The Faith Once for All: The Apostles’ Creed

On front yard lawns and landscapes, I see them everywhere. They are 24’ by 18’ cardboard signs. Each sign contains a collection of beliefs. Typically, they read:

In a cultural moment seemingly allergic to claims of universal truth or comprehensive statements of belief, these signs function as a container of convictions for many Americans. And this container is religious in form. It is a creed.

For thousands of years, creeds have been vital for creating containers of shared beliefs. The historic creeds for Christians have helped the Church stay faithful to the gospel and weather the storms of false ideologies. Like bowling with the gutters raised, creeds have helped the historic Church operate within the lane of orthodoxy.

In this article, I would like to argue that the Apostles’ Creed is an essential container for modern Christians seeking to embody an orthodox faith in the midst of progressive visions of Christianity. To explore this idea, we will first give some context for the Apostles’ Creed and then highlight three key moments in the Creed that counter three progressive alternatives.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day, he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living 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 life everlasting. Amen.

It is not clear who first created the Apostles’ Creed, but it was first recorded in its entirety at the Council of Milan in A.D. 390. However, portions of it are littered throughout the writings of the church fathers before the 4th century. In the Roman church, it is believed this creed functioned as an initiation pathway into the rite of baptism. The creed contains 12 articles representing the 12 apostles and was written in response to the infiltration of Gnosticism into early church communities. You could divide the creed into three parts representing each member of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For ancient Christians, the Apostles’ Creed was a crucial outworking of the core of their faith and that which is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:1-10). In light of this context, I would like to showcase three moments in the Creed that offer conviction and clarity in the face of competing visions from progressive Christianity.

Moment 1: “Creator of heaven and earth”

For Christians seeking to embody an orthodox Christianity, the starting place is having a robust understanding of God as Creator and the forming of his creation. However, I am not primarily talking about the debate between creation and evolution. Instead, I am referring to the reality that God has created with order (structure) and direction. Al Wolter, in his book Creation Regained, uses these terms (structure and direction) as a way to describe how God created the world both inherently good and with an intended direction of development. For example, art is an aspect of God’s good creation (structure) but can be directed in ways that either glorify God or contribute to distortion and sin.

God created the world both inherently good and with an intended direction of development

When it comes to conversations around politics, business, sex, gender, the environment, and economics, modern Christians often bypass reflecting on the structure and direction of these areas of creation and determine we have room to “progress” past archaic understandings. However, the creed challenges Christians to receive God’s vision for all of human life instead of redefining a vision of life that is more palatable for modern ears.

Moment 2: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate”

It might strike the reader of this article as peculiar to focus attention on the phrase: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” But the insight is critical: the central claims of the Christian faith, particularly those related to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, are historical, not merely ideological. Orthodox Christians truly believe Jesus physically died and physically resurrected from the grave. This belief is core to the creed because early Christians were addressing the counter-claims of Gnosticism, which believed Jesus was more of a “ghost” than a human being.

The central claims of the Christian faith, particularly those related to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, are historical, not merely ideological

Like a form of Gnosticism, progressive visions of Christianity simply settle for a mythic version of Jesus that is a powerful idea rather than a tangible person. In this alternative story, Jesus functions more like a cosmic Santa Claus rather than the one “who (is) seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

Moment 3: “The forgiveness of sins”

Lastly, the phrase “forgiveness of sins” names a reality that often is overlooked for modern people. The ultimate antidote to human brokenness is not a greater awareness of childhood trauma or an innovative new strategy, technique, or technology, but rather a recognition of our neediness for forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus. For orthodox Christians, this insight does not demean the real need for therapy and effective tools, but puts them in their proper place as complementary rather than chief among human needs.


As the European world was ripe with religious tensions and factions in the 17th century, a German Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius coined the phrase: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” The Apostles’ Creed provides needed unity for the essentials of orthodox Christianity but also provides a container space for disagreement with a posture of charity. The Creed sets the table for Christians from a variety of backgrounds and traditions to come and feast. But like Jesus, it also leaves space at the table for those exploring or questioning to pull up a chair and listen in to the conversation.

Charlie Meo serves as a pastor with Missio Dei Communities and as the curriculum director for the Surge Network in Phoenix, Arizona. He also contributes as a curriculum creator for City to City North America. He is married to his wife Keaton and together they are raising three kids.