The Latin credo means “I believe.” From this word comes our English word creed. Often a creed will be a summary statement of what is believed and thus a short way to describe our most important beliefs. Creeds are by their nature reductionistic and only become problematic when we see them as the sum of what we believe as oppose to a summary of our main beliefs.
The Bible—though we rarely recognize them as such—also contains several creeds or creedal type statements. For example, try this one: “The Lord our God is one.” Though a very short sentence, it say a lot. It does not say everything but it does say something essential, central, core.
Or, take this repeated creed: “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2 as well as Ex 34:6; Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8; and Joel 2:13).
Likewise, in the New Testament, “Jesus is Lord” powerfully condenses the whole of the Gospel.
By the 3rd or 4th century, the church found creeds a useful way to summarize the faith—though, creeds were sometimes use to exclude those who did not believe exactly as the creed stated this or that tenant. The more positive function of a creed was to state what Christians believe in fairly short order.
One of the earliest creeds was the Apostles’ Creed, though it was not really by the apostles, it did capture their main teachings.
I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into Hell [lit., Hades];
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth 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 Ghost;
the holy catholic Church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.
In all, not a poor summary of the Christian faith. We might quibble with Jesus going to the underworld, but there are texts (See e.g., 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Eph 4:8-10) that seem to support that Jesus did in fact visit the abode of the dead while his body lay in a tomb for three days. And the mention of the catholic Church throws most Protestants, but catholic here is an adjective meaning universal. I can honestly say that this creed captures what I believe the Bible teaches.
That is because this creed echoes Scripture and reflects what Paul does in his vision-casting letter to the Ephesians. Paul, having spent the first three chapters of his letter describing what God had done to save us, now (in chapter four) calls his readers to respond to what God has already done.
The place Paul begins his call for believers to live virtuous lives is with what he calls the “unity of the Spirit.” Just as God is one (remember the OT confession above) so the church is to be one.
This oneness is relational, not just doctrinal. Paul calls on believers to express “humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness” toward one another as the means of “keeping” the unity that comes from God’s Spirit.
Then Paul offers us a creedal statement in which to ground our unity: “There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6 NIV).
The oneness of God, then, is the basis for the unity of the church and is the foundation for all we believe. We believe in one God who sent our one Lord who in turned poured out his one Spirit. Therefore we confess in Jesus one faith and one baptism; we commune with the Spirit in one body with only one hope—to be re-united with our one God.
This I believe.