A creed (sometimes referred to as a confession or a statement of faith) represents what a religious community stands for. In fact, the Greek word used for “creed” was symbolon, which originally referred to an object broken in two by contracting parties as outward proof of identity. Hence, a creed is an outward symbol of identification, a way for us to signal we are Christians.
Our faith has always been confessional, meaning we strengthen what we believe when we speak it together. As Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
Reminding us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Hebrews 13:8-9 tells us, “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings.” But “varied and strange teachings” started cropping up almost immediately. Think of the Jewish practices that were forced on Gentile believers in Galatia or the confusion in Thessalonica about the second coming of Christ. Leaders had to find a way to address the doctrinal confusion in the first centuries of the church. Hence, creeds were created.
The two most commonly used ones today are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed; the latter was adopted in AD 325 at the first Council of Nicaea in order to resolve the Arian controversy, begun by Arius of Alexandria. He taught that Jesus Christ was created by God and was therefore subordinate to Him rather than consubstantial (“of the same substance”) with the Father.
We still struggle with doctrinal differences, and that’s why creeds remain important. Each is a plumb line based on God’s Word, and as we recite one, our faith is reinforced. When our pastors say, “I ask you, Christian, what is it that we believe?” we stand together and give the same answer early Christians boldly uttered in Nicaea and, Lord willing, what the church will declare for years to come.
THE NICENE CREED
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by Whom all things were made; Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets; and we believe in one holy catholic [universal] and apostolic church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.