The Zion Blog > Ask the Pastors > Creeds

The Creeds

Question: Hey Pastor, why don?t we use the Apostles? Creed more often?? Isn?t it as important as the Nicene Creed?

Answer: Ahh!? You have good questions!!? Thanks for writing.

Before getting to the heart of your question, I?ll first provide a bit of background on creeds in general.? Historic Christianity has three creeds: The Apostles? Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Athanasian Creed.? Outside of stating that the Athanasian Creed is usually confessed during our services only one Sunday each year ? Holy Trinity Sunday ? we?ll limit our discussion to the first two creeds listed.

Historically, in the Western tradition of Christianity, (of which we Lutherans are members) the custom has been to confess the Nicene Creed whenever the Divine Service was observed; that is, Word and Sacrament were to be administered to God?s people.? However, that practice was not the case until about the 11th century (its use having gradually crept into practice over the prior 3 or 4 centuries).

When the Nicene Creed was introduced, it was used only on high festival days, and only then, over time, did it gradually come to be an ?ordinary? part of the Divine Service.? The Nicene Creed seems to have come into use primarily as a way to counter heresy more so than as an important element of the liturgy.

It was really instituted into the Divine Service to be used as a doctrinal statement against the Arians (located in Spain).? The Arians denied the deity of Jesus.? If you were to compare the Apostles? and Nicene Creeds you can see how the Nicene Creed speaks in much detail about the work as well as the Person of Jesus ? thus countering the Arian claims that Jesus was not divine.? An interesting footnote is that the Nicene Creed was introduced into the Eastern Church and its Divine Services considerably earlier ? approximately the 6th century or so.? That was because the Eastern Church had heresies in its region that it was fighting at that time.

The Apostles? Creed, which is a slight development of the old Roman Baptismal creed, has traditionally continued in use as the Baptismal creed in the West.? (By the way, this creed has never been used within the Eastern Church.)? The Apostles? Creed was developed to be a simple, succinct description of the Christian faith.? It was primarily used as a teaching tool for catechumens (those undergoing instruction in the faith) as they prepared for their own Baptism and entrance into the Church.? Very likely that same creed (what we would call the Apostles? Creed) was then spoken at the time of the catechumens? Baptisms and actual entrance into Church membership (but not used outside of those services).

So, if you go back far enough in Christian history, we see that NO creed was originally customarily said during the Divine Service.? Rather, the creeds were developed for use for other (good!) purposes by the Church and were only later ?plugged in? and made to be a part of the liturgy.

Now on to your questions.? You asked why we don?t use the Apostles? Creed more often.? Perhaps the above information has already, to some extent, answered your first question.? Since we offer the Sacrament of the Altar each week, and by now the association and use of the Nicene Creed with that Sacrament has been firmly established over the last several hundred years of Western Christianity, then it only makes good sense to use the Nicene Creed most of the time.? If you are old enough to remember, you?ll recall that the Divine Service (with Holy Communion) that began on page 15 of The Lutheran Hymnal had no option for a creed other than the Nicene Creed, thus following through on this practice of Christianity of the last 9-10 centuries.

Your second question asked if the Nicene Creed is ?more important? than the Apostles? Creed.? Well, that?s a loaded question! J I?d rather simply say that the Nicene Creed is ?more thorough? than is the Apostles? Creed.? (Again, the Nicene Creed speaks in greater detail than the Apostles? Creed, explaining who Jesus is and His salvific work on the cross for mankind.)? On the same tact, we could also say that the Athanasian Creed is even more thorough than is the Nicene Creed!

One more thing, please keep in mind that part of the reason that we use the Nicene Creed is because in our Lutheran Confessions we clearly state that as Lutherans we desire to continue and not reject the wholesome, beneficial, and historic worship practices of the Church ? something that the Reformer?s adversaries falsely accused them (and us!) of doing.? (See Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession for more details.)? If we were to willy nilly abandon the liturgy of the Church that has been handed down to us, then we?d be doing what we publicly confess that we don?t do!? We use (and don?t jettison) the practices of the greater Church at large.

With that having been written about the Nicene Creed, we still cannot say that the Apostles? Creed is good for nothing.? Far from it!? Remember, its roots had it to be used as a simple, succinct ?instruction? creed of the Christian faith.? To this day, we use it that way, and therefore, it certainly has its place in our lives as God?s redeemed ones.

Dr. Luther, it seems to me, envisioned it used more (not ?only?) in one?s individual and family ?home? life than for the Apostles? Creed to be used within the ?corporate? life of the Church.? For example, look in your copy of Luther?s Small Catechism.? In Section 2, Daily Prayers, Luther writes under the Morning Prayer section:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the? Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord?s Prayer.? If you choose, you can say this little prayer: [Luther?s Morning Prayer is then shown.]

Then joyfully go about your work, singing a hymn? etc.

The creed that Luther has in mind to be ?repeated? is the Apostles? Creed.? Likewise, you?ll notice that Luther strongly suggests that the same creed also be said during the Evening Prayer.? You?ll find these two prayers in the 1991 edition of the Small Catechism on pages 30-31.

Because the Apostles? Creed IS important and IS worthy of our knowing, we continue to use it.? Our present practice is to ensure that at least one weekend each month the Apostles? Creed is used during our Divine Services. ?If a Baptism is scheduled for a given Sunday, then the Apostles? Creed (again, historically associated with that Sacrament) is the creed that we will confess along with the parents and sponsors.? If no Baptism has been held during a given month, then the Apostles? Creed is used during the last week of that month.

Of course, we use the Apostles? Creed at other times within the life of our church.? Our Zion school children use it frequently in their classrooms as well as during our weekly chapel services.? At many of the board meetings the opening devotion often used calls for the Apostles? Creed to be confessed as well.

So, all in all, the Nicene and Apostles? Creeds are (or can be!) used quite frequently in the life of the Christian ? both privately as well as in group settings.? Once again, thank you for your kind, reasoned questions.? No doubt, many of our little Zion benefited from your taking the time to ask!

Pastor Rock