“So what do you believe?”
I get asked this question a lot, perhaps because I’m an appreciably opinionated person.
What are your thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs? (They won’t win while they’re owned by corporations who chase profits instead of excellence.)
Do you like Tim Hortons? (No; I’ve worked there and seen the underbelly.)
What are your thoughts on politics? (Must…resist…temptation.)
Economy? Education? Healthcare? That new LOLcatz video?
Basically every conversation we have is about belief. For good or ill, belief matters.
As John Mayer (and boy, do the beliefs rage about that fellow) says:
What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand?
What puts a folded flag inside his mother’s hand?
I’m not entirely that cynical, but I see what he’s saying. And I agree with Mayer when he says that “Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword.” Belief created jihadism and institutional for-profit capitalism, but belief (and more importantly, faith) can also do wonderful things – end slavery (Wilberforce), cultivate racial reconciliations (MLK), peacefully create a nation (Gandhi), or help the least of these (Mother Teresa.)
As a Christian, it’s important to know what we believe, and to keep it as simple as possible. If only there was a handy little way to write down a public statement of faith, to keep us from straying from truth and tradition…
What is a Creed?
In general, a creed was written to highlight a certain set beliefs, in an attempt to oppose errors that the writers thought were most dangerous at the time.
For example, the Council of Trent Creed (whipped up by Roman Catholic in the 1500s) focused on the bitter arguments they were having with Protestants. The Nicene Creed (4th century) focused on the Deity of Christ, since it was directed at the Arians (who denied that Jesus was fully God.) The Apostles’ Creed (somewhere around 180AD) was directed against the heresies of the Gnostics and Marcionites, thus, it focuses on Jesus as truly human.
If we were to write a creed today, for example, we’d probably need to state that God prefers men with beards, and that Cheese Whiz is not, indeed, real cheese.
Basically, a creed is a foundational set of beliefs. It’s a solid summary of doctrine.
So There’s More Than One Creed?
Alas, we humans aren’t superb at agreeing on what to eat for dinner, let alone what we believe about God and His nature.
Dozens and dozens of creeds have been written throughout the centuries, but the big boys are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest of the bunch, and the most basic. It may have been written as early at 180AD, but the first time it appears in history is in a letter written by the Council of Milan in 390AD.
In case you’re wondering, no, the Apostles’ Creed is not found in the Bible. In fact, it wasn’t even written by the Apostles, which is rather disappointing. That said, it’s perhaps a record of what the apostles taught – supposedly each Apostle contributed an article. We don’t have a good reason to think otherwise – oral tradition was the name of the game at the time, and YouVersion (and Bibles in general) didn’t come along for at least another 10 or 20 years.
The Apostles’ Creed is accepted by most of the major western Christian denominations. As one would expect, pretty much every denomination has a slightly different rendition, so here’s an ecumenical version:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s 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 to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy [universal] Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed
According to its long-form birth certificate, this creed’s full name is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Constantine being the fellow who took control of the Roman Empire in 312AD and made Christianity a legal thing.
For the first 300 years after the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity was illegal and Christians were forced to meet in secret. As one would expect, divisions and disputes sprouted like mushrooms. Constantine got a bunch of folks together in 325AD at – you guessed it – Nicaea (modern day İznik in Turkey), and they penned the Creed of Nicaea. They decided to revise it in 381AD, to counter some new heresies, and left us with the version we have today.
Again, kids don’t tend to play well in the sandbox, so here’s an ecumenical version:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy [universal] and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
If you want to dig deeper into the creeds, you might be interested in Christianity Today’s Bible Study A Closer Look at the Creeds.
So Which One Do You Believe?
When my mom asks my dad if he’d like blueberry or apple pie for dessert, he always says the same thing: “Yes.” That about sums up my approach to the two major creeds.
I wanted my first blog post on this here newfangled website to be about belief, because it’s foundational. Sometimes I forget that this is all about the gospel – “so that people far from God will be filled with life in Christ.” Our mission is to lead people closer to Jesus. Our calling is to be faithful. Our compulsion is to fall in love.
For me, this is the only “closed hand” issue – I believe in the Creeds and the freedom to lovingly and passionately argue about absolutely everything else.
So which one should you believe? It’s up to you. But you must believe something- because if you don’t believe something, you’ll believe anything.
It’s all faith.