By Walker Woods
What we truly believe shapes who we are and how we conduct ourselves within the walls of the church and in our daily interactions with the world. Our presuppositions, the things that we hold as truth above all other truths, control the way we process information. As believers in Christ we have been given the gift of wisdom to discern who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. If we believe that all Scripture is inerrant, all sufficient, and inspired by God, then we must also adhere to the fact that all God has revealed about His character is through His written word. The scriptures are expansive, and the culminating effects of God’s Word shape our understanding and mold our hearts through faith and convictions. Christian Creeds are a clear way to convey the most essential and basic beliefs of the faith.
The word “Creed” is defined as a set of beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions. Christian Creeds are simply a summation of the most essential doctrines of the Christian Faith. Despite the disclosure of the nature of God through Scripture, our finite hearts and minds struggle to hold the truth. Creeds allow us to preach truths to ourselves in a clear and concise way to confidently subvert the fragility of our minds. John Calvin eludes to this in “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by stating: “But as our ignorance and sloth (I may add, the vanity of our mind) stand in need of eternal helps, by which faith may be begotten in us, and may increase and make progress until its consummation, God, in accommodation to our infirmity, has added such helps, and secured the effectual preaching of the gospel, by depositing this treasure with the church.” Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion” Page 672 4.1.1. The nature of confessional creeds serve as simplified effectual preaching of the gospel and help in spreading the truth throughout the church.
Two particular creeds, The Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed are the most widely accepted and broadly used confessional creeds in the church. These creeds serve as bold proclamations directed at the revelations from God that form the basis of our faith. We cannot truly know God if we do not know who God is as revealed to us in his word. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are clear, concise doctrinal proclamations of who God is. These creeds exist to reaffirm the proper view of the Triune God and the Divine Nature of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God. Ephesians 2:19-21 illustrates the need for the understanding of Jesus as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of Heaven, declaring “that as fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together grows into a holy temple of the Lord.” Just as Christ is the cornerstone of the kingdom so then is the truth of his nature the cornerstone for our faith. We must have a proper understanding of who Jesus is lest the foundation of our entire faith crumble.
The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed each arose from a need to make a firm declarative stance by the body of Christ against heretical teachings. Even today, we face the same false teachings that have plagued the church for centuries. The Apostle’s Creed was formatted to combat heretical ideas such as Gnosticism, which held the heretical belief that Christ had no human nature. The Apostles’ Creed clearly conveys scriptural teachings regarding Jesus taking on the human form as it declares Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” and “suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”. Being born, suffering, crucifixion, and death are all human attributes not attributed to the Eternal Son of God. In order for Jesus to experience this, he had to take on human form. The Apostles’ Creed is recited each time the body gathers at the Journey Church as a unified bold declaration of the triune nature of God.
The Apostles’ Creed is considered to be the oldest and most widely used confessional creed. Despite its clear nature and direct verbiage, the creed did little to discourage additional heresies from forming. The rise of Arianism declared that Jesus was not fully God. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325, by instituting the Nicene Creed, the writers further clarified the Nature of Jesus by affirming not only his humanity but also his Deity. The Nicene Creed proclaims that there is but “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the 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 sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” The Nicene Creed does not oppose the Apostle’s Creed but magnifies the importance of understanding the nature of God.
Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor the Nicene Creed is formulated to be the end of our understanding. Prayerfully examining scripture reinforces and strengthens our comprehension. The Christian Faith is not simply an accumulation of knowledge and facts about Jesus, but more completely understanding his nature as well as our own yields a greater appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice, that he wilfully made to atone for our sins. Heretical teachings are certainly not unique to this age, but we live in a society in which any idea can spread quickly and unrestricted. As Christians we are exposed to false teachings daily, and we must be able to discern the truth. The basic unifying beliefs of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are effective tools in allowing us to confidently recognize false teachings, but should not be viewed as the culmination of our scriptural knowledge. We must remain vigilant and immerse ourselves daily in the truth of Scripture and walk in accordance with its teachings as it is written: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10