A creed has a dictionary definition of a “formal statement of Christian beliefs.” The most common and well known creed is known as the Apostles creed, written in the third century, authored by who many say to be the Twelve Apostles. As there is twelve lines in the Apostles creed, and twelve apostles, it’s said that each contributed to a line in the creed.
There were many reasons why creeds were written; the most famous being the Apostles creed and the Nicene creed, penned by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. During the third century, the church in Rome had spent many years in secrecy and seclusion to avoid persecution. The church was in fragments.
When Constantine came into power as emperor of Rome in 306 AD, he made significant changes in religious rights and freedoms; no longer were Christians to be persecuted for their faith. After surveying, however, the damaged belief systems of the early church, he wrote the Nicene creed, a statement of beliefs stemming from the four Canonical gospels.
The third century was really a chaotic time for Christians. They weren’t allowed to practice their beliefs in public, and therefore there was a lot of underground preaching and evangelizing. It was during this time that Gnostic Christianity made its rounds, confusing authentic faith with spiritualism.
Gnosticism influenced Christian theology and was an inaccurate interpretations of the teachings of Jesus that came to full height in the first through fourth century, reaching a peak towards the end of the third century. Influenced in part by Plato, its statement of beliefs include a lower knowledge of wisdom only accessible through the higher teachings of Christ, and belief in shunning the material world altogether, in sacrifice of focus fully on the spiritual. Needless to say, it hardly lines up with the canon gospels. The gospels (using the term lightly) considered to be Gnostic (such as the Gospel of Thomas) were written too long after the resurrection of Jesus to be considered canon. However, Gnostic Christianity and orthodox teachings shared many of the same terminology, which made it hard to differentiate.
It’s easy to imagine, then, a statement of beliefs produced in an easy to read and understand format; simple and laid out for everyone to comprehend. Gnostic views on Christianity died out in roughly the fourth century, but the creeds that came out of that time period are still used today.
Hillsong Church released the latest version of the Apostle’s creed, updated to contemporary music, after John Dickson, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity, sent out a tweet asking the group to put music to the ancient statement of beliefs. They released This I Believe (Creed) on their studio album No Other Name, and we recently introduced it to our church body during Sunday morning worship. It was really neat to be able to sing words that were written so long ago by faithful believers of Christ, who longed to make sure his message of truth was accessible to everyone.