I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about the importance of early Christian, ecumenical creeds. In light of the multifarious challenges facing Christians today, everything ranging from: post-modernism, progressive Christianity, liberation and process theologies, the ever-increasing number and type of cults, heresies, or otherwise non-orthodox portrayals of Jesus, or even the seemingly endless battle of biblical interpretation; it seems relevant to regain a clear understanding of what the early church held to be the most basic, most fundamental, and most central beliefs of the Christian Church; the church founded by the Apostles and eyewitnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Thus, regaining a knowledge of these core beliefs, handed down by the first witnesses, and later consolidated by Christ-followers into formal, and definitional statements, can provide a second mooring for understanding what we believe, why we believe it, and why we need to defend it. This task, therefore, can help us to better discern, as the theologian Thomas Oden put it, what is “Classical Christianity” versus other, non-classical versions. Further, knowing the creeds can also help us to better appreciate the rich, intellectual history of our faith; something we all want to do as faithful defenders of Christ’s church, but are often times unaware of. So, to know the deposit of faith left for us by our spiritual forefathers, can be not only apologetically useful for defending certain claims, but also spiritually formative in putting us in touch with our past.
Before we continue with this project, let me state up front: I am not claiming that creeds are on the same authoritative level as the revealed Scriptures themselves. The content of revelation is in the Bible. We don’t need to worry about such controversy here, since RZIM’s stance on the authority of the Bible, i.e. the Bible as the final authority, is clear. Creeds, if anything, are nothing more than an extraction and summarization of those parts of the inspired Scriptures that are most clear to and most weighty for the life of the follower of Jesus. The earliest creeds were baptismal formulas developed in house churches, designed to help Neophytes express their newfound faith in Christ and enter into His community of faith.
In this series of posts, therefore, I would like to invite everyone into a conversation that, hopefully, will be an ongoing exploration of one of the earliest, and possible the first truly universal, creed of the apostolic Church, namely the Nicene Creed. We will take each line of the Nicene Creed, one line per thread, and discuss it in detail. I think in doing so, this will raise all kinds of good questions about what are, in our contemporary contexts, the kinds of claims we need to defend. Moreover, we might also see where we do have some disagreements, perhaps not about the creedal claim itself, but about how more precisely to understand the claim. This could lead to fruitful theological discussion (something the early church Fathers never shied away from). Finally, as we go through this I will be studying and completing our discussion using J.N.D Kelly’s classic work on the topic, shown here:
In going forward, then, what I hope we will accomplish here is to think about the kinds of apologetical issues that arise as we explore each statement of belief found in the Nicene Creed. So, for example, if the first line of the creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty” what claims can we draw out of this that we as apologists would need to defend?
For example, in examining the first line, I can see I need to defend the truth claim “that there is one God” not 8 or 12, or zero. Moreover, I should probably also defend the claim that God is called “Father” and not “mother” or “brother.” When we start thinking about the kinds of things we need to defend in order for a core belief to be true, then we can think about what sources (philosophical, historical, scientific, etc.) we should access to get the data we need to defend that claim. Also, we might start thinking about what audiences we need to defend this claim against (e.g. some progressive theologians reject the notion that God should ever be called “Father”, should we agree with them, or stick with what seems clear from both Bible and creed). Obviously, atheists, and even some who call themselves “christian” believe that there is no God to speak of; that god is just a concept. And so on, and so forth.
In sum, then, let me do this. For now, I would like to hear some responses just to this topic, and then, after discussion, I will create another post giving a little history of the Nicene Creed, and then the first line of the creed, which will begin our project together.