So this is our first week in a six week series called “We Believe?” Since the summer the Cohort has been talking to leaders from the 3 denominations that we are looking to join as our larger community. The Cohort has been faced with the unruly task of reading through these communities Statements of faith. A statement of faith tells you what a tribe is all about and in many cases what a tribe is not about. As I have been reading through these statements I noticed that they all start off very much the same, and are a lot like the Nicene Creed. Some where three quarters of the way down you start to notice some changes. The font looks a little different. Sometimes there is a line stuck on with masking tape. Sometimes you see a little whiteout put on to diminish one point or a highlighter used to really drive home another idea. Some of these adjustments might have been introduced 1000 years ago and others could have been cut & pasted in yesterday.
All in all it is a little discouraging. I crave a pure expression of our faith. I was lamenting all this at the last Cultivate Gathering to Wendy Gritter (one of our smart friends from New Directions Ministries) and Wendy suggested looking at some of the traditional church creeds, like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. I started looking up different wordings and got so excited about this idea that I eventually convinced the rest of the Cohort that we should do a series specifically on the Nicene Creed. I had this mystical idea that it could help get us back to basics and really give us something pure to judge potential denominations by.
In reality like all problems there is no silver bullet to finding a perfect statement of faith. There is no easy answer or formula to wade through what we believe, and what it means to be a community of Jesus followers.
The Nicene Creed has its pros and cons, and it is in no way the silver bullet to choosing a denomination. All that being said we can still learn, from the Church that has gone before us in history.
The Nicene Creed was adopted at a council in Constantinople in the year 381 AD where 150 church fathers got together to expand and revise the earlier “Creed of Nicaea” that was established at an earlier council in the year 325 AD.
This second council met to refute something called “Apollinarianism.” What I gather is that Apollinarius was teaching that God wrapped himself in Human flesh opposed to the idea that Jesus was God made flesh as a 100% Human. This might just seem like word play or semantics to you but when you think about it even at the Commons we talk a lot about how Jesus was 100% human. This is something that is very important to us. We often celebrate that God gave up all his power and became one of his lowly creatures to live among us as one of us. Our problems became His problems, and our dreams became His dreams.
The difference is kind of like the difference between immigrating to Canada verses being sent to Canada as an ambassador from your home country. The person who is sent to Canada as an Ambassador gets to promote his home culture and country while living in ours but he isn’t subject to the same laws as the rest of us. He has diplomatic immunity. His allegiance isn’t with us, and technically when he steps inside the embassy he isn’t legally in Canada any more. He gets to report back to his own country about his perceptions of Canada but he is still just an informed outsider.
Contrast this with a person who immigrates to Canada and becomes a full citizen of Canada. This person can still speak for his birth country and share his culture with the rest of us but he is now 100% Canadian. He has all the rights and responsibilities that a Canadian born here has. He is subject to all our laws (and all our taxes). This person can even go back to his birth country and share his insights with them about Canadian culture, but unlike the ambassador, this new Canadian has thrown in his lot with rest of us. He has made our home his home, our language is now his language, his children are now our children, our problems our now his problems, and best of all our successes are now his successes.
Do you see the difference?
The council thought there was a big difference and they condemned Apollinarius’ View in the wording of the Nicene Creed.
Even though I love the emphasis on God becoming fully human, this brings us back to what I find discouraging about Statements of Faith. They are so divisive. They aren’t like value statements that come out of a positive place. I love our values at The Commons, and whenever I get the pleasure of telling people about our values they get very excited and impressed by our list of 7 values. Who is going to argue that Justice, Hope, Community, Truth, Beauty, Authenticity and Peace are bad things? It takes a pretty rude and brazen person to call us up at The Commons and say, “You idiots got it all wrong with those values of yours. I’m warning you, you need to stop valuing Community, or Hope, or any of those other stupid values.” That would never happen, value statements aren’t really that confrontational, they unite people. Statements of Faith on the other hand are very confrontational and they often divide one group of people from another. In many ways the Nicene Creed is just another statement of faith that was birthed out of disagreement, a negative place, and a defensive place.
So why are we looking at the Nicene Creed?
- I’m not always the smartest person and I didn’t figure out that this Creed had a defensive motivation, until last week.
- As strange as it might sound, looking at the negative history of this Creed has helped me extend some grace to the modern statements of faith that seem so divisive.
- Despite the Nicene Creed’s dubious beginning it is a statement that is traditionally very unifying for lots of modern everyday followers of Jesus.
The Nicene Creed has been a standard creed for Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and most Protestant denominations. The modern English version that we read from earlier is intended to be an ecumenical version of the creed. The definition of Ecumenical is:
1. Of worldwide scope or applicability; universal.
2. a. Of or relating to the worldwide Christian church.
2. b. Concerned with establishing or promoting unity among churches or religions.
That is the spirit in which we are looking at this old creed. So now that I have just finished the longest intro in our community’ history we are going to quickly look at the first section of the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Let’s break that down a little…
We believe in one God – This is an important first statement. It is important to remember that many of the people who lived in the time of Jesus and the following centuries believed in a pantheon of deities. Gods were considered numerous and were more like local spirits then all powerful supreme deities. Your allegiance to the local deity was a little like supporting your local sports team. Some people were fanatical fans but many people were happy to jump on the band wagon of whomever was popular (or served them in the moment). The Church wanted to be sure to emphasis that this idea of a trinity was different then a pantheon, and that ultimately we were talking about “one God.” They were saying we believe in “Monotheism.” Wikipedia says,
“Monotheism (from Greek μόνος, monos, “single”, and θεός, theos, “god”) is the belief in the existence of a single (one) god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha’i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Judaism, Islam, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
Now out of that list, Judaism would be the oldest Monotheistic faith community, and with Christianity finding its roots in the Jewish faith it was important to emphasise that even though we believe in a Triune God (The Trinity) that shouldn’t be confused with Pantheism.
We believe in the Father, the Almighty – When we first looked at The Lord’s Prayer five weeks ago we talked about God being our heavenly Dad, and we see this echoed here as well.
The Father is described in the Nicene Creed as “Almighty.” This alludes to our traditional image of God. The all powerful high up in the sky God, the God of the Old Testament. The God found in a burning bush on holy mountain giving a guy named Moses the job of freeing his people from Egyptian slavery. This is the God found in a pillar of fire that hung in the night sky like giant Google Map leading this same people through the wilderness to their new homeland. This is the same God that said with a booming voice from heaven “This is my Son, whom I love” when He watched Jesus be baptized.
He is the maker of heaven and earth – He isn’t just the Dad of you and me and the almost 7 Billion other people on planet earth, he is the Father and Creator of Gravity, Centrifugal Force, Entropy, and all the elements on the Periodic Table. It is because the Father created the natural world that there is any consistency at all in this world. It is this divine consistency that lets scientists see trends and make reliable conclusions when they are exploring nature. This is one of the founding principles of scientific research that finds its roots in the premise that the world was created by a God of order and purpose.
The other thing we as a community have taken from this is that God is creative. He is our creator and the source of all our creativity. This is why Beauty is one of our values. If God is creator and he has created us in his own image we are made to be creative people.
We believe he is the maker of all that is, seen and unseen – This is huge. God is the maker of the physical world and the spiritual world. The physical and the spiritual are both expressions of his creativity. This is where we see God the Father as being holistic. He cares about our bodies, and He cares about our spirits. We could also think of this as being that God is the maker of the measurable and the immeasurable. God created things that can be proven and studied quantitatively. Things that can be shown with statistics, but God has also created immeasurable things, the things that bring flavour to life, the things that can’t be seen like, love, prayer, hope, and forgiveness.
So this is the beginning of our picture, of what “We Believe?” “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…”
I noticed that Creeds.net called the Nicene Creed a “symbol,” and I really like that. Statements of faith and traditional creeds are actually symbols, like a cross or a peace sign. Wearing a peace sign doesn’t explain everything you believe about peace it is a symbol for peace that informs the people around you that you believe peace is important. The Nicene Creed is a symbol for a few ideas that are found in the Bible. Adopting a creed doesn’t have to become the “be-all and end-all” of the community. Rather it is a symbol, a short hand conversation to ear mark a couple of important things that need to be remembered in the context of the larger whole. I’m excited to see what we learn as a community over the next 5 weeks and how we can use a symbol like the Nicene Creed to help us think about what it mean for us at The Commons to follow Jesus.