postheadericon Introduction to the Creeds

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in yourheart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ROMANS 10.9

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians developed short, simple summaries of the faith. Many of them are embedded in the Scriptures.

These short statements became known as creeds. The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word credo, meaning ‘I believe and trust’. Two creeds in particular were developed in the early centuries of the Church, which have remained important to the Church and are regularly used in our worship today. Both are printed at the end of this Introduction.

The Apostles’ Creed is a faithful summary of the apostles teaching. It begins with the clear statement; ‘I believe’. It declares the faith of the Church in an easily accessible way in a simple threefold structure.
Many of its individual words and phrases echo the Scriptures. This is the faith of the Church which every believer declares at his or her baptism and by which we live. According to tradition it was the creed used in the Church in Rome from earliest times.

The Nicene Creed is a more detailed summary of what the whole Church believes about the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It begins with the statement: ‘We believe’. The Nicene Creed uses the same threefold structure as the Apostles Creed but goes into more depth and detail. It was first adopted at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 by a gathering of bishops called the first ecumenical council.
In the early centuries of the Church a number of different teachings arose around key questions of Christian belief. How is God one and yet three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Is Jesus fully God and fully human? ls the Holy Spirit one with the Father and the Son?

As we read the pages of the New Testament it is possible to see the beginnings of the debate around what is the right and true understanding of these questions. In Acts 15 the early Church in Council has to settle the question of whether keeping the Jewish law is essential to salvation. In Acts I9 Paut comes across some disciples who have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. In Colossians I Paul builds a strong case that Christ shares fully in the divine nature because there were people arguing that he did not.

The Church continued to wrestle with these issues, sometimes in fierce controversy. The early Christians sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit and they took counsel together. They studied and pondered the Scriptures. They used their understanding and reason as gifts given by God. Finally they reached agreement at Nicaea on the fundamental shape of the Christian gospel and the defining doctrines of the Christian faith.

In the centuries following the first ecumenical council the Church has become divided. The divisions are mainly about secondary matters. All the major traditions continue to use the words of the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed in their worship and teaching.

Every time we come to say the creeds it is vital to reflect and remember how it is that we come to believe them. It is by the grace and mercy of God that we have come to faith and are able to say and explore these words. It is not through human cleverness or ingenuity. The Christian faith is not a human invention. There are signs of God’s existence and handiwork in creation for anyone to read [Acts 14.15-1]. But we believe in the way we believe because God has come to seek us out and has made himself known to us. God has revealed himself through the Scriptures. God has revealed himself most clearly through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. God makes himself known personally to each believer through the work of the Holy Spirit:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. HEBREWS 1.1—3.

When we say the creeds we are not summarizing a human creation but the story of God’s great good news for all that he has made. We also need to remember that we are declaring not our own set of personal, individual beliefs but the faith of the Church: we believe as part of the great company of faithful Christians down the ages. As we speak these words we do so as part of the worldwide family of Christian believers, the household of God. This precious faith has been passed on to us by the Church, our fellow Christians. In the same way we have the responsibility to pass it on faithfully to others.
Exploring the creeds today can seem a little daunting, especially for someone who is still fairly new to Christian faith. Think of the creeds as a great hamper full of good things. Each one needs to be unpacked and unwrapped, tasted and savoured. This takes time but more than repays the work involved. Or think of the creeds as the desktop of a computer or tablet, full of icons. Behind each one is a whole world of meaning to be explored — and they all connect together.

Each of the sessions in this short course is one part of the hamper, one icon on the desktop. We look first, in Session I, at what it means to say: ‘I believe’ and ‘We believe and at the role the creeds play in strengthening our relationship with God. We move on in Session 2 to explore what it means to understand God as Trinity: one God in three persons. Sessions 3 and 4 take us deeper in our understanding of Jesus and look at the way Christ is fully God and fully human and at the great work of redemption on the cross. Session 5 explores the person and work of the Holy Spirit and Session 6 at what we believe about the Church — the people of God called into being through God’s grace.
Unpacking the hamper through this short course will equip you with priceless resources for living the Christian life and understanding the faith and for knowing God better. May God bless you as you begin this next part of the journey.

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