I’m reading through Ben Myers’ short book The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, and in the first chapter he says that the creed comes from the “rule of faith,” which was a distillation of the faith of the apostles, which is rooted “ultimately in the word of the risen Christ himself.”
Myers says this ancient rule of faith had two functions. First, it was educational. It was the essence of the catechesis given to new Christians. The trinitarian confession of faith was memorized and understood so that it could never be lost or forgotten.
But secondly (and more interestingly to me), the rule of faith was sacramental. It was confessed during the baptismal rite itself, like a pledge of allegiance, like marriage vows. Words that perform, not just inform. “In baptism, something is brought into being as the words are spoken,” Myers says, “It is the words, just as much as the water, that make a baptism. By these words a person becomes a disciple of Jesus and a member of his community.”
We confess the Apostles’ Creed every week in our worship gathering, and I find it helpful to think of this action as sacramental, not just educational or informational. As we confess our faith together, we aren’t just reciting some facts about God and salvation history. We aren’t consolidating power (as creeds are often accused of doing – which I understand, because I think it is possible to use creeds in this way. But I don’t think the creeds are inherently instruments of exclusion and power-hoarding).
When we confess the creed together as the church, we are doing something sacramental: participating in the reality we speak of. Confessing the creed participates in the life the creed speaks of. To say “I believe…” is not so much to confess individual confidence but to confess corporate belonging and participation in the Church of Jesus Christ, across time and space. The communion of saints throughout the world and throughout the ages who belong to Christ and participate in the life of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.