling The Apostles’ Creed in its present form is the Old Roman Creed which was in use already in the A.D. 300s.
So, is the name “Apostles’ Creed” inappropriate? No, for the Creed is indeed a fine summary of the doctrines which the apostles of the early church proclaimed, based on the sure words of Scripture itself. In Ephesians 2:19-20 the “fellow citizens with the saints” (the Holy Christian Church) is described as “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
Martin Luther said the following in a sermon on Trinity Sunday, 1535: “Neither we nor the early Fathers invented this Confession of faith, but just as a bee collects honey from all kinds of beautiful flowers, so is the whole of The Apostles’ Creed a finely constructed summary of the whole of Scripture, the writings of the beloved prophets and apostles, for the benefit of children and simple Christians.”
Regarding The Apostles’ Creed itself, it can be divided into three sections, each devoted to one member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Apostles’ Creed is an elaboration of several passages of Holy Scripture, some of which were spoken by Christ Himself. The most familiar of these is the Savior’s Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The early church used a similar confession in connection with the sacrament of Baptism (as The Apostles’ Creed is often used today). The triune nature of the God we confess (three-in-one and one-in-three) is also found in the divinely inspired epistles of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6 and 12:13, Philippians 2:5-11, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Following the sixteenth century Lutheran Reformation, confessional (creedal!) Lutheran Christians included The Apostles’ Creed in the Book of Concord of A.D. 1580. The Book of Concord was and is a collection of documents the Lutherans believed and taught—all based on the doctrines of Holy Scripture.
In his Small Catechism which was intended especially for children, Martin Luther provided a wonderful “explanation” or summary to each of the three parts of the Creed. He did this by giving a thoughtful, Bible-based answer to the question: “What does this mean?” The first and shortest article describes the work of the Father: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”
We intend to take a closer look at each of the three articles in the Catechism in five installments. For the First Article the five parts planned are…
1) God is my Father Almighty;
2) God is Maker of Heaven and Earth;
3) God is my Preserver and Provider;
4) God is my Protector;
5) God does all this for me by His grace.
The First Article
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has created me and all creatures.
He has given me my body and life, eyes, ears, and all my bodily members, my mind, and all my senses and still keeps them for me.
God also preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all my property and all I need to support this body and life. He protects me from all danger. He guards and defends me from every evil.
God does all this because He is my good and gracious Father in heaven, not because of anything I have done to earn or deserve it.
For all of this it is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
(Martin Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM, Sydow edition, 2000)
1) God is my Father Almighty
I remember a photograph from my youth in which my father was carrying my pre-teen brother and me, one in each arm. At the time I remember thinking that dad was strong enough to do anything. Perhaps you’ve had the similar feeling of having an ‘almighty’ human father.
But as I grew up and then became a father myself, I became all too aware that both my dad and I had power that was limited in almost every way. Try as they might, human fathers—even Christian ones—just can’t do everything they would like to do for their children.
Because we human fathers are sinful, we fall short on a daily basis. Surely we can’t provide the most important thing of all—a remedy for the sins of our children; nor can we prevent their physical or eternal death.
In The Apostles’ Creed we Christians profess belief in a different kind of Father, one who is truly almighty in every sense of the word. Without any merit or worthiness in us, we have become His adopted children through faith in His Son, Jesus, our Brother. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
As this series continues in The Lutheran Spokesman in coming months, we pray that we will be drawn ever closer to our Triune God so that we all echo the Bible-based Christian confidence of Martin Luther, the Reformer, as he expresses it in that concluding statement to the Explanation of each Article: “This is most certainly true!”