Early Christian Creeds and Their Importance for Apologetics: Part 8 - Nicene Creed Lines 12-14

(Anthony Costello ) #1

As we wrap up this in-depth look at the Nicene Creed and its usefulness for defending the core, historical and Apostolic claims of a “mere Christianity” let me first make one additional point about the nature of the belief statements found in the creeds, a point that I think matters with regard to discerning an authentic form of Christian faith from an inauthentic one.

The point I am drawing out is the necessity of making metaphysical commitments as they apply to each statement found in the Creed. Thus, to see the language of the Creeds and the entities they are positing as non-real or merely metaphorical or symbolic terms that relate only to purely human intra-mental experiences would effectively empty any of these beliefs of their ultimate meaning. No, this cannot be. The Christian faith that we defend as Apologists is one that assumes the existence of immaterial, yet causally efficacious and morally agentive beings (e.g. God, angels, demons, human souls, etc.) In short, they exist.

Thus, when we lay claim to the belief that it was through the Holy Spirit that Mary became pregnant with the divine Logos, what we mean is that God causally generated new genetic material to be created so that the Logos could be hypo-statically united to a real flesh-and-blood human body. This also implies that when we speak of historical events, like the Resurrection, we speak of actual occurrences in this same time-space reality that we experience daily with our senses, and not some legendary or symbolic retelling of human intra-mental projections. The former liberal theologian, then later classical Christian theologian Thomas Oden put it this way:

I was able to confess the Apostles’ Creed, but only with deep ambiguity. But I stumbled over “he arose from the dead.” I had to demythologize it and could say it only symbolically. I could not inwardly confess the resurrection as a factual historical event. I was assigned the task of teaching theology, but when I came to the resurrection, I honestly had to say at that stage that is was not about an actual event of a bodily resurrection but a community memory of an unexplained event. I could talk about the writings of the people who were remembering and proclaiming it as the saving event, but I could not explain to myself or to others how Christianity could be built on an event that never happened…That was my credo in my early thirties. It was new birth without bodily resurrections and forgiveness without atonement. Resurrection and atonement were words I choked on. That mean that the gospel was not about an event of divine salvation but about a human psychological experience of trust and freedom from anxiety, guilt and boredom. (Oden, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir).

So, a genuine adherence to metaphysical realism when it comes to the kinds of being the Bible refers to, and the Creeds encapsulate, and the realness of historical events, is necessary if we are to call ourselves Apostolic and authentic Christians. It is this turn to the metaphysics of the Bible that brought Oden himself back to a historic faith.

On that note, let’s look at the last lines of the Nicene Creed. These lines pertain to three loci of theology: the Church, the Sacraments, and the End Times.

  1. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

I believe that there is only one true church, even if it is not possible for human beings to know with certainty which persons are actual members of that church

This claim is important and the obvious discussion here will surround the nature of the “true” Church, likely taking us into an analysis of the three major traditions of Christian faith: Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. For our purposes here, I would argue that the Church is the total number of all human souls who have come into a personal, salvific relationship with Jesus Christ, whether explicitly through a conscious act of commitment, or implicitly through a non-cognitive awareness of Christ and His saving Grace (for example, in infants or those with severe mental handicap).

  1. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I believe that one must be baptized by the Holy Spirit in order to be saved

Again, obvious debate here on exactly the mode of baptism required for salvation. But, for our purposes we would want to defend some kind of baptism event: minimally a baptism by the Spirit at the moment of regeneration and new spiritual life, and then more fully the outward act of Baptism that professes a new believers entry into the community of faith.

  1. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come.

I believe that all believers in Jesus Christ will be raised again with new, glorified bodies

This final hope of an eternal life in a newly created world, with new physical bodies, is necessary to Christian faith. Our ultimate hope must be part and parcel of why we do what we do in defending the faith, even unto our own, temporary and this-worldly deaths.


I believe indeed!

(Kathleen) #2

Hi, @anthony.costello! I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Creed. Thanks so much for putting it all together and posting it on here. It’s timely that we’ve come to the portion about baptism, as there is a lively thread (you may have seen it here) on whether baptism is required/essential for salvation to occur. You mentioned baptism of the Holy Spirit, which, I presume, is slightly different from baptism with water…? What do you think baptism of the HS looks like? Do you think it could also be referred to as ‘indwelling’?

(Anthony Costello ) #3


I would, without getting overly precise, identify the Baptism by or in the Holy Spirit as the moment of spiritual regeneration: the instant or event in which the sinful and unrepentant human heart is opened up by the Spirit of God, and made new in Christ (on my view, with a concursive free will acceptance of God’s forgiveness and love). I’d say indwelling is that which follows this initial regeneration and conversion.

Water baptism to me is an outward sign of one’s desire to join the community of the church. The water itself can do nothing to effect spiritual regeneration, and there are many people who might receive water baptism, become members of the church, and yet never truly receive Christ in the way I mentioned before (i.e. they are in the covenant community that is the church, but they are neither saved nor regenerate). Just as there were circumcised Israelites who were part of the covenant community, but not true followers of YHWH.

However, I suspect, that most adults at least, and possibly children who are aware enough, have had some kind of religious experience of their own regeneration in the Spirit that then compels them to be water baptized in front of the community of the faithful.

This is obviously a very non-Catholic and non-Eastern view, I realize. It probably tends more to the Zwinglian view, but it is also, I think, the predominant view of most non-denominational Evangelicals today, with one exception. I think many Evangelicals today believe that the water baptism is an outward sign of the inward regeneration. I would say that is often the case, but that is not what water baptism is technically for. Water baptism is not to demonstrate to others that you’ve been saved (although it is fine if you want to do that), rather it is to demonstrate to the church that you want to join its ranks as a committed follower of Christ.

Does that makes sense?


(Kathleen) #4

Ah, very interesting, thank you! I was baptised as an infant and came to faith in the Reformed tradition. Now I am in a middle-of-the-road independent/free church in England, so my prior understanding of baptism has been challenged by those who believe marginally different things…which I appreciate! I often wonder if I there is any value in being baptised again as an adult or, at the very least, have the church lay hands on me and pray for a baptism of the Holy Spirit. But then my Reformed theology kicks in and reminds me that I already have the Spirit indwelling me, so there’s really no need. I already have It! :raised_hands:

(Bill Brander) #5

I’m at one with you on this Kathleen. At my ‘age’ I’m at peace with my infant baptism.
However, some in the congregation are not so ask me to ‘re-baptise’ them - which in our tradition I am not allowed to do. So I help them find a Pentecostal/Baptist minister who has no such constraints. All I ask is that I may also attend the ceremony.
I really don’t feel led to be re-baptised myself.