The Lutheran Church is a Creedal Church, that is, we confess our faith in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with statements of belief that originated in the early times of the Christian Church—statements crafted by their writers with great care and diligence that they would be faithful and true to what God has revealed to us about Himself in His Word.
The word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo” meaning I believe. Our Lutheran Confessions include three creeds of the Church, known as the Ecumenical Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed, while not authored by the apostles, is based on the teachings of the apostles and is of the earliest creedal statements used in the Christian Church. The first reference to the creed comes from a letter from a council in Milan, likely written by St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, to Pope Siricius in about AD 390: “Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled.” The Lutheran Service Book includes the Apostles’ Creed in the following form:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And 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 into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian* Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life + everlasting. Amen.
*“Christian”: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.
The Nicene Creed originates from a time of controversy within the Christian Church during the fourth century. A Libyan priest in Alexandria, by the name of Arius, taught that Jesus, while being divine, was a being created by the Father and, therefore, not of the same essence with the Father. A Council of the whole Christian Church was called in 325 at Nicea, in what is now Turkey, to settle the trouble caused by the teaching of Arius. At the Council, Arius was declared a heretic, his teaching was anathematized, and a statement was forged that expressed the truth about Christ as revealed by Scripture. At the Second Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 381, the creed written in Nicea was refined. Because of this, the creed is sometimes referred to as the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.” The Lutheran Service Book includes the Nicene Creed in the following form:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men* and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian** and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life + of the world to come. Amen.
* “for us men” means all people.
**“Christian”: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.
During medieval times, writing of the Athanasian Creed was credited to St. Athanasius of Alexandria and his name was applied to the creed. Whether the Creed can be ascribed to St. Athanasius or not, and most probably it cannot, it undoubtedly owes it existence to Athanasian influences, for the expressions and doctrinal colouring exhibit too marked a correspondence, in subject-matter and in phraseology, with the literature of the latter half of the fourth century and especially with the writings of the saint, to be merely accidental. These internal evidences seem to justify the conclusion that it grew out of several provincial synods, chiefly that of Alexandria, held about the year 361, and presided over by St. Athanasius. (source: newadvent.com)
The creed was prepared to assist the Church in combating two errors that undermined Bible teaching. One error denied that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are of one being or Godhead with the Father. The other error denied that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person. The Athanasian Creed continues to serve the Christian Church as a standard of the truth. It declares that whoever rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ is without the saving faith. The Lutheran Service Book includes the Athanasian Creed in the following form:
Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another. But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit: The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated; The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite; The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet there are not three Eternals, but one Eternal, just as there are not three Uncreated or three Infinites, but one Uncreated and one Infinite. In the same way, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; And yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord. Just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, So also are we prohibited by the catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords. The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. Thus, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped. Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; And He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: Perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: One, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God; one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ, Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, Ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead. At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds. And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.