On April 6, 1252, a man named Peter of Verona was traveling from Como to Milan. Along the way he met a group of assassins. These men were Manichaeans against whom Peter had been preaching. One of the assassins, a man named Carino, struck Peter with an axe in the head. It knocked him to the ground. Before he died, however, he had just enough strength to rise up on his knees, take his finger, and write in his own blood a form of the first three words of the Apostles’ Creed: “Credo in Deum,” “I believe in God.” Then he was struck down for good.
The painter Fra Angelico has immortalized this amazing moment in his painting of the scene. There, we see the bloodied Peter of Verona on bended knee, his murderer preparing for the final deadly blow, and the words in his own blood: “Credo in Deum.”
That Peter would write the first words of the Apostles’ Creed is telling and moving. In his last moments he wanted to offer an articulation of his heart’s conviction concerning the Christian faith, concerning Jesus. So he wrote “Credo!” It is my sincere prayer that we, too, if we knew that our next breath would be our last, would write or say or sing or shout, “Credo! I believe!”
The Apostles’ Creed is ancient creed, the early forms of which reach back to the 2nd century, that many churches the world over look to as a helpful and inspiring summary statement of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
We are Baptist Christians and some Baptists are of the opinion that creeds have no place in our lives together. I would argue that creeds are helpful, historically-grounded, and unifying statements of faith that have been treasured by Baptists. What Baptists reject is (a) the elevation of any human statement to the level of scripture and/or (b) the imposition of man-made statements upon the people of God in an oppressive man. But there is a right use of creeds.
In fact, if you object to something like the Apostles’ Creed you may find it interesting to know that Baptist history does indeed show some Baptists turning to the creeds as helpful tools. For instance, some of the General Baptists of England, in 1678, included in their “Orthodox Creed” the following article:
Of the Three Creeds.
The Three Creeds, (viz.) Nicene Creed, Athanasius his Creed, and the Apostles Creed, (as they are commonly called) ought thoroughly to be received and believed. For we believe they may be proved by most undoubted Authority of holy Scripture, and are necessary to be understood of all Christians; and to be instructed in the knowledge of them, by the Ministers of Christ, according to the Analogie of Faith, recorded in sacred Scriptures (upon which these Creeds are grounded), and Catechistically opened, and expounded in all Christian families, for the edification of Young and Old; which might be a means to prevent Heresy in doctrine and practice, these Creeds containing all things in a brief manner, that are necessary to be known, fundamentally, in order to our Salvation…
Well, that is quite a statement! I believe these earlier Baptists were correct! There is more.
In 1905, the Baptist World Alliance had their inaugural meeting in London. There, under the guidance of the BWA president, they joined together for the recitation of The Apostles’ Creed. The BWA would do so again in 2005 in their meeting in Birmingham, England.
Baptist theologian Steve Harmon, quoting Keith Parker’s Baptists in Europe, has pointed out that “the first paragraph of the confession adopted in 1977 by German-speaking Baptist unions in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland ‘presupposes the Apostles’ Creed as a common confession of Christendom’…and the initial paragraph of the confession approved by the Swedish-Speaking Baptist Union of Finland in 1979 ‘accepts the Apostolic Creed as the comprehensive creed for the union.’” James Leo Garrett has further pointed out that the “latest declaration by European Baptists recognizes the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Symbol of Chalcedon.”
On occasion one hears the protest against Baptist use of Creeds that Baptists hold to “no creed but the Bible.” But this statement needs to be rightly understood. Yes, Baptists adhere to the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, the scriptures alone. But Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett has persuasively argued that sola scriptura (scripture alone) does not mean nuda scriptura (naked scripture) but rather means suprema scriptura (the scriptures as supreme). Put another way, Baptists do not believe it is wrong to draft and recite and use confessions and creeds that are summaries of the faith. We simply believe it is always wrong to elevate any such creed or confession to the level of the scriptures. These creeds may serve as helps (thus scripture is not denuded) but they must always be subservient to and judged by the supreme standard of scripture (thus suprema scriptura). We intend to judge the Apostles’ Creed in the light of the scriptures which are our supreme norm and guide.
We begin with the first word, “Credo,” “I believe.”
To believe is to trust and not merely to know.
We begin by observing that to “believe” means to “trust” and not merely to “know.” There is a difference between mere intellectual assent and the actual kind of trust that compels one to lean into the reality one professes to believe.
Consider the famous example of Peter in Matthew 14, after the disciples encounter Jesus walking on the water.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter’s belief, though it wanes on the stormy waters in a moment of panic, nonetheless proved itself to have a core of trust when he stepped out of that boat. Had Peter merely stayed on the boat and shouted, “It is enough to know that I could walk to you on the water,” his belief would always have been suspect and questioned. But Peter demonstrated his belief by manifesting it in trust. Even Peter’s sinking demonstrates this fact: when he, distracted by and terrified of his hostile surroundings, began not to trust, he began to sink.
The classic definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11.
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
There is a substance to faith. The language demonstrates this fact: assurance, conviction. These are the ingredients of a belief that actually trusts! James, in the second chapter of his letter, seems to outright taunt belief as intellectual assent.
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
If saving faith were a matter of mere assent then the devil himself would be saved, no? But it is not. It is assent incarnate in trust. Do you believe? Can you say “Credo!” and seal it with your blood?
As a boy, I was always enthralled by the oft-repeated sermon illustration about Charles Blondin. Blondin walked across Niagara Falls on a 2-inch hemp tightrope numerous times in the 19th century. He would spend a long time out there on that rope doing various tricks: taking pictures with a tripod camera, cooking food on a stove, etc., all to the amazement of the shocked crowd! He once asked how many in the audience thought he could push a wheelbarrow with a human being in it across the falls on that tightrope. Everybody cheered their belief that he could. Then he asked, “Ok, who will volunteer!” Complete silence.
Do you see? To say “credo,” biblically, is to get in the wheelbarrow. It is to stake your very life on what you say you believe.
To believe is to dare to trust even in the face of struggle and of doubt.
To believe, biblically, is also to dare to trust even in the face of struggle and doubt!
What of the Christian who loves Jesus, who trusts in Jesus, but who is struggling to hold on to faith? I believe there is no end to bad thinking on this point by many Baptists.
One of our problems is that we think of “doubt” in monolithic terms as if all doubt is the same thing. But surely we know this is not the case, right? There is indeed a doubt that is the fruit of sin. I am thinking of the person who rebels against the Christ they earlier trusted in, the person who sins, who falls and refuses to repent, who neglects prayer, who neglects study of the word of God, who is not following Jesus. Such people—and, if we are honest, “such people” are all of us at times—invite doubt into our lives. This kind of doubt mocks us and robs us of joy and assurance. This is one kind of doubt.
But what of the person who has just buried their child? What of the person with the crippling, painful, debilitating disease? What of the victim of horrendous abuse? What of the person who is suffering? To be sure, there are people in all of the categories I just mentioned who find a way to still say, “Credo!” But there are others among these dear people who love Jesus but have had their faith dealt a brutal blow. So they are doubting. They are struggling. The questions of why God is allowing this, of whether or not God is there, of whether or not, if God is there, He is good, plague them.
Can you see the difference between these two kinds of doubt? Can you appreciate that there is a difference?
In Mark 9, we see an example of doubt that is not tied to conscious rebellion. Listen:
20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
What a heart-rending cry for help: “I believe; help my unbelief!” In the person of this suffering father, in the face of his suffering son, he cries it with honesty that his belief is walking hand-in-hand with his doubt.
And what does Jesus do? Does he scold the man? No. Does he rebuke the man? No. No, he heals the man’s son. And, in doing so, Jesus demonstrates definitively that it is possible to say “Credo!” with integrity while being honest about our struggles.
I say this because many Christians have grown up in environments where they have been told that any doubt of any kind is rebellion, is sin, that if you question at all then you do not believe. On the contrary, let me argue this: the person who believes even alongside the struggle of doubt but who yet trusts in Jesus and comes to Him has more authentic faith than the person who claims to have stalwart faith but never really trusts and follows.
It is actual trust, not the absence of genuine struggle, that demonstrates the reality of faith!
Consider too the request of the disciples in Luke 17.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
There are two points to be made here. First, here again, we see followers of Jesus admitting that their faith is not all that it should be. The request, “Increase our faith!”, assumes that it is, in some sense, small and deficient. Second, Jesus’ use of the diminutive metaphor of “mustard seed” shows that he is not calling them to instant heroism but rather to the first steps of actual trust-belief!
Church, I am not first asking you if you will be Peter of Verona, writing your faith in your own blood as a martyr. I am simply asking you this: will you bring your mustard seed faith to the King of Kings and dare to say, simply but clearly, “Credo, Jesus. Credo. I am struggling, but here is my belief nonetheless! Credo! It is small but it is true! I believe! Help my unbelief!”
To believe is to let the conviction of the heart overflow in confession and praise.
To believe is to trust, it is true. But to believe is also to confess and to praise. Paul, in Romans 10, connects belief with verbal confession, namely, with the verbal confession and the heart conviction that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead.
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
“You will be saved.” This is saving faith: the conviction of the Lordship of Jesus and of the fact that He lives. And how do we “confess” if not in word and prayer and song and praise? This is our baptismal confession: “Jesus is Lord!” This is our daily confession: “Jesus is Lord!” This is our animating driving heartbeat: “Jesus is Lord!” and “Jesus lives!”
And this belief will not disappoint. “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Church, we will all one day take our last breath and, if we are Christ’s, we will open our eyes and look into His face!
To have faith, to believe, is to trust that Jesus truly is Lord, that Jesus truly lives, and that Jesus will not disappoint. To believe is know that you are not just rolling the dice. This is no improbable gamble. No, it is a trusting relationship with the living God through the person of His Son, Jesus.
“Faith means following Jesus into the mystery of God,” writes Australian theologian Michael Bird. And again: “But faith is not like a person blindly jumping in the dark. Faith is more like a leap into the light.”
This this I say, “Amen!”
This is the opening word of the Apostles’ Creed. Let us conclude by consider the creed in its totality.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his 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 to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
 Harmon, Steven R. Towards Baptist Catholicity. Studies in Baptist History and Thought. Vol.27 (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2006) 9.
 Harmon, 36–37n43.
 Garrett, James Leo, Jr. “Major Emphases in Baptist Theology.” The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr., 1950–2015. Vol.1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2017) 46.
 Garrett, James Leo, Jr. “The Authority of the Bible for Baptists.” The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr., 1950–2015. Vol.1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2017) 248.
 Bird, Michael F. What Christians Ought to Believe. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2016), 54, 51.