1517 Blogcast
I Believe 00:00:0000:00:00

I Believe

Reading Time: 5 mins

The following is an excerpt from“Credo: I Believe,” edited by Caleb Keith and Kelsi Klembara (1517 Publishing, 2019).

“I believe.” These two words precede conversations we have every single day. Statements of belief, no matter how small, are used to connect our personal thoughts, intentions, and actions to the world around us. While sometimes shrugged off as a mere opinion, the “I believe” of everyday life is in some way connected to facts. If I tell my wife, “I believe I put gas in the car,” and on her drive to work, the car sputters and spits as it runs on empty, then my belief will not have mattered in the least. She will likely lose trust in my ability to assure her it’s safe to take the car to work. For the Christian, the words “I believe” tie the individual to the reality of salvation accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The statement of belief is not about mere feelings, wishing, or guessing; rather, it is a pointed statement of fact.

What is a Creed?

The development of the historical Christian creeds arose out of the struggle to clearly and concisely define the truths of Scripture and reject beliefs contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, the creeds became a guiding light, highlighting the essential truths revealed by the Scriptures. When people speak these truths, they are making a confession. They are personally binding and trusting themselves to its words.

Sometimes confessing is seen as a totally negative experience. The imagination is drawn to a courtroom or a Roman Catholic confessional box, where the guilty party is prepared to alleviate his or her conscience and in return, receive his or her sentence. However, in the Christian life, confessing is not inherently negative. In either positive or negative form, both a confession of the faith and a confession of sin are great gifts from God.

The Christian life is one of confession—confession of true guilt and confession of true hope, as well as confession of true law and confession of true gospel. The earliest public Christian confessions of faith are referred to as creeds. Simply put, creeds are the formulation of biblical truths into public statements.

The word creed is derived from the Latin verb credo. It means, quite simply, “I believe.” In its fuller sense, it is a personal declaration of trust in something or someone.

We are familiar with the trusting aspect of credo from the English word credit. When people are given credit, they are trusted with something. Sometimes that thing is money or possessions, but often it involves simple, daily exchanges. If somebody visits my home and notices how well put together it is, I would credit my wife for that accomplishment.

The credit of the Christian creeds functions in a similar way. Like a fiscal exchange, a creed entrusts its confessor with a great gift—the gift of knowledge in the faith. Like the credit of daily accomplishments, the creeds direct believers to whom the accomplishment of life and salvation belongs—namely the triune God.

The purpose of this collection of essays on the central confessions of the creeds is to approach and break down what it means to confess the core tenants of the Christian faith as outlined by the Apostles’ Creed. Regardless of whether you have heard of the Apostles’ Creed or not, the content of this creed, which has been confessed for over fifteen hundred years, is important to reflect on as professing Christians.

The Challenge of teaching Creeds in contemporary Christianity

It is not unusual for contemporary Christians and Christian churches to reject or replace the use of the creeds. Justin Holcomb highlights this problem:

Nowadays, we have a largely literate population and an ample supply of Bibles, and so it’s easy to wonder whether creeds are necessary. Some may even think that the creeds stand in opposition to (or at least in tension with) the authority of Holy Scripture. [1]

However, this opposition to the creeds misunderstands that they are not a force used to contain or limit Scripture. Instead, Holcomb continues, “creeds are themselves drawn from the Bible and provide a touchstone to the faith for Christians of all times and places.” [2] The core of that touchstone is belief in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a truth that the creeds have helped maintain throughout history even when teachers and preachers have forgotten it.

Christians did not invent the confessions contained in the early creeds. Rather, they were taken directly from Scripture. Scripture itself contains portions of creeds and encourages their use. Romans 10:9–10 states, “[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” And 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in this world, taken up in glory.”

These scriptural confessions are short and memorable, recounting the reality, purpose, and accomplishment of Christ’s life and salvific work. It is all but impossible to memorize the entirety of the Bible verse by verse. It’s hard to memorize just one book. Creeds allow us to condense the teachings of the Bible into a short statement so the core doctrines of Christianity can be memorized by heart. With the creeds, believers may never be without both these treasured truths, in good times as well as times of trouble and doubt.

A Reformation Model for Teaching the Faith

Creeds as confessions of the core teachings of the Bible also help to temper the inclination to subjectively interpret the Bible or even reimagine the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). During the Lutheran Reformation, Philip Melanchthon regularly used the phrase non nova dogmata, or “There are no new teachings!” While there is little argument that the church today looks different than it did one hundred, five hundred, and even two thousand years ago, the truth of salvation remains the same.

This is why the Lutheran Reformation was not a total upheaval. The reformers recognized that the greatest errors of the medieval Roman church were not its visual style or traditions but teachings that had been invented over the course of time. This is why, in the midst of doctrinal reform and struggle, the reformers returned to and used the creeds throughout their confessions. As Luther put it in the Large Catechism,

But the Creed, brings sheer grace; and it makes us righteous and acceptable to God. Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts. [3]

What I wish to steal from Luther, Melanchthon, and the Reformation is the deep concern for teaching the faith, not arbitrarily, but with urgency and fidelity to the Bible. The knowledge of faith is not cold or detached; it is comfort and rescue to poor, miserable sinners. The creeds help focus, center, and preserve the faith.

The following chapters are concerned with the most basic Christian creed—the Apostles’ Creed. They seek to address two simple questions: What makes the teachings of the Apostles’ Creed necessary for faith in Christ? And what does it mean to confess these things as true? My hope is that through every chapter it is made clear that the Apostles’ Creed and other historical creeds are seen not as something to be avoided but as tools to help us daily die and rise with Christ so we might stand firm in faith, united to him in death and resurrection.

An excerpt from
“Credo: I Believe,” edited by Caleb Keith and Kelsi Klembara (1517 Publishing, 2019), pgs 1-7, used by permission.

[1] Justin Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 5.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Large Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishing, 2000), 440.