As we continue with our series ‘Who is God?’, I want to draw your attention to the structure of The Apostle’s Creed. It would be a shame for us to teach all the way through the creed without pointing out the overall structure. That would be to miss the forest from the trees. So let me point out the forest. The creed has a three-part structure:
- I believe in God the Father
- I believe in Jesus Christ God’s only Son
- I believe in the Holy Spirit. One God,
three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The key verse behind the structure is Matthew 28:18-20:
Go and make disciples of all nations… baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
To baptise means ‘to immerse in water’, but do you see what Jesus says people are to be immersed in? They are to be immersed “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. To be immersed in the ‘name’ of God is to be immersed in the ‘being’ of God.
Why are we to be immersed in the being of God? Because that is what we were made for – relationship with God! That is the very essence of salvation! To be brought back into relationship with God by having our sins washed away through Jesus’ death on the cross.
When a person in the 4th century wanted to be baptised, before they could be immersed in water they had to be immersed in (taught) the Apostle’s Creed. Easter Sunday was the time for baptism in the water, but Lent was the time for baptism in the Apostle’s Creed. I doubt many of us have experienced such an immersion (into the creed, that is).
Alister McGrath provides an excerpt from a sermon preached in the 4th century to those who had just been baptised:
“You were asked, ‘Do you believe in God the Father almighty?’ You replied ‘I believe,’ and were immersed, that is, were buried.
Again, you were asked, ‘Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and his cross?’ You replied, ‘I believe,’ and were immersed…
A third time you were asked, ‘Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?’ You replied, ‘I believe,’ and were immersed for a third time.”
It is comforting and amazing to me that our Anglican baptism service has barely changed since then. We continue to ask these questions and recite The Apostle’s Creed. It illustrates the fact that ‘the communion of saints’ reaches across the ages and not just across the globe. To revisit the theme of ‘passing on the baton’, it reminds me of Psalm 145:4:
One generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.