Monday, 2 March 2015

To be Reformed means to be Committed to the Apostles' Creed

This subject is long overdue for discussion, because the Apostles' Creed provides the shape and structure to virtually all of the historic Reformed documents. Confessions such as the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Creed and others, not to mention that it also provided the defining structure to "The Institutes of Christian Religion" by John Calvin. Why then does the Apostles' Creed suffer neglect in its use in public worship, in membership classes and in Reformed discussion today?

I do not have a simple answer to explain this contemporary neglect, however we must be reminded that for a group to claim to be Reformed and to neglect this Creed is to be inconsistent with Reformed doctrine. Reformed theology does not lead to narrow sectarianism or to a kind of Reformed separatism. Let us focus on the Apostles' Creed which is cited below.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth;

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
born of the virgin Mary
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits 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 Spirit;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This creed is Trinitarian: God the Father, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Two of the most questioned statements in the Apostles' Creed are: "He descended into hell" and "I believe in ... the holy Catholic church". Let us focus on the latter. Catholic means universal and not Roman Catholic and we must not yield up this word Catholic as something belonging to the Church of Rome. Far from it. Reformed churches are committed to the principles of being committed to the "Holy Catholic [universal] church". This means that we must be aware of the danger of schism. Reformed confessions and this creed emphasise the nature of true church unity, something that is often lacking in Fundamentalist principles.

It is common that when error creeps in to the church that an isolationist mentality can emerge where people withdraw into separatism. However to claim to be Reformed and yet also separatist in practice, this may well lead to an unhealthy and possibly unreformed church practice. Our Reformed Confessions such as the Westminster Standards offer a robust ecclesiology, if practiced properly, but they also demand a commitment to church unity.

Listen to Paul the Apostle:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)".


Andrew Graham said...

I know a six year old and a three year old who can recite the Apostles' Creed. And I am sure they are not unique. It provides a great structure for young children and helps them process their thoughts and gets them asking good questions. Once a day for a month and you'll soon have a toddler/theologian!

Paul Irving said...

Are there are any books you can recommend which in particular show how the creeds are to be used in church life?

Andrew Graham said...

Creeds, Confessions and Christ by Gerald Bray is worth a read.

Kevin Bidwell said...


Many thanks for your comment. Two quickly come to mind that might be helpful. One book called the Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Biblical Worship" published by Christian Focus. Another is "Leading in Worship" by Terry Johnson.

I have an early copy of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which included the Apostles Creed at the back. This Creed was the most used in public worship, catechism and family worship. The Heidelberg Catechism is used every Lord's Day evening by many of the Dutch lineage congregations. This includes the Apostles' Creed in its entirety.

I hope that helps a little,

Kevin B