A Friendly Introduction to the Nicene Creed, Part II

Let me take a few minutes to offer a brief introduction to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed defines precisely and thoroughly what we believe the Church has always confessed and what has been of primary importance to the Church universal. We can talk about the Apostle’s Creed, but the Apostle’s Creed, though significant, is not as thorough, and historically has never been the central creed of the Church. On the other hand, the Nicene Creed is the most widely used Creed in the world. There are a whole range of questions that can be tackled in this study, which I do not intend to tackle, but if you desire I can provide a list of books, some of which are free on-line.

As I have mentioned earlier the Creeds emerged as a result of fighting heresies. The Nicene Creed[1] was the result of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.[2] The Council was convened because of the “prevailing questions concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and God the Father.”[3] Let me make a few observations about the Nicene Creed:

The first significant detail about the Nicene Creed is its first two words. The Creed begins with the words: “We believe.” The Nicene Creed is not a catechetical creed like the Apostle’s Creed; that is, the Nicene Creed is not meant as a tool to memorize in a catechism class, it is meant as a tool to confess in corporate worship. The Nicene Creed is the Creed of the Church. It is meant for the “we” of corporate worship. This is one reason it is the most widely used Creed in the Church. Whereas the Apostle’s Creed was not a Creed formulated by a council or a court, the Nicene Creed was formulated by courts and council as a response to heresies in the early church.[4] The Nicene Creed is a not the expression of an individual, but of the Church. In other words, you cannot confess this Creed apart from the Church, because this is a “WE” Creed, not an “I” Creed.

b)      The other point to observe is that the Nicene Creed does not separate the “We believe” from the “We Shall live.” In other words, there is something immensely beautiful about this Creed in that it calls us to worship the God revealed in Scriptures. Athanasius once wrote that:

“Faith and godliness are connected and are sisters: he who believes in God is not cut off from godliness, and he who has godliness really believes.”[5]

This is not a mere intellectual creed that we put in our pockets and take out when we encounter a member of a cult. To declare that “we believe in One God, the Father Almighty,” means that we are also trusting in the One God, the Father Almighty. We are trusting that He will be a powerful God for us. In other words, to believe is to trust and to trust is to believe.[6] L. Charles Jackson wrote: “Just as the Son is inseparable from the Father, so faith cannot be separated from godly living.”[7] To summarize this section let me quote T.F. Torrance who wrote that: “ An outstanding mark of the Nicene approach was its association of faith and…godliness, that is with a mode of worship, behavior and thought that was devout and worthy of God and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[8]

c)      The other fascinating detail about the Nicene Creed is that it is a beautiful narrative that flows brilliantly from beginning to end. It begins with Creation: He is maker of heaven and Earth and it ends in Consummation: We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. When we confess the Nicene Creed we are confessing the story of redemption; we are confessing the story that the Church has fought for and died for and lived for in the last two thousand years. We are essentially confessing the historicity of Genesis through Revelation; that all that is written is true and right and to be loved. When we confess this Creed together we are confessing our people’s history, our Lord’s life and our life. We are confessing that we are a part of all those events. Why did Jesus come down from heaven? The Nicene Creed teaches us that He came down only for the sake of the Father; NO, it teaches us that he came down certainly to obey His father, but He came also for US and for OUR Salvation. You see this Creed is about us and our salvation. It anchors us in redemption and it anchors us in God’s story.

d)     The other unique element of the Nicene Creed is found in the penultimate sentence of the Creed: “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” When we think of our confession, when we think what it means to be a Christian we may think of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, or the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, but I would say that very few in this country would add a belief in the Church as “part of their gospel confession.”[9] Most people would say they believe in it, but that it is not vital to their confession. I think some would say: “Of course the Church is important, but it is not central.”[10] It is hard then to imagine the average American confessing the Church as part of their life-and-death creed. What did our Ancient Fathers, what did our Reformation forefathers say about the Church? They said that “apart from the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Is it possible for someone to be saved in their deathbeds or in some remote location where gathering for worship is not possible? Yes. But this has never been the ordinary way in which people come into a true and lasting relationship with Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith echoing the Nicene Creed says in Chapter 25:

“…the Church which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

God has ordained that His bride be the ordinary way for salvation to come to the world.   This is why Paul says in Ephesians 3 that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God will be made known.

Some years ago George Barna wrote a book urging Christians to find a vibrant faith outside the Church. He writes in his book “…believers should choose from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.”[11] George Barna says that this would be a true revolution. One writer responded to Barna by saying:

“Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together,[12] the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany; Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church. That’s something so spiritually challenging that several million people no longer want to do it.”[13]

Conclusion

To be Creedal means to be one with the people of God, one in faith, one in baptism, and one in submission to the Lord. The Nicene Creed brings all these themes together. It is a Creed to be confessed and loved by the Church.


[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed for distinction between Constantinople (381) and Nicea (325).

[2] At that time, the text ended after the words “We believe in the Holy Spirit”, after which an anathema was added

[3] Charles Jackson, 8.

[4] These same heresies are still widespread in our day, except using different titles.

[5] Jackson, 15.

[6] See Jackson, 16.

[7] Ibid. 17

[8] Ibid. 17

[9] Jackson.

[10] Jackson. 105.

[11] Quoted in CT http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/january/13.69.html?start=2

[12] Bonhoeffer writes: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (p. 77).”

[13] Ibid.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Creeds. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s