For many of us, especially those who worship in churches which use a standard liturgy, the words "I Believe" are said pretty much every Sunday. What follows these two important words is usually either the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed. On rare and specific occasions, it might be the Athanasian Creed.
I personally didn't grow up reciting a creed each Sunday as part of the regular worship service. I knew there were certain beliefs which were rather universal between all Christian churches, regardless of their denomination, but I didn't have any set list or formal language to express what those shared beliefs might be. It wasn't until my senior year of college, when I spent time attending the Catholic campus ministry events and the local Catholic church that I was formally introduced to the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds. For me personally, I have since found them to be a valuable tool in reminding me of the basics of the Christian faith. We can argue all we want about how to do communion or if liturgy is meaningful but we all agree that:
- God is three in one - Father, Son, Holy Spirit
- God is a creator God.
- Jesus, the Son of God, became human, died for our sins on the cross, and defeated death in the resurrection.
- The Holy Spirit empowers us to live the life God has called us to live.
- There is eternal life for those who believe and trust in God for their salvation.
These Creeds, these statements of faith, give us a foundation from which we can build our Christian community in the world today. They have stood the test of time and keep us focused on the essential building blocks instead of letting us wander off into often unresolvable ponderings on the finer details of who God is and what it means to live a life of faith. And yet, how many of us really give a lot of thought to what exactly it is that we are saying each Sunday when reciting the words of these creeds? During our spring recharge retreats, our youth campers looked specifically at the Apostle's creed and what it meant to say "I Believe." Over the next several weeks, we are going to be breaking down the Nicene Creed and taking a glance at what it is you say you believe in when you stand and profess your faith on Sundays.
However, before we dive in next week, let's take just a couple of minutes to talk about the three main creeds recognized and used by most Lutheran churches today.
First there is the Apostle's Creed. First formally referenced and recorded between 120 and 250, this creed is often believed to have been taught by the 12 apostles while they were still alive and preaching in the earliest days of the church. It is the simplest and most basic of the three creeds used today as well as the creed highlighted in Luther's Small Catechism.
Next is the Nicene Creed. This creed expands some what on the statements found in the Apostle's Creed but still follows the same basic formula. It's initial version was approved at the Council of Nicea around 325 with some edits believed to have taken place in 381. The additional explanations are largely an attempt to clarify some disputes and controversies that had arisen over the previous two centuries. To look at the differences between these two creeds is to see just how much the early church had to figure out when it came to explaining a triune God and a fully human while also being fully divine Jesus. There were lots of things they were creating language for to try and explain what had happened to the world when it came to Jesus....and that those happenings meant for humanity's relationship to God.
Finally the Athanasian Creed. This one is the longest of the three creeds commonly used today and is believed to have been originally written around the year 500. This creed, like the Nicene Creed before it, addressed several controversies and heresies of the early church. In Lutheran worship, it is generally only used on Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost Sunday...typically in early to mid-June).
It is important to remember that none of these creeds, even the Athanasian as the longest of the three, was meant to answer all of our questions about God and faith. They are meant to be sure the key, foundational, aspects of the Christian faith are maintained. Millions of pages in books and articles have been written trying to fully understand God and how he works. A single creed would never be able to say everything. Plus, even if we did put all the collective wisdom of every Christian, theologian, historian, and Biblical scholar who had ever lived and who still lives today together, we still would not fully know God. Our God is simply that big.
I hope you'll join in and explore what the creeds do have to say in the weeks ahead. And I hope that, as you do, you'll come appreciate more fully what it is you are claiming each Sunday when you are invited to confess your faith using one of these creeds!
- If you had to write a creed which contained the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, what would you be sure to include?
- The next time you are reciting one of the creeds, pay attention to what you are saying. Are there any particular lines or statements you actually have some questions about?
Primary source that was used was THIS ARTICLE on Wikipedia which gives an overview of all Christian creeds and links to additional information.
This post was written by Sara Heutinck:
Pastor - Immanuel Lutheran Swea City
Registrar and BEYOND Author/Editor - IOLBC