Today, I’m going to share a little bit more about myself than usual. I’ve had to delay some of the bible studies I’m working on for a few days, and was really in more of a reading and research mode. Today I spent my lunch break reading over the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creeds. I served in the US Army (both Active Duty and Reserve) for 12 years. My first exposure to creeds of any kind was in the Basic Training. I don’t like creeds, as a general rule. Rote memorization and ceremonial recitation of creeds seemed motivational at best, hypocritical at worst, and superfluous at very stages in between. When I entered the Army, we had the Soldier’s Creed, and then I got promoted and learned the NCO Creed. My job fell under Military Intelligence so I can honestly say that the MI Creed is the most ridiculous and horribly written piece of garbage I’ve ever had to memorize/recite. It is as though someone collected some 12 or 13 “cool” phrases on separate strips of paper, threw them into the air, and then picked up each one at random and kluged together a creed out of it. Clearly, I have an anti-creed bias. That is not to say that having a creed is bad, nor am I saying that liturgy is bad. There are good creeds, and the 3 we are looking at today are good creeds. I didn’t grow up in Liturgical Churches, I grew up in non-liturgical churches, mostly Pentecostal in their doctrine and worship. In some ways, I consider myself a recovering Pentecostal (not as an attack on the Pentecostal faith; rather, that I held on to some Pentecostalisms without questioning their Biblical foundations), and am now seeking to understand the scriptures based on what is found in scripture, rather than what any denomination says. In my study of the scriptures, I’ve found a great deal of insight and guidance from Lutheran and Presbyterian theologians, pastors, and writings (among other Christian denominations). I am not planning on joining either denomination, but a major part of my recovery process is to acknowledge that the work of “rightly handling the Word of God” has been done, and can be done by students of the scriptures regardless of their denominational affiliation. In fact, I’ve since adopted the Lutheran distinction between “Law” and “Gospel”. And that the teaching of Law is to expose sin, but it must be immediately followed by Gospel. But I digress… today, let’s talk a little bit about the creeds. For those of you who are Lutherans, I’d like you to know that the copies of the creeds I will be discussing were taken from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (for the specific document click here). By the way, I really liked their website.
One thing I’d like to point out now before we read the creeds, is please note that there is a difference in “catholic” and “Catholic” church. The lower-case “catholic” means “universal” meaning the universal Church as in the whole doctrine of Jesus Christ, not to be confused with the “Catholic” church which falls under the Pope in Rome.
The Apostle’s Creed
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. 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 catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed
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.
The Athanasian Creed
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.
Great work, research, study, debate, and prayer went into the forming of these creeds. These creeds explain the essential points of the Gospel in condensed form, so that a Christian can rightly say how they know they have been redeemed, and that they are in right-standing with God. They are beautiful and powerful. Some Liturgical churches recite these creeds as part of their worship, to serve as teaching, confession, acknowledgment, reverence and honor for the Word of God. These are good creeds. But they are not in themselves, the Word of God, but a confessional summary of the Word of God. A great tool for being able to quickly summarize the key points of faith, but not an end unto themselves.
Christians should push beyond the creeds to be able to cite and explain directly from Scriptures, their faith in God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, I’d like to see the Church return not just to great teachers of the past (Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Luther, Calvin, ect…) but all the way back to the Bible. Where we look to the Law and the Prophets to explain the Greatness of God, the Trinity, His Promises, and His ultimate Promise of the Messiah, and to expose our sin, and then the New Testament Gospel for the Revelation of the Promised One, the Messiah, the One who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, and that we are made righteous by Grace through Faith in the Gift of God, and the new promise that He will return for His People. Amen.
Until then, those who use the creeds, awesome! If you don’t use the creeds, be sure you’ve replaced them with sound, Biblical Doctrine. I’m not against modern worship (I’m a big fan of awesome music) but the content of the worship needs to be biblical Truth, Confessions, and Praise of the One True God… not merely entertainment and emotional warm-up/pep-rally.
May the Lord bless and keep you,