SERMON TITLE: “I Believe in God” (The Apostles’ Creed Series)
SERMON TEXT: Acts 17:22-29
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: January 6, 2019, at First UMC
A number of years ago, while I was home recuperating after a surgery, I set myself to reading a book on the early history of the Christian faith. The book covered about 400 years, from the time of Jesus’ ministry into the 5th century. One of my goals in reading that book was to learn about the origins of The Apostles’ Creed. I knew that The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicea in the year 325 and amended further in Constantinople in 381. So I figured that there must have been an early church council meeting or two that likewise determined the content of The Apostles’ Creed.
But when I finally finished reading the book, I was puzzled. After 249 pages of early church history, I didn’t recall reading anything about The Apostles’ Creed. I’d read about all kinds of theological controversies, persecutions and deaths of martyrs, fanatically ascetic monks, and even the development of the New Testament canon. But I couldn’t recall anything that was labeled The Apostles’ Creed. Since I’d been reading the book after a surgery, I considered that I might have failed to remember due to the after-effects of anesthesia and pain medications. Or maybe I just dozed off at the wrong moment and missed it. Well, if that were the case, I figured I could just look it up in the book’s index. So, I looked first under “A” for “Apostles.” Nothing. So I turned to the “T” section for “The.” Still nothing. Next I looked under “C” for “Creeds,” and, again, there was nothing about The Apostles’ Creed. Mystified by this, I then went back through the book, page by page, re-reading all the passages I had highlighted with a yellow marker. After reviewing all 249 pages, I still had found nothing.
So, I then did what I could have done much more easily in the beginning. I went to my computer and looked up “Apostles’ Creed” on the internet. And, when I did that, I discovered the reason why The Apostles’ Creed hadn’t appeared in my very comprehensive textbook of the church’s first 400 years. It seems that The Apostles’ Creed as we know it didn’t reach its nearly-final form until the 700s, and it has even seen some changes since then. Apparently, the term “Apostles’ Creed” comes from a legend. The legend says that, on the Day of Pentecost, while the original Christian believers were gathered in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began preaching and baptizing, each of the 12 apostles contributed one statement of faith. Taken together, those 12 statements are approximately what we know today as The Apostles’ Creed.
Obviously, if the exact words of this creed weren’t formalized until the eighth century, this early-origins story is a legend. But, as legends often do, this one captures the essence of truth. Even though the exact form of The Apostles’ Creed was perfected over many centuries, the core of these beliefs did go back to the apostles’ original teachings that had been carefully passed along over the years. Revised and adjusted in the process of encouraging the faithful and instructing new converts, these essentials of belief were recited at baptisms and other acts of worship. In a variety of forms in different times and places, these basic creedal ideas were used to clarify, unify, and build up the Christian faith.
So, today, here we are, about to begin a series of sermons on this creed. Instead of 12 installments, we’ll manage this in nine weeks. Joining Christians around the globe and in almost every denomination and non-denomination, we’ll affirm and explore our beliefs in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. Today we begin with the first line, “I believe in God.”