Theology Thursday: Why Does the Apostles' Creed Matter?

A cross stands alone in an empty grass field

Whenever we are learning something, it is helpful to ask questions about the significance of what we are learning. Does it matter? What should we do if it is true?

As we wrap up our trek through the Apostles' Creed, it is good to pause and ask ourselves: Why does the Apostles' Creed matter?

Drawing the Lines

C.S. Lewis outlines an apologetic presentation he gave in 1945 to youth workers of the Church of Wales in his book "God in the Dock" (1970). Understanding the nature of apologetics as a defense of the faith, Lewis begins with the question, “What do you propose to defend?” This question came from his concern that many clergy and laymen in the Anglican Church had crossed a line, abandoning Anglican beliefs but still maintaining their ministry in the Anglican Church.

He says lines must be drawn.

“I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.”       — C. S. Lewis

When we look at the historic creeds of the Church like the Apostles’ Creed, we must understand that their function was to draw the lines of Christian beliefs. As the church faced variations of belief and rival claims about the nature of God, Jesus, salvation and so on, there was a need to draw the line and say, “This is as far as we can go!” Christianity can hold a great many variations on a great many things, but to transgress these lines is to move into something that is no longer Christian.

Moving Beyond Preference

A second concern for Lewis was that, without these clear lines, one is tempted to confuse personal preferences with the Christian faith. 

“Drawing lines has one very good effect upon the apologist himself. It forces him, again and again, to face up to those elements in original Christianity, which he personally finds obscure or repulsive.” — C.S. Lewis

He viewed this positively because — like the scientist who is tethered to data — the lines of the faith force the Christian to face the facts and to wrestle with them, rather than retreating to his or her preferences, preunderstandings or prejudices. This tension between “what the Christian faith is” and “what we want the Christian faith to be” is the stimulus for learning and growth.

The Apostles’ Creed serves as a tether. Whatever we might want the Christian faith to be, whatever we might prefer, whatever we might think in our own thoughts, the Apostles’ Creed tells us what is Christian. This is what Christians have been confessing for 2,000 years.

To use Lewis’ analogy, if we Christians — like the scientist — resist the temptation to simply discard the data that does not fit our preferences and prejudices and continue to wrestle with it, we may discover new heights and depths of understanding.

A Tethered Mind

So why does the Apostles’ Creed matter? The Creed keeps us tethered. One does not naturally associate tethering as a good thing, but Jesus says that if you know the truth, the truth will set you free. Truth is a kind of tether to reality. It is limiting but freeing.

The Creed keeps us free from being tossed about in the sea of competing ideas. It gives us the eyes to see clearly what is Christian and what is not. The Creed also protects us from ourselves. It protects us from the error in thinking that we can make Christianity whatever we want it to be. It frees us from the limitations of our own minds. The Creed tethers us to the generations of brothers and sisters who have confessed and testified to the Gospel in every generation on every continent so that we do not go it alone.

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