Return to Sermon Archive
2 Timothy 1:13
I invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to 2 Timothy, chapter one, and follow along as I read
v13. “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
For the past three Sabbaths, we have recited a modern version of the Apostle’s Creed. I have not said anything about it. We have just done it. I have been interested to hear your reaction to this version. Your reaction has been universally negative. I have not done a survey or anything like that, but as far as I can tell from just listening, no one likes the modern version.
Let me see a show of hands, does anyone prefer the modern version to the old version of the Apostles’ Creed?
Those that I have heard speak against the new version say something like this: “I have the old version pretty much memorized, I can just say it, the words just flow. With this new version I have to actually read what it says.” And I say, Good. And it would be better if you carried it a step further and thought about what it says. The Apostles’ Creed is not something to say mechanically. It is not something at the end of the service to get through as quickly as possible while we are thinking about Sunday dinner. It is a summary of almost 2000 years of Christian theology.
Actually our creed making precedes Christianity. Ancient Israel had a creed. The verses from Deuteronomy in our call to worship today are known as the Shema. They are the central creed of Judaism to this day. Almost every synagogue says the Shema in every worship service.
New Testament Christians also had creeds. We recited together Philippians 2:6-11. Most scholars believe that was a creed of the church in Paul’s time that Paul inserted into Philippians.
Our word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” which means “I believe.” A creed expresses what we believe. Because we have minds, because we think about our faith, we have the need to articulate our faith. Now we recognize that a creed never encloses God. No creed ever says all there is about God; rather, a creed is our attempt to say some things about our faith.
The Christian church in all its denominations and variations has many creeds and affirmations, but the Apostle’s Creed is the most widely used creed in the church. More Christians around the world say this creed than any other.
We are not exactly sure about the origins of the Apostle’s Creed. The evidence seems to indicate that it originated in the sixth or seventh century in southwestern France. The earliest actual copy we have of the Apostle’s creed dates from around A.D. 710-724. However, we know that the Apostle’s Creed was based on earlier baptismal creeds of the Roman church. In the early church, when parents brought their children for baptism, or when an adult came for baptism, they were asked to publicly affirm what they believed. What they affirmed was a version of the Apostle’s Creed. It was in question and answer form, but they affirmed most of the same elements that we affirm in the creed. So we can easily trace the creed back to the early third century church.
Now that bothers some folks. They ask, “Isn’t the Apostle’s Creed in the Bible?” No it is not. Every element in the creed is found in the Bible, but the actual creed is not in the Bible.
Or they ask, “Didn’t the Apostles write the Apostle’s Creed? No, they did not. The creed contains what the Apostles believed, but they did not write it. We do not know who wrote it. But we still say the creed because it is an excellent summary of basic Christianity.
Let’s do some comparison between the modern version and the old version of the creed.
The old version says, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. The new version says the same except it substitutes the word “creator” for “maker”
We should say here that a creed generally reflects the hot issues of its time. For example, the Nicene Creed, drawn up in the fourth century, is emphatic in affirming the Deity of Christ, because it was directed against the Arians, who denied that Christ was fully God. The Apostle’s Creed originated in the second and third century. The hot issue in that time was Gnosticism.
The Gnostics taught that the God of the Old Testament made the world, and he is evil—in effect, he is Satan—therefore, the world is evil. God the Father whom Jesus taught us about did not make the world. Rather he sent Jesus to save us from the world.
The church rejected this saying that the God whom we worship, God the Father, is the creator, maker of the whole world. God brought the world as we now know it into existence. God established the natural order of things, the laws of physics and chemistry and so on.
Then we affirm that we believe “in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” You might note that the modern version says “Holy Spirit” not “Holy Ghost.” That is because over the centuries the word “ghost” has changed its meaning. A ghost today is a disembodied spirit that haunts castles and houses and so forth. I do not believe in ghosts in that sense. In King James English, the word “ghost” did not meant that. The word has changed its meaning over the centuries and most scholars now prefer the term “Holy Spirit.”
But that is not the real point here. The Gnostics did not believe that Jesus was actually born at all. The Gnostics thought the world was evil and any material body was evil. Thus, they said that God would not dirty himself by actually taking on a human body. Jesus was not a man at all; he only appeared to be a man. When we read of Jesus walking and talking with the disciples, that was an illusion.
The church totally rejected this Gnostic nonsense, affirming that Jesus was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit was born an actual baby and grew to be an actual man.
And he “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hell.” The Gnostics said that God could not die. Death was a part of this evil universe, and God would not have any part of this universe, so, they said, the crucifixion was only an illusion.
The church again disagreed. The church said that this actual baby that became an actual man died at a specific point in time—during the time A.D 26 to 36, when Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea. The creed hammers home the point that Jesus really died. He was not an illusion. He was nailed to the cross. He suffered agonizing pain and he died a real death. His dead body was placed in a tomb. His soul left his body and went to the realm of the dead. I
Now we come to the most controversial part of the Apostle’s Creed. If you look on page 12 in the Hymnal, after the phrase, “he descended into hell,” there is a note, which says, “Some churches omit this.” I said last week that Christians will fuss over practically anything, well this phrase has been a bone of contention in the church. I have read a half dozen different interpretations of what this phrase means. Probably we should keep in mind that the creed is opposed to Gnosticism. Gnosticism did not believe Jesus actually died on the cross. The reference to the descent into Hell (or to Sheol or to the dead) makes it clear that Jesus did not faint or lapse into a coma, but he died in every sense of the word. That is why most modern versions say, “he descended to the dead.”
Then we read, “The third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth upon the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The first time I read that last phrase, I had the image of God making a judgment among old western gunfighters—there were the quick, you see, and the not so quick, who were dead. Again, we have to know King James English here. The old meaning of “quick” was “living.” At the judgment, Christ will judge those who are alive at that time, and he will also judge all those who have died before that time. In other words, Christ will judge everyone.
The creed then says, “I believe in the Holy Ghost” or Holy Spirit, and “the holy catholic church.” This is another stumbling block for some folks. The largest Christian denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, and some folks think this is a reference to that denomination. It is not. the word “catholic” just means universal or general. The holy catholic church is the church of all believers in Jesus Christ. It is “the communion of saints,” It is the mystical body of Christ to which we all belong because of our faith in Jesus. In the body of Christ, we have communion with all believers, and we are called to live in love and fellowship with them. In Christ, we have “the forgiveness of sins, and we look forward to “the resurrection of the body.” That was a shot at the Gnostics. The Gnostics thought the body was evil, a snare, a delusion. They totally rejected any kind of bodily resurrection. But the church affirmed that the body is not evil and it will be resurrected into “the life everlasting.”
Now you might say, “All right, in the apostle’s creed, the church was repudiating the Gnostics and making clear its stand on essential doctrine. Fine, but what has that to do with me right now? Why should I care?
You should care because we live in a time when false doctrines abound. We live in a time of feel-good religion. If it feels good, it must be OK. Every cult, including Gnosticism and Arianism is alive and well in America. And most Christians do not know enough about Christianity to know error when they hear it. We need some standards. IITM1:13 says “Hold to the standard of sound teaching.” That is advice that we need today and the ancient creeds of the church are an excellent way to do that. The Apostle’s Creed is a summary of “sound teaching.” It does basically three things.
First, the Apostle’s creed helps us define our faith.
Sometimes people say, “I have no creed but the Bible.” That is in itself a creedal statement. It is a statement of belief. But aside from that, the “no creed but the Bible” idea does not work because the Bible is such a large book that everybody, even those who say they have no creeds work or short statements of what the Bible says on different topics, and those statements become, in effect, creeds.
Every church has a confession or a creed. It is not always written down. I have been to churches that would say that they not only do not have a creed they do not even have a specific order of worship on the Sabbath. But you will find that they do the same thing every Sabbath, so they do have an order of worship. And they have certain things that they stress, so they do have a creed. They just have not written down what they believe, and that is the worst source of error in the church.
At least, if a church has a written creed, you can look at the creed and know what they believe, and if you do not like it you can go somewhere else. But if they do not have any written creed, if they just have some kind of vague feel-good attitude in the church, then they really do not know what they believe at all and they are very likely to chase after every fad and novelty that comes around.
We need the ancient creeds of the church to define us, to say what we are.
Second, the Apostles’ Creed helps us defend our faith.
I said that there are a lot of cults today. Say believers in a cult come to your door. They are sitting in your den, and they are spouting Bible verses that seem to support the doctrines they are teaching. How do you respond? How do you defend the faith?
There are several ways you could respond, but the easiest way is to use the Apostle’s Creed. This is the creed of most Christians. This is a summary of biblical truth. If your visitors will not affirm this, then they have problems. Thus, the Apostle’s Creed provides us a solid defense against error.
Third, the Apostle’s Creed helps us declare our faith.
Creeds declare to the world what the church believes. Sometimes making that declaration is dangerous. In the sixteenth century, Dutch Calvinists summarized their faith in the Belgic Confession. This confession was thrown over a city wall into the ranks of the besieging army as a testimony to their faith. They declared what they believed in the very teeth of persecution and oppression. Incidentally, the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Bres, was later executed by the Roman Catholic authorities.
I suspect that we will not be executed today for affirming the Apostles’ Creed, but we still need the creed because it declares to the world what we believe.
In conclusion, I have a confession to make. I also prefer the old version of the Apostles’ Creed to the new version. That is just me. I like the King James English of the old version. But that is not really the point is it? We need the creed in some version. We need it to define the faith, defend the faith, and declare the faith. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last Modified: 09/12/05