Published November 17, 2015
"What We Believe" (Part 2)
Last week in this column I began an examination of the Apostles' Creed, a succinct recital of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. You can reference that column here.
Our examination left off with Christ "dead and buried."
The next line is controversial: "He descended into hades..." (Some published versions of the Creed say "hell," some say "death.") The problem is that nowhere in Scripture is it stated specifically that this was the case. In fact, Christ told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be "with Me in Paradise" that very day (Luke 23:43). Paradise, not Hades.
The Scripture appealed to most often regarding this line is 1 Peter 3:19-20 which says after Christ was put to death, He "went and preached to the spirits in prison." Theologian Millard Erickson counted 180 different interpretations of that passage, none persuasive. And Martin Luther wrote that it's so obscure that "I do not know for a certainty what Peter means." If there was specific motivation for including that line in the Creed, it has been lost.
Sufficient to say it was apparently a late addition to the Apostles' Creed. And since "hades" was often used simply as a reference to being dead or in the grave, it probably simply means that, although it would be redundant given the previous line. None of the other early church creeds reference such a descent and many churches today, such as the United Methodist Church, simply omit that line.
The rest of the Creed is non-controversial. Speaking of Christ, "The third day He rose again from the dead..." That is absolutely an essential part of any statement of Christian faith. "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile," Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:17.
Next, "He ascended into heaven." Acts 1 gives us a clear account of the Lord's ascension.
"...and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty..." The first Christian martyr, Stephen, as he was about to be stoned to death, gazed up toward heaven and cried, "...Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56.) Paul says Christ "...is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34).
"From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." "Quick," of course, doesn't here mean "speedy." It's simply and old term referring to someone who is alive. Peter says of Christ, "It is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). And Paul refers to Christ as the One "...who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing..." (2 Tim. 4:1).
Now we come to the third Person of the Trinity: "I believe in the Holy Spirit." The Mennonite Confession of Faith, which is a booklet-length version of a creed, says this of the Holy Spirit: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit of God, who dwelled in Jesus Christ, who empowers the church, who is the source of our life in Christ, and who is poured out on those who believe as the guarantee of our redemption and of the redemption of creation." What's more, it is the Holy Spirit who "calls people to repentance, convicts them of sin, and leads into the way of righteousness all those who open themselves to the working of the Spirit..." Paul says that no one can call Jesus "Lord" except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3).
Next, we believe in "the holy Christian church, the communion of the saints..." Those two elements go together. The church is all those people, across the ages, who have believed and do believe. And the church, as depicted in Acts and beyond, is called to minister to fellow believers and, beyond that, to the world.
Next, the Creed says we believe in "the forgiveness of sins." That's what this is all about. Paul says that in Christ we have "the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace..." (Eph. 1:7). If we didn't believe that God makes available the forgiveness of sins, all of this would be pointless.
Having been forgiven, the Creed next affirms "the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting." Jesus, speaking in the Temple, said, "...for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29). And, of course, there's the familiar John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
The Creed ends with a simple "Amen." But it's really not so simple. Because to say "Amen" is to give complete affirmation to what went before. If you say the Creed and you say "Amen," you are saying that you believe it.
Again, no simple creed can say everything we believe. That's what the Bible is for. That is God's word in print. And that's what we believe. Read it!
It's always been important, but today, more than ever, we need to know what we believe. And, in a society that it working hard to erase Christian influence, we need to remain resolute in standing for what we believe.
A rendering of the Apostles' Creed can be found online here.
You can listen to my sermon upon which these columns were based by going to
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