I remember the first time I heard the song “Creed” by the late great Rich Mullins. I was a young Baptist kid attending a Disciple Now weekend with my youth group. Rich showed up looking like a vagabond, barefoot and wearing a ratty white t-shirt. He played a nice set for our gathering, complete with his regular songs such as “Awesome God,” “If I stand,” “O God You Are My God,” and others. At one point, he sang “Creed.” I had very little experience with the historic Christian creeds, and I remember thinking how strange and incredible the language sounded. Every word seemed precise and captured what I believed in a few succinct phrases.

The lyrics of “Creed” hung with me. I purchased the album and listened to the lyrics until I had them memorized. I am embarrassed to say that only later did I realize that I was actually memorizing the words of the Apostles’ Creed, one of the oldest confessions of faith. But that’s not all.

I also learned that the chorus—which runs, “I did not make it, no it is making me, this is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man”—it is not from Rich either. The lyrics are taken from the opening lines of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Referring to his own personal faith, Chesterton writes, “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” For Chesterton, orthodoxy, or a basic confession of faith, is not something we create, but something that is recreating us.

These early confessions of faith uniting a popular 1990s CCM musician, a 20th-century British apologist, and a Baptist youth group exemplify the way confessions thread the Christian tradition. The church has always been and will always be a confessional people. Looking back now, I can also see something else going on. The way Rich brings the creed into worship and his application of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy remind me of the different ways that the early church used creeds within their liturgical and spiritual lives. From its earliest days, the church formed a culture of confession. Discipleship, worship, and the spiritual life were fused with doctrine as the church worked to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Thus, when I consider the performance of creeds in the early church, they used them catechetically, liturgically, and apologetically.

Confessions and Catechesis

Catechesis, or discipleship, was the early Christian process of preparing new members for baptism. Given that many of the new converts were coming out of paganism, the church was concerned about syncretism and hoped to preserve the purity of the church. This meant a longer period of discipleship for potential members and more intensive study of the basic doctrines of the faith.

In his catechetical manual On the Apostolic Preaching, the church father Irenaeus encourages Christians to hold fast to what he calls the “rule of faith.” Like the borders of an athletic field, the rule of faith formed the boundary markers for the church’s confession. The rule of faith typically follows a threefold structure, under the headings of Father, Son, and Spirit mentioned in Matthew 28:19. They added key divine attributes and activities under each heading that described their doctrine of God and the work of God throughout the history of salvation. Irenaeus’ account the rule of faith reads:

This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way a upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.

Other early Christian texts, such as Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures or Augustine’s Enchiridion, use confessions like the Apostles’ Creed to explain the basic structure of the church’s faith. For the early church, there was no true discipleship without some training in confessions of faith.

Confessions and Liturgy

Alongside the catechetical use of confessions, there is a liturgical use. The early church’s liturgy, or the patterns of worship, uses confessions in all kinds of ways. In baptism, for example, early Christians would affirm a basic confession of faith. For the early church, baptism was not a spontaneous, unreflective event, but a time when a new believer stood before the community to proclaim a beautiful confession in the one true God.

The early Christian text On the Apostolic Teaching provides a good example. According to the text, a deacon would descend into the water and welcome the baptism candidate. He would then ask them three questions.
First, he would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?”

Then, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose on the third day living from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, the one coming to judge the living and the dead?”

Finally, he asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?” Each time, the baptismal candidate would simply reply, “I believe.” As they proclaimed each question and answer together, the rest of the Christian community stood in agreement and confirmation of the good confession, welcoming each new believer into the family of God.
There are other ways that confessions were fused with worship, including prayers, songs, and public readings. All these liturgical acts unify the worshiping community around basic doctrinal convictions.

Confessions and Apologetics

Finally, confessions were used apologetically. As the early church grew and expanded, they always encountered new issues of heterodoxy. Some of these heretics include: the Gnostics who rejected the material world, Marcion, who believed the God of the Old Testament was wicked, Arius, who denied the deity of Christ, and Apollinaris, who denied Christ’s humanity. These heretical figures came in waves. As soon as the church dealt with one, another one rose to take his place.

In each case, theologians in the early church composed confessions to address heresy. Irenaeus, for example, composed a confession of faith that stressed God’s work of creation and the incarnation to deal with Gnosticism. Tertullian wrote against Marcion and emphasized the unity of the work of God throughout both Testaments. The Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon rejected the teachings of Arius, Apollinaris, and other Christological heresies. When the church needed to defend and clarify the faith, confessions served an apologetic purpose.


Confessions pervaded the life of the early church. It used them catechetically, liturgically, and apologetically. The early church would not know how to disciple new believers, perform acts of worship, or defend the faith apart from the use of confessions.

These uses are not all that different from the way confessions still function today. Rich Mullins, after all, taught me this. His music was simply carrying on a long tradition that fused confessions with the life and ministry of the church. I am grateful for this tradition that inspired Rich to take the words of an ancient creed and proclaim them to us. Together with Rich, Chesterton, and the early church, I affirm that “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am, I did not make it, no it is making me, It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.”