A Quick Look at the Nicene Creed

As we have discussed earlier, the Nicene Creed was created at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. In most Protestant churches, we have no concept of what the purpose of the creeds is or the history of them. Confessions have take the place of creeds in modern churches. The confessions are much longer and go into much more detail. They give reasons for what is to be believed instead of simply stating what the Church believes. The Creeds provide the simplest outline of what it means to be a Christian. The Nicene Creed came before the canon of Scripture was established.

Let’s take a quick look at the Nicene Creed and what it means:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

This puts a stop to any polytheism, which was an issue in the Roman world. This also establishes God as the Creator of the world, not just the architect.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the 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.

This establishes Jesus Christ as the Son of God, not created but begotten. He was fully God and present in Creation with God.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

This establishes the humanity of Jesus, and recognizes the means of His humanity, the Virgin birth.

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 sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

This affirms the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and second-coming of Jesus.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

This proclaims the important role of the Holy Spirit and gives the model of the Trinity.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

 

This speaks of our current life in the Church and its importance. It also ends with on a statement about the future resurrection.

 

Amen.

 

Amen is not just something that we say at the end of prayers because it sounds good to echo the speaker. Amen means, “so be it” or “so it is.” Amen takes the words of the prayer of another and makes them your own.

 

Sooooo…. Why am I telling you all of this? Why is the Nicene Creed such a big deal? Well, in the war between Confessions and Creeds, I am in the Creeds camp. There seems to be a very negative stigma involving “creedalism.” The idea that you HAVE to believe what the Church gives you in the form of a creed is seen as a very terrible thing. I have heard it said, “I believe the creed, but I won’t sign it!” So, basically what they mean is, “I believe everything that the Church believes, but betting my life on it is too far.” “No church can tell me what to believe.” Well, let me tell you why I believe not only what the Creed says but also in the function of the Creed.

You see. In the past, people have asked me to tell them what I believe and why I believe it. I would stumble around trying to give a synopsis of every doctrine I believe. They would soon write me off completely. When I found the Nicene Creed in its beautiful simplicity, I was delighted! Everything that I believe is summed up for me, created and confirmed by the Church in AD 325. Now, I can answer with confidence: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…

 

I’m not saying that Confessions are evil or that they are not useful. Confessions expound upon the Creed and explain the intricacies of what is believed. This is necessary, but try to recite it some day. I find that the Creed is the best way of telling someone what it means to be a Christian. It isn’t full of fancy church words; instead, it is precise in saying exactly what is needed to be a Christian and to fight heresy.

 

The Nicene Creed was created in the midst of Arianism and Gnosticism. It affirms the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ and every event in His life and the life of Christians through the ages. This profound piece of Christian history is still used in the Church every Sunday around the world. It is the perfect reminder of exactly what it means to be a Christian.

This is the end of my history of the Bible. Next week, I will sum up with why it is important that we know how the Bible came to be.

Faith as a Noun and a Verb (History of the Bible, part 13)

What do you think of when you hear the word, faith? Does it sound like what crazy people claim to back up their belief in God? Blind faith? A leap of faith? Kind of sounds like jumping off a cliff and hoping someone catches you, right?

Faith is characterized in many different ways in Scripture, but they make a cohesive picture of what our faith should look like.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This word, substance, or hypostasis, is bursting with philosophical meaning. Substance is probably the most difficult philosophical word that is used and is regularly the point of disagreement between very intelligent people. In short, substance means, “that which stands under” something else, making it what it is. So faith is that which stands under our hope. How awesome is that?

Faith is our foundation.

Hypostasis is used in defending the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was the violation of the substance of Christ, either that He is not fully God or not fully Man. Both Arius and the Gnostics violated the “substance” of Christ. The Fathers of the Church took great pains to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation. Anyway! Faith is not blind. Think about it like this. You have heard the expression “a leap of faith” right? Well, in the context of Hebrews 11, faith is not our leaping but what we actually land on. Faith is what holds us up after we jump. God asks us to jump on faith and promises to catch us. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! Abraham is the perfect example of this kind of faith, and the author of Hebrews uses him as a prime example. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Abraham’s faith in God led him to leave his home. He didn’t know where he would end up, but he went willingly. God rewarded him for his faith.

Faith is action.

Hebrews is not the only book that talks about Abraham’s remarkable faith. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 say, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” A lot of people, non-Christians and Christians alike, have trouble with faith. In my first paper at college, I decided to write about faith for my New Testament class. Of course, I always choose very personal topics for my paper writing. I wanted to know the definition of faith and how it is to be worked out in the life of a Christian. I found that faith is not only a noun (as we discussed earlier) but also a verb. The noun form of faith is pistis; the verb form is pisteuein. Pisteuein means to believe. What are we to do with this belief? Hang it up on our wall and notice how delightful it is? Occasionally call other people over to notice it?

No. This is not what faith is meant for. Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine that you are in a car on an interstate. What do cars need to be properly functioning vehicles of transportation? They need an engine with all of the necessary parts (sorry, I’m not a mechanic). They need a frame to hold the engine. They need wheels to roll when propelled by the thrust of the engine. They need a driver. They need a surface to drive on. They need fuel to make the engine fire. They need a cooling system so as to not over heat. They need an exhaust pipe to let out the toxic fumes.

Now, I know you are wondering why I just gave a semi-detailed description of a car…Let’s imagine that we are driving that car, but this is not a real car. This car is only propelled forward by our faith. Belief is the fuel that we put in the engine, and the direct product of that belief is action. The car begins to roll forward. Some people have all kinds of beliefs that they never put into action. A lot of Christians are just sitting at the gas station pumping fuel onto the ground. They go to church. They listen, and they believe! Those beliefs just have no impact on their actions. This is what we call “nominal Christianity.” Belief without faith. Having a tank full of gas, but never putting a foot to the petal.

James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-26

 

Wow. I don’t know about you, but this slaps me in the face every time I read it. How many times do we act this way? I know that I talk about some deep stuff, and I try to point out weaknesses that I see. But, I do not have my life together either. No one does, and that is okay! It is in our imperfection that we see God’s perfection. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

In no respect does God expect us to be perfect or to somehow work enough to earn our salvation. He does, however, expect our faith to produce good works. This is the natural side effect of faith. It cannot be contained! Just like our little car needs fuel to move forward, we must maintain our core beliefs. Everything is interconnected and reliant upon the other parts to function properly.

Abraham displayed his faith by moving to Canaan when God told him and being willing to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. We know that Abraham had faith because it was evident in the way he lived. These “acts of faith” or “good works” were not what saved him or made him righteous. But we know that he had the necessary faith because of his works.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

 

Next week, I will take a look at those core beliefs as seen in the Nicene Creed. We are almost done with the History of the Bible! Until next time!

Jesus, The God Man (History of the Bible, part 11)

 

“And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

“Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” This is great, but what else do we know? Let’s talk about some basic, foundational beliefs about Jesus Christ. As Paul suggests above in Colossians, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, holds the world together. Why is this the case? Why is it necessary for our salvation?

It is absolutely crucial that Jesus be 100% man and 100% God. Without this, the world is lost. St. Athanasius says, “That which is not assumed cannot be saved.” Jesus had to sanctify humanity by entering into 100% humanity and living the perfect life that only 100% God could do. God and Man are naturally separated. God is uncreated; we are created. God is perfect. We are imperfect. Even Adam and Eve at their creation had to have been imperfect to have the ability to sin. Jesus, because He is both God and Man, is the only mediator between God and Man. “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Jesus received full manhood from his earthly mother, Mary, and He received full godhood from His Father through the Holy Spirit. Both were equally necessary for the Word of God to be Incarnate.

We are only allowed in communion with God through the person of Jesus.

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven…” Colossians1:21-22 Not only by His life, but by His perfect death, did He defeat sin and death. Because Jesus is 100% man, He was born with the human capability to die, but because He is 100% God, He rose from the dead, never to die again. It is through His resurrection that we can have the future hope of our resurrection and salvation. “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

What else do we know about Jesus?

He was present at creation. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1-3

He is the Word of God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

This Word, Logos, is a word (giggles) that is exploding with philosophical meaning!!! I can’t go into it all today, but in short, one of the earliest Greek philosophers (I’m talking Pre-Plato here) named Heraclitus used this word first. Word is used over and over in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. Heraclitus used it to “designate the divine reason to plan which coordinates a changing universe.” Now, if our Lord Jesus Christ didn’t change our universe, I don’t know who can! John would have known this definition when he applied it to Christ. I will have to do a whole post on the Logos one day in the future.

Jesus is the Light of the World.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….(John the Baptist) came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:4-5,7-9

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” John 5:35

“Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:5

“’While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.” John 12:36

“I have come to the world as a light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:46

“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him (Paul).” Acts 9:3

Jesus calling himself the light of the world was also super radical. Another school of thought, Gnosticism, emphasized the power struggle between Light and Dark (Good and Evil). Jesus personifying himself as the Light that cannot be overcome by any darkness sends a major message to the Gnostics. Once again, this is a topic for another day.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, He leaves the Holy Spirit with us, and Christians are depicted as having His light.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14

“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:36

“For so the Lord commanded us, saying ‘ I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47

“…and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness…” Romans 2:19

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’”

2 Corinthians 4:6

“…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” Ephesians 5:8

In my slightly educated, most likely narrow-minded thought process, I think that Christians have the light of Jesus through the person of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus left as our Comforter until He returns. Please do not think that I am reducing the Holy Spirit to only being a light bulb.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Paul says, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women.” This is what the early church called themselves, “The Way,” which referenced Jesus’ statement in John.

“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.” John 5:33

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’” John 18:37

“…assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus…” Ephesians 4:21

Folks, it is very important that we derive our truth from Jesus Christ, not from our own shallow, finite minds. It is perfectly okay to claim that there is absolute truth; everyone does it. Some claim to derive their truth from their own “experiences” or “feelings.” I choose to follow Jesus, not my own ability to discern truth from falsehood.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33 (a reference to Jesus as God’s manna perhaps? A topic for another day)

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40 (a reference to Jesus as the bronze serpent that was lifted up? Lots of OT going on here…another topic for yet another day)

“I am the bread of life.” John 6:48

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:3-54 (mmmmm….controversy! J we shall discuss this later for sure)

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” John 6:68

Last but certainly not least, Jesus is the source of life. Not only was He our creator, but He is our Savior! We can have eternal life through His life, death, and ultimate resurrection. He is our resurrection, the Life.

What are the implications of this?

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4

We see here that Jesus is the image of God, and so are we.

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:49

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:9-10

I know that was a lot of Scripture and not much of my own words, but my own opinion is not necessary. Next week I will show you how interpreting Scripture outside of the protection of the Church leads to very dangerous heresies. We will discuss Gnosticism and Arianism in contrast to what we know is true about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

 

For those of you who are curious about the image I chose for this blog, this icon, or image, of Christ is called Christ Pantocrator. Pantocrator is a translation of Yahweh from Hebrew into Greek for the Septuagint. It refers to Christ as the Lord Almighty. You will notice that Christ is holding a copy of Scripture, which is sometimes open to the verse that says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” His clothing made of red and blue represent the two natures of Christ, God and Man. His fingers, the sign of the cross, represent both the Trinity (three fingers) and the two natures of Christ (two fingers). The gold represents heaven and Christ as the Light. There are countless other features I could point out, but I don’t know them all. I think it is the most perfect (that a mere human can create) representation of Christ and His attributes.

We are also referred to as “icons” of Christ, made in the image of God. I’ll talk more about this soon.

The Influence of the Early Church in the Formation of the Canon (History of the Bible, part 10)

Growing up,  I was under the impression that history was some far away place that could only be reached through books and grandfathers’ tales, but history is made every day. What we do may not be preserved in fancy books that will be read to children, copied, preserved through generations, and venerated, but it could be. Two thousand years ago twelve ordinary people doing ordinary everyday average things met a man who changed their lives and the life of the world. They were not spectacular. Most of them weren’t educated. They never set out to change history, and yet, we remember them. These ordinary people took the words of this extraordinary man, Jesus Christ, as gospel, The Gospel. They wrote books recounting their experiences with him. They made copies of these books and passed them around the known world! We know their names, these very ordinary people! Mary, Peter, Paul, James, Matthew, John and so so so many more! They formed a church, The Church. They read these books at every opportunity to celebrate the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They prayed, they lived, they died, most of them for their faith, and most importantly they passed on this history to their children and their neighbors. The Church lived on this way for over three hundred years: reading, praying, and breaking bread. (Acts 2:42)

In 313, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which declared Christianity a legal religion of the state, and the empire converted. Christianity in the Roman Empire went from 15% to 70% of the population in 100 years. This rapid growth was also dangerous for the Church. Heresies began to spring up. In 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicea, the first Ecumenical Council of the Church, to discuss Arianism, the heresy that claimed that Jesus was created by the Father, not begotten. St. Athanasius (one of my personal heroes) combated Arianism in his book, On the Incarnation of the Word. The Council formed the Nicene Creed, which specifically defends against Arianism. “…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made…” The Church was successful. They survived this heresy, but more would come. In 367, St. Athanasius wrote a list of the 27 books of the New Testament as we have them today. This was the first time these books were mentioned all together. There is no clear date for when the canon came together. There were certain requirements for a book to be accepted into the canon: the Vincentian rule for the canon says that they had to be read everywhere always by everyone. Basically, the book in question must be widely circulated among the churches, it had to have been read there for the entire history of the Church, and it had to be accepted by everyone in the Church. Many books did not make the cut, although, they were read kind of like a “devotional book.” There is a common misconception, one that I held for many years, that the Bible was read in completion by the early church, that it came together very quickly after Jesus’ death. This was not the case. The Church did read individual books, but they did not rely on the entirety of the Bible to hold their faith together. They heard from their mothers and fathers and grandparents, who had sat and talked to the apostle John in Ephesus or Peter or Paul in Rome. They had a living memory of the life of Jesus before they had any Scripture. The events in Acts obviously happened before Luke could write them down. Scripture relied on the witness and the tradition of the Church. Dr. Foakes-Jackson says, “The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.” You see, the Church did not suddenly sit down and decide to create the Bible one day. It took centuries of passing around Gospel books and Epistles before they had a complete book of Holy Scripture. They did, however, have the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. This is what Paul quotes in his epistles, because that is what the early church was reading.

So take heart in the news that your Bible comes from a long line of devoted Christians who gave their lives to preserve the word for three hundred years until it was legalized! They still obviously didn’t have a printing press, and making copies was difficult. Eventually, each church had a copy to be read in public worship, but the Church had a long journey ahead of them, none of which was smooth sailing.

Before the end of this series, I will revisit the heresies one by one and discuss modern sightings of each of them.  Also! I will be taking a closer look at the Nicene Creed.  Meanwhile, I will go through some basic theology that everyone needs to know. Welcome to apologetics class!