Thursday, May 19, 2011

What do Mormons have against the Apostles' Creed?

This blog looks at the Apostles' creed, asking why is it so abominable to recite and believe?

A brief history
The apostles' creed is the earliest creed used by the Christian church. It has changed over the years, but is essentially a summary of the Christian faith. It deals with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It also deals with the church and second coming.

However, its name is misleading. It was not written by the apostles themselves. In fact, they probably knew nothing about it. It comes from the era after the apostles, following 100 AD onwards. There was a legend, which started in the 5th or 6th century AD that the apostles came together before they were about to set off and spread the gospel. Supposedly they each contributed one item to the creed as a basis of what they taught. As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, though, this story is “absurd.”

Known early on as “the rule of faith”, variations of the creed appear in early works of the Christian church. The writer of the ISBE article states: “We have accounts given us of its contents (besides the Old Roman Form) in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Origen, etc.; and they show substantial unity with a certain freedom of form in expression.”1 This means that essentially the same information appears but worded differently.

For the actual apostles' creed, there are two forms which we possess today; a shorter version, probably Roman in origin, and a longer form. Below are the two versions.


“I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (the life everlasting).”


“I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; [He descended into hell]; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy [catholic]2 Church; [the communion of saints]; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; [and the life everlasting]. Amen.”

The shorter form seems to be the oldest, and the longer, or 'received' form is what most know and use today. Philip Schaff, in Volume 2 of History of the Christian Church shows what was added in the sixth or seventh century. These are marked with square brackets [] above.

The creed started off as a baptismal confession and was expanded over time. It was also employed for other uses. In the middle of the second century, a heresy known as Gnosticism threatened Christianity. The confession became used as a 'rule of faith' or 'rule of truth' to test if someone was holding to the true faith or not. (Irenaeus in the mid-first century is an example of its use as a rule of faith. Hippolytus, early third century, is an example of its use as a baptismal confession. See Appendix 1)

However, while it was used to test the faith, it never became greater than Scripture. Scripture was never set aside in favour of the creed alone. If the creed could not be shown to be scriptural then it was worthless. If it did not help guard the true faith of Christianity and allow the true meaning of Scripture to prevail, then it had failed its task.

The contents
Schaff writes about the creed: “It follows the historical order of revelation of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, beginning with the creation and ending with the resurrection and life eternal. It clusters around Christ as the central article of our faith. It sets forth living facts, not abstract dogmas and speaks in the language of the people, not of the theological school. It confines itself to the fundamental truths, is simple, brief, and yet comprehensive, and admirably adapted for catechetical and liturgical use.”3

Anyone reading the creed can see immediately that its contents are from Scripture. Despite the later additions, there is nothing un-scriptural about the creed. The only dubious phrase is “he descended into hell.” Yet, surely no one could find any problem with this creed as a summary of the Christian faith? Surely as a baptismal confession or 'rule' by which to test false hood, it does its job?

This is why it is so puzzling that it should be classed as an “abomination” by the Mormon church! Do they not believe these things?

In the official first vision account of the Joseph Smith, he writes that he went into the woods to seek from the Lord which sect of Christianity he should join. Two persons appeared, one God the Father, the other his Son, and Jesus spoke to Smith. He was told that all of the sects were wrong, “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight”, and that all the professors of Christianity were corrupt. Therefore, this creed must also be an abomination.

Yet, the question has to be: What is so abominable about this creed? Is it belief in God the Father Almighty? Belief in the resurrection of Christ after three days? Belief that there is an eternal life, with a judgement preceding it? Even the addition of a descent into hades cannot be an abomination in Mormon theology.

It also cannot mean that creeds in themselves are an abomination. The thirteen articles of faith in Mormonism are a creed. Creed comes from the Latin credo and means “I believe”. The thirteen articles each start with “We believe”. Oliver Cowdery also gave a creed in the early Mormon church similar to the thirteen articles.4 Despite the use of “We”, they are definitely creedal statements and fall under the definition of a creed. Every time someone says “I believe” Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God etc., then they are using a type of creed.

Yet, perhaps it isn't an abomination. If it isn't, then why not affirm it? If you do, however, will that then make you corrupt also? Why would God tell Smith that something so fundamentally in line with Scripture is an abomination?

We have to end by echoing Schaff's words in Creeds of Christendom Vol. 1. Although the attacks he writes about were different, the same implication is true. He writes: "The rationalistic opposition to the Apostles' Creed and its use in the churches is therefore an indirect attack upon the New Testament itself. But it will no doubt outlive these assaults, and share in the victory of the Bible over all forms of unbelief." If you don't believe the apostles' creed, then you do have a problem with the New Testament itself.

What is the basic problem with affirming the apostles' creed? What is so abominable? Perhaps a Mormon can shed some light.

Appendix 1:
Irenaeus gives us an example of it employed as a rule of faith. Hippolytus knows it as a baptismal confession. These appear below.

"This faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race"

"When the person being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say: 'Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?' And the person being baptized shall say: 'I believe.' Then holding his hand on his head, he shall baptize him once.

"And then he shall say: 'Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?'

"And when he says: 'I believe,' he is baptized again. And again he shall say: 'Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy church, and the resurrection of the body?' The person being baptized shall say: 'I believe,' and then he is baptized a third time."


2. This does not refer to the Roman Catholic church but the universal church of Christ


4. Messenger and Advocate 1(1), October 1834, p. 2

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