Reflections on the Apostles’ Creed

While I have been reciting the Apostles’ Creed in the Daily Office for decades, it has only recently occurred to me that there is a cascading connection in the final confessions of the Creed. By that I mean that one truth is causally related to the next truth. To review the last part of the Creed reads, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic[1]Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Without the Holy Spirit nothing that follows would be possible. When Jesus ascended to the Father He sent His Spirit to empower His followers to be the Church. It was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that turned His disciples into Apostles. They went from hiding in an upper room to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

And it is the Holy Spirit who makes the Church holy.[2]It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the Sacraments to be vessels of God’s grace that results in sanctification. We are reborn by water and the Spirit in baptism.[3]It is the Word and Spirit that consecrate the bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.[4]These Sacraments are the universal signs of the Church. Thus it is the Holy Spirit that gave birth to “the holy catholic Church

It is the “holy catholic Church” that produces “the communion of saints.” As one of my professors quipped, “God’s grace may be everywhere but you have never seen a baptism at the Moose Lodge.” His point was that Jesus has established His Church, which is His Body, to be the normative way that God coveys grace to the world. As St. Cyprian put it“No one can have God for his Father, who does not have the Church for his mother.”[5]Therefore it is through the Church that we experience the communion of saints, both with saints below and saints above, and this is a communion that is not optional.[6]

But how is “the communion of saints” connected to “the forgiveness of sins?” It is so on several levels. First, it is as two or more are gathered together in His Name that Jesus is present[7]and “with Him there is plenteous redemption.”[8]Second, when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples He gave them what is referred to as “the keys to the kingdom.” That is the power to bind and to loose or to forgive or  withhold forgiveness.[9]Thus it is in the context of a private confession that we hear the words of absolution.[10]It is also in Holy Communion that we hear the words of forgiveness[11]in response to the General Confession as prayed by the entire congregation.

Third, the communion of saints is connected to forgiveness of sins in an interpersonal manner, from saint to saint. We pray every day “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Thus if we do not forgive one another, then we will not be forgiven. Jesus illustrated that in a powerful way in the parable of the unforgiving servant.[12]

It is the “forgiveness of sins” that results in the “resurrection of the body.” St. Paul, both in Ephesians and Colossians, makes the connection of us having been dead in our transgressions but through the forgiveness of sins being raised with Him. He writes, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”[13]The implication is that if we had not received the forgiveness of sins then we would still be dead in our transgressions and therefore not raised with Christ. If we are still dead in our transgressions then the only resurrection that we will know is a resurrection to judgment rather than a resurrection to life. 

The final connection is that it is the “resurrection of the body” that leads to “the life everlasting.” Job knew this truth. He declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand of the earth…yet from my flesh I shall see God”[14]This is the hope of all Christians, that we will be united with Christ and reunited with our loved ones, and together live in our resurrected bodies in a new heaven and a new earth. “And of His kingdom there is shall be no end.”[15]

Besides the Daily Office, Anglicans recite this ancient Creed at baptisms and funerals. It acts as the bookends of our lives. The interconnectedness of these truths that we confess act as an unbroken chain that anchors us to Christ and to one another. We are merely stewards of these truths and it is our responsibility to understand them and then pass them unchanged to the next generation. 

[1]“catholic” means universal

[2]Galatians 5:16

[3]John 3:5

[4]1928 BCP p.81 “AND we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.”

[5]Died 258 AD, On the Unity of the Church

[6]This mindset flies against the kind of individualism that is so present in the Western Church and births the error of “sola Scriptura,” that is the thinking that the Bible interprets itself so we don’t need the Church to teach us. Two points easily refute “sola Scriptura.” Point one is that the fruit of this perspective has divided the Body of Christ into countless sects. Worldwide denominations number in the thousands. Also most cults can be traced back to an individual developing a uniqueinterpretation of Scripture that is unsupported by the teachings of the Church catholic. It is the Church that stands as a bastion of truth against schisms and heresies, from the Marcions of the 2ndCentury to the Mormons of this Century.  The second point that reveals the error of “sola Scriptura” is the very Creed that we are reviewing. The Apostles’ Creed is a brief confession of the Holy Trinity without which we cannot be saved.[6]This central doctrine was not developed through private interpretation of the Bible. The Holy Spirit revealed it through the Church. The ark that keeps us safe from schism, heresy and damnation is not our private interpretation of Scripture. The ark is the Church.

[7]Matthew 18:20

[8]Psalm 130:7 NKJV

[9]John 20:22,23

[10]“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 1979 BCP p.451

[11]“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of His great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who, through hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him: Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 1928 BCP p.76

[12]Matthew 18:21-35

[13]Colossians 2:13

[14]Job 19:25-27 NASB

[15]Luke 1:33

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