In the world today, most people that you encounter on the street will claim to have some sort of belief in God. It is very rare that one encounters a common person who would outright deny belief in God altogether. As we saw last week, the reason for this is because people are naturally inclined to believe in God. But if you quiz people what they believe about God, then all of a sudden you may find that most people have not really thought through carefully what exactly it is that they believe about God, and then venture into opinion rather than firm conviction. To many people, the word “God” is an abstract term, a philosophical conundrum, an entity which is mysteriously shrouded in darkness. If you press people, you will find that their “god” is quite unknown and involved in the world only in a very meaningless manner, if at all. Much like the Athenians who had set up an altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17:23), people cling to a superficial belief in God in case there is perhaps one out there, and hope that merely believing is enough to gain his/her/it's approval, if such a being should exist. However, this superficial belief is void of any moral responsibility, and therefore people's belief, even though given lip service, is actually not belief in anything at all.
The Apostle’s Creed is written to explain exactly who it is that Christians worship. It is important for us to know who we worship in order to avoid vain speculations and turn trivial observations in nature into objects of worship. The importance of knowing who or what we worship is highlighted in Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman when he said to her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and then Jesus launches into an explanation of correct worship, “But a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him…” But who exactly is this Father?
God as Father
One of the first ways in which the creed defines God is as Father. Now this is a remarkable feature of Christianity’s understanding of God. Michael Bird points out the uniqueness of this point in Christian theism compared to other religions when he writes, “In other religions, calling God one’s own father would be problematic if not impossible. Crying out to God as Father would be irreverent for Jews, blasphemy to Muslims, weird for Buddhists, and mean something entirely different for Hindus.” Now this does not mean that the concept of a father god did not exist in pagan religions, or any other religion. What Bird is pointing out is that in other belief systems, god could never be father to me. Zeus is merely 'father' because he begets gods and goddesses, for example, and occasionally these cohabitate with humans and produce demigod offspring. But an ordinary person would not call Zeus his 'father', and Zeus would neither care.
However, for Christianity, the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God is absolutely central to our understanding of God, both within the divine being, as well as He relates to us as people. Pannenberg writes, “On the lips of Jesus the name ‘Father’ indicates the particular way in which the almighty God of Israel, whose mighty coming was expected in the imminent future, has been revealed through his sending of Jesus: he is the one who wants to save men from the judgment towards which they are moving.” In this way, God is both Father in His relationship to Jesus, through whom He has appeared to us and by whom we come to know God as our Father (see John 14:6-11).
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Firstly, in relation to Jesus, God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Bird writes, “The notion of God as father was peripheral in Judaism and yet was central in Jesus’s life and teaching.” Though the Old Testament does have places where God is portrayed as the father of Israel by his calling them into a covenantal relationship (Ex 4:33; Deut. 32:6, 18; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1) and by his paternal care for them (Isa. 1:2-4; 31:1,9; Mal. 1:6), the relationship that Jesus exhibits is vastly different. At Jesus’ baptism a voice thundered from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) and again at his transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). As a young boy of 12, Jesus considered remaining behind in the Temple without his parents’ consent as being in “my Father’s house” (Luke 3:49). Jesus believed that his mission was commission by his Father (John 5:37), carried out in His power (5:26), authenticated by Him (John 8:54), and done in fulfilment of His will (John 6:38), and that this Father is the only true God (John 17:1-3). In other words, the Father of Jesus is the God of Israel now drawing near in the sending of His Son in the person of Jesus. This is how Jesus understood his own relationship to the Father, as well as how those who witnessed Jesus’ life understood his relationship toward his heavenly Father. The Father of Jesus is the God of Israel, and Jesus is his own unique Son sent to make Him known to the world (John 1:1, 14, 18).
God the Father of those who come to Christ
But one of the fascinating things about the Christian faith is that God does not only remain the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a very real sense, the goal of the ministry of Jesus was to invite us to share in this unique relationship that he has with his Father. In this sense, The Apostle’s Creed could read, “I believe in God my Father…” Ordinary men and woman could come and share in this special relationship that Jesus had with His Father through faith in him.
But some would retort that God is the father of all people, and in a certain sense this is true. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” With this I mean to understand that God is in a real sense father to all He has created. All creatures come under the paternal care of the Father as he sustains them, gives them rains in due season, and cares for them even when they don’t thank him. This is what we call common grace.
However, the way in which God is father to all his creatures and the way in which he is Father to those who come to him through Christ, is vastly different. The language that the New Testament uses of those who have come to know the Father through Jesus is the language of adoption. Paul writes that those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, also receive the Holy Spirit, by whom we are brought into a unique relationship with God as our Father. He writes in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul explains that the reason God sent his Son into the world was so that through him “we might receive adoption as sons.” And then he continues, reminiscent of Romans 8, and writes in verse 6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Calvin writes, “Indeed, [Christ] put on our flesh in order that having become Son of Man he might make us sons of God with him; having received our poverty in himself, he might transfer his wealth to us; having submitted to our weakness, he might strengthen us by his power; having accepted our mortality, he might give us his immortality; having descended to earth, he might raise us to heaven,” This kind of relationship to God is only available to those who receive God’s Son, as John writes in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Faith in Jesus is the means by which we are adopted into the household of God, and through whom we share an intimate and personal relationship with God as our Father, which is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” It is a disciple’s prayer, and only a disciple of Jesus can pray this prayer in spirit and truth.
The Father is Almighty
But the creed also adds that the Father is Almighty. The Christian takes comfort in the fact that the God who has adopted him or her into a special relationship as Father, is also the God who is both all-powerful and in control of all things. We must remember that this creed found it’s beginning at a time when Christians were being persecuted under the Roman Empire during the late second or early third centuries, and is believed to be first confessed in Rome itself. Therefore the comfort to persecuted Christians that God their Father is also Almighty must have been a great comfort indeed. He is the creator of heaven and earth, and so regardless of what would happen to them under persecution, they had confidence that their Father was in control and would deliver them at the right time. But this is no mere theological jargon for the sake of comfort, it is the testimony of Scripture. Under the Old Testament YHWH is “the King of glory, enthroned in heaven, ‘The LORD Almighty’ is his name (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 24:10; Isa. 51:15). Also Revelation 1:8 portrays God as the coming one, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,’” and he is coming to bring justice upon those who persecuted his people, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:10). And for this reason, because we believe in God our Father who is Almighty, we entrust all judgment into his care while continuing to live lives of obedience in the present, even if we should suffer for doing what is right (1 Pet. 4:19). In other words, because God is our Father, and also Almighty, every situation we face we face as a result of his will and for his purpose, even if we don't understand it at the time. William Cowper wrote, "Behind a smiling providence, God hides a smiling face." This is the kind of comfort that a person can take when, even amid suffering, we know that we have a God who is also our Almighty Father.
When the Christian confesses, “I believe in God,” she does not merely confess in an abstract concept which is far removed from reality, like the god of many who profess to believe in God, rather she confesses in the God who is both her Father and is Almighty. This means, that for the Christian, God is both personal and all-powerful. And because God is our Father, he holds us accountable for our actions as his children, and because he is all-powerful, he is the one who sustains us, as well as defends us, in very trying circumstances. The Christian who confesses belief in God confesses in a God who can be known, and a God who is approachable, and a God who is interested in our daily affairs. We don’t worship a mythical god as father, or a phantom of our imagination, but a God who has brought us into adoption as sons (and daughters) through the redemptive work of His Son. Christians are therefore brought into God’s family, and share a unique relationship with God along with Jesus, by virtue of His Spirit through whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” And in our crying out, we confess, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” In other words, we know whom we worship, and are known by God as His children for whom he cares with paternal affection and protection.
 Bird, M. F. 2016. What Christians Ought To Believe. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 62.
 Pannenber, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in Light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, Ltd., pg. 32.
 Bird, pg. 61.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 20:iii (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 23.)
 See Bird, pg. 25.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
We live in a pluralistic world, religiously speaking. There are many “lords”, many “faiths”, and many “baptisms”. Wikipedia estimates around 4200 different world religions in existence today. Regardless of whether or not this estimate is accurate, in the West the growth of alternate religious beliefs has been exponential. In a context where atheism has sought to eliminate the concept of a divine being and the supernatural, it would seem that it has had the opposite effect. The attack by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on the Christian faith has not eliminated religious belief, but rather created a vacuum wherein superstition has thrived! Why, then, is religion so difficult to eradicate from the hearts of people?
The Natural Inclination to Believe
Calvin writes that people are naturally inclined to believe in God, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity… God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” In other words, human beings cannot but help to worship something because we are naturally inclined to do so. Now this does not mean that all people will accept the notion of God, as we see in the case of Dawkins and Hitchens, and neither that all people will have the same understanding of God, which accounts for the many thousand different religions in the world. However, as Roy Clouser has demonstrated in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, all people believe in something which is both eternal and independent, and from which all else has derived its existence. People may call this by different titles: i.e. the universe, God, matter, the One, etc. However, everyone will hold to something which has divine characteristics, and defend their belief in this religiously. The great church father, Augustine of Hippo wrote concerning belief in God, “For when the one supreme God of gods is thought of, even by those who believe that there are other gods, and who call them by that name, and worship them as gods, their thought takes the form of an endeavour to reach the conception of a nature, than which nothing more excellent or more exalted exists. And since men moved by different kinds of pleasures exist, partly by those which pertain to the bodily senses, partly by those which pertain to the intellect and soul, those of them who are in bondage to the sense think that either the heavens, or what appears to be most brilliant in the heavens, or the universe itself, is God of gods.”
The apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32 had already taught this very point, from whom Augustine, Calvin and Clouser derive their arguments. Paul argued that men suppress the plain truth of God visible to all in the created world, and refuse to honour him or even be thankful toward him for their lives. As a result, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). However, because they are created for worship, their lives still worship and ended up worshipping “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (1:23). In other words, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Arguing from Psalm 19:1, which states that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” Paul continues that this glory is exchanged by men for a lie to suit their own needs, desires, or thoughts, and the result of this is the exchange of the worship of the one true God for images and idols made by the figment of human imagination. People, when they have suppressed the truth about God, will attach worship to that which they can see and observe, as Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee… For he that knoweth Thee not may call on Thee as other than Thou art.” The reason for this is because in our very essence, we are created for the worship of God, “Thou awakes us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee”, but in our Fallen state, we end up worshipping what we can observe, rather than allowing what we observe to move us beyond the mere symbol in the created thing to the Creator himself.
Therefore when the person confessing The Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in God,” he is affirming this basic understanding that there is a being who is both eternal and independent, and from whom all else has derived its existence. Of course, the creed is going to clarify who this God is, that he is the almighty creator of heaven and earth, and that he is also Father, but for now it is important for us to understand that the creed confesses what all people actually believe, though they either suppress this truth by denying the existence of God altogether, or suppress it by calling on things that are not God as god, due to the ignorance of the truth of God.
But can God be known?
The question of God’s knowability has been a great question in both philosophy and theology. However, some Christian theologians have answered, unless God makes himself known, no! For example, Karl Barth wrote, “we have to begin with the admission that of ourselves we do not know what we say when we say ‘God,’ i.e. that all that we think we know when we say ‘God’ does not reach and comprehend Him Who is called ‘God’ in the symbol, but always one of our self-conceived and self-made idols, whether it is ‘spirit’ or ‘nature,’ ‘fate’ or ‘idea’ that we really have in view… Only God’s revelation, not our reason despairing of itself, can carry us over from God’s incomprehensibility.” In other words, because of our fickle nature as a result of the Fall of humanity into sin, all of our self-conceptions of God outside of what he has revealed of himself will always tend toward idolatrous images made up by our own corrupt minds. Even the testimony of God in nature by itself is not sufficient, for it will be perverted by our own Fallen minds, as Calvin writes, “Yet hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing certain or solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.” This being said, Calvin concludes that “all who corrupt pure religion – and this is sure to happen when each is given to his own opinions – separate themselves from the one and only God.” In other words, the knowledge of God is lost in two ways: (1) mankind being left to interpret nature by himself; and (2) the corruption of true religion by the influence of human initiative.
Here we reach the point of necessity that Christians insist on, that God has made himself known in history and this is recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Calvin writes, “Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.” This is why The Apostle’s Creed rests all of its articles firmly upon what is found in Scripture, and imports no other understanding outside of Scripture into its confession. Calvin continues by explaining Scripture's purpose, “For, that they might pass from death to life, it was necessary to recognize God not only as Creator but also as Redeemer, for undoubtedly they arrive at both from the Word.” Calvin continues, “God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and that what we ought to think of him is set forth there, lest we seek some uncertain deity by devious paths.” Scripture, therefore, is the pilgrims guide to the knowledge of God, and therefore it is in Scripture alone that the understanding of who God is must be sought.
Can the Bible be trusted?
How can we know, though, that Scripture is a trustworthy guide? There are two arguments given to answer this: (1) the inner-trustworthiness of Scripture as being “breathed-out” by God himself; and (2) the inner witness of God’s Spirit which testifies to the truth about God taught in sacred Scripture within each person.
On the first point, Paul has written that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16), and Peter explains this process by writing, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke of God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In this sense, though the Biblical authors wrote in their own language, with their own literary style, and in various genres, they were being informed by God himself in order that the testimony of who he is would be an accurate representation of himself. On the second point, the inner witness of the Spirit to the reading or hearing of Scripture affirms to the one reading or hearing that these are truly the words of God, and an accurate representation of who he is. In other words, God himself affirms the words of Scripture to the one reading as he reveals himself through the pages of Scripture to the person in question. Someone, however, may read the Bible for years without any effect, and then one particular day, things seem to make sense. One such person was C.S. Lewis himself, who was a sceptic for a large part of his life, until one day he believed that the God of the Bible is the God who he claims to be. It was then that the Scriptures came alive to Lewis, and he could comment, “God has given to His works His own character of emeth; they are watertight, faithful, reliable, not at all vague or phantasmal.”
Some may call this the fallacy of circular reasoning, or begging the question. “To beg the question is to assume the truth of what one seeks to prove, in the effort to prove it.” On the outset it seems to be so when we state, “How do we know that God exists? Because the Bible testifies to his existence. How do we know that the Bible is an accurate record of his existence? Because God himself testifies to its truth.” But this is not the case when it comes to the question of God as related to Scripture. We can consider the similarity between a letter that a particular person has written. One may study the letter that has been written, and hope to find the fingerprints of the person embedded in the letter. If you knew the person, one could easily detect their own character coming through this letter. And if not, one could appeal to the author, if he were alive, and verify whether or not the letter was his. However, if the author were a popular writer, even not knowing him, one could easily detect his style and personality in his letters, if you were familiar with his writing. In this sense we say that a letter is self-authenticating. This is even true of letters which have been dictated by someone and written through a scribe, which is one of the primary ways of identifying authorship of ancient letters who dictated through scribes. So too with a book that claims to have divine origin. If it is so, then one would expect to find the fingerprints of God throughout the book (or in the case of the Bible, the collection of books).
Now the Bible is unique in that it is written through man, and therefore has dual authorship, if one were to state it as such. It contains different personality styles of particular authors, but it also contains something more. The church has always recognised the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to carry a weight of authority that set it apart from the other writings of its time, which was one of the tests of canonicity. In this sense we say that the Bible carries divine authority, it is self-authenticating. But in another sense, those who have read it from a sceptical point of view, and have finally come to see it as God’s Word to man, such as C.S. Lewis, have been convinced by the inner testimony of the Spirit working in their own hearts that, though the books of the Old and New Testaments were compiled by various authors, they contain in themselves the witness of God about himself. It is this God that the creed affirms when it calls us to confess, “I believe in God…”
In a pluralistic world of “many lords” and “many faiths”, one has to ask the question which lord and which faith is the truth. Atheism’s attempt to eradicate God from the public sphere, especially the Christian God, has only left a vacuum that is being filled by various different kinds of superstitions and beliefs. However, the Christian claim is that we can know God because God has revealed himself in history, and this revelation is recorded for us in Scripture. The God which the creed affirms is the God of the Bible, the God revealed, as we shall see, as Father, Son, and Spirit.
The creed seeks to explain or unpack what it is we believe about this God, and how he relates to us as Christians. In other words, the creed affirms belief in the God of the Bible, the God as understood by Christianity, and the God who is known as both Creator and Redeemer. He is the God who has made himself known, and continues to make himself known wherever the Bible is taught and expounded. This doctrine of God is summarised in The Apostle’s Creed, and seeks to build the faith of the Christian upon the foundation of God as revealed in Scripture, and especially as he is made known through Jesus Christ and illuminated by the Spirit in the hearts of every true believer.
 See Dawkins, R. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press, pg. 37, “Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be mostly familiar”; and Hitchens, C. 2007. God Is Not Great. New York: Hatchet Book Group USA, pg. 11, “I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism.”
 Calvin, J. 1559. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. I:III:I (transl. Battles, F. ed. McNeill, J.T. 2006. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 43).
 Clouser, R. 2005. The Myth Of Religious Neutrality. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, pg. 23ff.
 Augustine. On Christian Doctrine: I:7.
 Augustine. Confessions. I:1.
 Barth, K. 1936. Credo (transl. J. Strathearn McNab). London: Hodder & Stoughton, pg. 12.
 Calvin, J. Institutes, I:IV:12.
 Ibid, I:IV:13.
 Ibid, I:VI:1.
 Ibid, I: VI:2
 Copi, I. M. & Cohen, C. 1994. Introduction to Logic: 9th Edition. New York: MacMillan Publishing, pg. 126.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
Q: What is true faith?
I believe is a common phrase used by most people in the world today. People love to talk about what they believe, and very often it is not thought through very well. The word “belief” has come to be synonymous with opinion rather than confession, and even the word confession has come to mean something which resembles a black wooden box and a Roman Catholic Priest.
However, here in the Latin text of the Apostle’s Creed, the word credo means something of a sort of statement of belief, a dogmatic assertion, a proposition held to by conviction, or in other words, trust in something held to be true. All three monotheistic religions hold to summary statements of what they deem to be true. Judaism has the Shema; Islam has the Shahada; and Christianity has the Creed. All three of these give the foundation of religious belief: The Shemma, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your soul, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself”; the Shahada, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”; and then of course the Apostle’s Creed, which we will now study, has as its subject God in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.
What is it to believe?
Now the creed is a confession of faith or trust in something believed to be true. Today people may believe the news, or they may believe their friends, or they may believe empirical science; however rarely will people say that they trust in these things. What does it mean, therefore, to trust in something?
When a person trusts in something, they don’t just agree with it, like they may with the results of empirical investigation, but they place their hope in it. This sort of understanding is prevalent in the betting world. When someone places their bet on a certain horse winning a derby, they place their hope in the horse and the jockey. They hope that the horse will win, and that their reward will be the winning of a large sum of money. Perhaps the person has studied the riders very carefully and followed the horse over a few races to increase his confidence in the winning horse, but in the end there is always a chance that the horse may not win. Or what about taking a flight from one city to the next? A person who chooses a certain airliner places their trust in the aircraft to bring her safely to her destination. She may well pay a little extra money in order to secure a flight on a safer airline, but there is still a chance that the aircraft will fail to arrive at the given destination safely. Nevertheless, the person has placed her trust in this particular airliner and hopes she will arrive safely on the other side.
However, when the creed affirms “I believe in God…”, the trust it seeks to affirm and the hope it produces is vastly different from the above examples. Pannenberg asks, “In what do we ultimately put our trust? What are our hearts set on, in the last resort? This is the most fundamental question which can face a man.” In other words, the object of one’s faith, or trust, is what makes all the difference between authentic religious belief and mere wishful thinking. Pannenberg continues, “For trust means reliance, and the person who relies on superficial delusions and alluring pretence is lost, as the future will prove.” In the above examples, both the betting man and the hopeful lady have placed their trust in objects which cannot hold out any promise or guarantee. In this sense, even though a person does all the hard work in following the development of the best horse and seek the most reliable airline, there is always a chance that these will fail, and therefore ones trust can only be superficial. It cannot be ultimate. What then does the Creed hold out that is different?
When we talk about belief according to Christianity, we are referring to the subject of faith and how this relates to our understanding of God. The famous statement of faith according to the Christian understanding is found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here faith is described as both assurance and certainty. Ellingworth shows that this is “a summary of what faith does: faith binds the believer securely to the reality of what he does not (yet) see, but for which he hopes.” The author continues in 11:6 by stating that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” So here the author gives us the foundation of Christian faith, which has as its starting point the firm belief in the existence of God, and the hope that he rewards those who seek him. The question is, how do we know that he will reward those who seek him?
It is no surprise, therefore, that the author of Hebrews uses the examples of the many heroes of faith recorded right throughout the Old Testament, who modelled this kind of faith for us to follow. We have, as it were, “a great cloud of witnesses” who have demonstrated persevering faith even through trying times, and who now stand to spur us forward. These men and women trusted in God, and have now left us a record of God’s faithfulness in order that our faith is not just founded upon opinion, but in the direct involvement of God in the lives of countless that went before us. These men and women trusted in the promises of God, even though in their own lifetime they never saw the fulfilment of these promises (see Hebrews 11:39). But it is not as if there faith had failed them, but rather, in a very telling verse the author of Hebrews writes that "that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (11:40). The whole point of the author of Hebrews is that we now have seen this fulfilment in the gospel of Christ, and so God did ultimately fulfil his promises through the coming of Jesus, and since His coming we are gathered together into the same hope as the Old Testament saints who longed to see its fulfillment. In this sense faith has as its object a God who fulfils his promises.
But Christian faith must necessarily lead to hope, and so when a person confesses “I believe”, not only are we confessing the truth of a particular set of articles of faith, but we are confessing the hope to which these articles point, and that is “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Calvin writes, “If faith is a sure persuasion of the truth of God, a persuasion that cannot lie to us, deceive us, or vex us, then those who have grasped this assurance expect that it will straightaway come to pass that God will fulfil his promises, since according to their opinion they cannot but be true. To sum up, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things that faith believed to have been truly promised by God.” 
Christian hope therefore looks at God’s past action, and believes in his promises for the future on the basis of his past fulfilment of his promises. It is very similar to the betting man, who looks at past jockey and horse winnings to place his bet, or the hopeful lady who looks at the track record of an airliner and chooses the safest options, however neither with the betting man nor the hopeful lady is there any guarantee that what they hope for will come to pass. With the Christian, the promises are guaranteed by God, “maker of heaven and earth,” who is “almighty”, a firm affirmation that the One who promises is able to fulfil his promises, and it is grounded in the work of Christ who is the fulfilment of God’s redemptive promsies, something the saints of old were looking forward to when they believed and trusted in God. When a Christian therefore says, “I hope”, he does not mean the kind of wishful thinking of a betting man or a lady flying across the ocean, but rather speaks of a hope that is grounded in the very character of God who is trustworthy.
Pannenberg explains faith as the movement from trust to hope by grounding our faith in truth in three ways, “First, it is a question of the visible indications in the existing world in which trust finds support. In the Apostle’s Creed, these are above all the events of the life of Jesus, which the second article lists, but also the world of creation, to which the first article relates. Secondly, on the basis of these indications, trust bases itself on the invisible reality toward which trust is really directed, and which manifests itself in these indications. For the Apostle’s Creed this is the reality of God, the reality of his Son, now exalted to the right hand of the divine majesty, and the reality of the Holy Spirit, who is at work in the life of the church as a mysterious underlying dimension. Thirdly, trust is related to what it hopes for from the reliability of that to which it clings: in the creed this is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life.”
In other words, Christian faith moves from (1) trust in the visible elements (i.e. creation and the person of Jesus), to (2) the belief in the invisible reality (God as Creator and Redeemer), to (3) the hope of the promise held out (redemption). Therefore, the person who confesses the creed and believes what it states to be true is the one who has come to the conviction that the world in which we live must have been created and the claims of Jesus must be salvific; and acknowledges that both the world and Jesus point beyond themselves to an invisibly reality, that the God who has created the world has also come in Christ to redeem it; and that this holds out a promise to anyone willing to believe, that in this God there is the promise of redemption and the hope of eternal life which is guaranteed by the Spirit at work in the life of every believer.
To conclude then, Christian belief is vastly different to popular belief in the world today that is grounded mostly opinion or superficial things that have no guarantee. Christian faith clings to the reality of God when we confess, “I believe…” It is not a belief in a philosophy thought up by man, but grounded in the world as created and is the fulfilment of God’s promises to the saints of old in Jesus Christ. Christian faith is therefore an assurance of things hoped for, because it is grounded in past promises, and it is also a conviction of things still unseen, or in other words, promises still waiting to be fulfilled, because it is guaranteed by God who is the “almighty creator of heaven and earth.” When we confess, “I believe” then, we are confessing trust in the God Almighty, and we are confessing the sure hope that he will fulfil his promises. Next week we will see how we can know who this God is, and as we unpack the Creed, we will come to learn exactly what his promises are. Soli Deo Gloria.
 Pannenberg, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, pg. 4.
 Ellingworth, P. 1993. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 566.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 21 (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 27.)
 Pannenberg, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, pg. 6-7.
Disclaimer: I have rewritten this post from a previous post.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
We live in a non-creedal age. On the one hand there are many churches who confess the early creeds of the Christian church, and yet have practically departed from the faith that the creeds proclaim. On the other hand the majority of churches today claim to have only one creed, “We have no creed but the Bible.” Michael Bird points out the great irony of the statement itself, that this statement is not found in the Bible, and thus has become an extra-biblical mantra! The churches that do both profess the creeds as well as believe them, are few. Therefore, in light of the great need for a creedal confession, we will embark on a teaching series through one of the earliest creeds in the Christian tradition: The Apostle’s Creed. But before we get into the history of the Apostle’s Creed, we must first ask the question whether or not confessing a creed is Biblical?
The Bible, it may come as a surprise, is full of mini creedal formulas. For example, one of the earliest ones we encounter is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, otherwise known as the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This simple statement affirms to every confessing Jewish believer that the God whom they worship is different from the polytheistic gods of the surrounding nations. Bird points out that “The Shema described the essential elements of Israel’s faith in a short and simple summary.”
The New Testament itself has hints of early Christian creeds that were used to express the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 records an early creedal formulation when Paul writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Here we see the early church confessing that Christ died, that he was buried, and that he was raised again to life, all of which influenced the later creeds such as The Apostle’s Creed. More importantly, we also find a creed relating the nature of God in three persons in an early creedal formula, very likely confessed at baptismal rites, found in Ephesians 4:4-6 which states, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Notice how similar this creedal formula is to the Shema, emphasizing the unity in the divine being of God, as well as the unity of the church who is said to be united to Christ!
From this we can see that from the earliest of times, believers have formulated summary statements of what they believe concerning the nature and being of God, and how this relates to us as His people. The summary statements aid in memorizing doctrine, as well as teaching far more than the statement contains. Therefore, they are not mere formulas to memorise on their own merit. Creeds must be taught and elaborated on, but like a student making summary notes to memorise work for a coming exam, so creeds are to bring to mind a whole range of doctrinal teaching that relates to the creed itself. This is why we will spend the next semester studying the creed together, and not merely reciting it or committing it to memory. We want to understand what the creed states so that it will grow our love and understanding of the truth it summarises. But what is The Apostle’s Creed? Who wrote it, and for what purpose?
The Apostle’s Creed in History
We do not know who precisely compiled The Apostle’s Creed. It certainly wasn’t the Apostles themselves, for it was compiled long after the Apostles were already dead. Why then call it The Apostle’s Creed? Well, simply because it contains the sum of apostolic teaching. Calvin writes of this, “Who the author was or rather who wrote down this epitome of the faith is not of great concern to us, for it contains nothing merely human but has been assembled from very sure testimonies of Scripture.” The beauty of the creed is that in its simplicity it has preserved the confessional doctrine of the Christian church which is easily verifiable by Scripture. There are no philosophical categories found outside of Scripture that is used to explain anything of God, it is just a simple summary of what the Christian Scriptures teach concerning God and the church.
From its earliest use in the church it was likely formulated initially for baptismal rites, where “three questions were put to the second-century candidate for baptism: ‘Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, our Saviour? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, a holy church, and the forgiveness of sins?’” Pannenberg continues and writes that “the earliest form of our creed was the baptismal affirmation of faith of the church in Rome.”
The Apostles Creed, together with the Nicene Creed has come to be a standard for confessing orthodox Christian belief throughout the Western Church, and especially during the Reformation. Many of the great Reformed catechisms deal significantly with The Apostle’s Creed, such as Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva and the famous Heidelberg Catechism, though sadly missing from The Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Apostle’s Creed, together with the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, became the standard summary of Christian dogmas commented on throughout the Reformation period and in Reformed churches thereafter, covering the whole range of Christian doctrine: Christian obedience through law, Christian salvation through faith, and Christian experience through prayer. It is insisted on by Calvin scholar, T.H.L. Parker, that Calvin actually structured his famous The Institutes of the Christian Religion after the structure of The Apostle’s Creed. Whether or not this is true, it is clear from the development of Calvin’s Institutes that the creed played an important role in formulating Calvin’s own thought.
The Structure of the Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Above is one of the standard English translations, and helps us see the subdivisions in the text clearly by starting each new division with the confessional formula, “I believe…” This does not follow the original Greek nor Latin manuscripts, which simply moves into the doctrine of Christ by reading literally, “and in Jesus Christ…” However, the above translation helps us see the natural division of the creed, which moves as such: First it addresses the doctrine of God both as Father and Creator; secondly it moves into the doctrine of Christ, his relationship to the Father and divine being, his incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and then ascension and return; and thirdly it deals with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, together with the doctrine of the church, for the church is birthed by the Spirit. As we can see, though the order is reversed, this creed follows the basic structure of Ephesians 4:4-6.
As we embark upon the study of The Apostle’s Creed, I pray that through this early summary of Christian doctrine, we may come to value and appreciate the tradition of faith that is handed down to us through the centuries, and that we may come and confess the same faith as countless believers who went before us. We will come to see that all Christians confess some form of creed, even those who claim to have “no creed but the Bible,” because we are unable to divorce ourselves from the traditions we have received. The only question is this: is your “creed” that you confess orthodox? In other words, if you depart from the early creeds because you believe that you can make up your own mind from what the Scriptures teach, are you sure that you are not in danger of falling into the same heresies that the early Christians sought to avoid by developing these short summaries of faith, which convey far more than they state?
It is also my prayer that as we study this creed together, our hearts may be moved as our minds are informed, and that we may come to experience a fuller measure of the God who is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Spirit, as we confess together, “I believe…”. Soli Deo Gloria!
 Bird, M, 2016: What Christians Ought to Believe. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 17.
 Ibid, pg. 18.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 20 (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 21.)
 Pannenberg, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in Light of Today’s questions. London: SCM Press Ltd., pg. 1.
 In Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 111; see also Parker, T.H.L. 1975. John Calvin. London. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., pg. 37ff.
 Hesselink, ibid.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.