W E BEGIN A SERIES of three sermons on the Nicene Creed. I have reasons for this.
First, the Nicene Creed is one of the creeds of the PCUSA. Second, the Nicene Creed is the most widely used creed in the Christian church. The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as several protestant denominations. Lastly, in all the years I’ve been preaching, I have never once covered the Nicene Creed in my sermons.
Traditionally, the Nicene Creed is proclaimed/affirmed on Communion Sundays. It is more specific about the person of Christ, who comes to us in this sacrament with his body and blood. <http://www.goodshepherdmankato.org/resources/pastoral-care/whywedothat_creeds.pdf> That’s why we use the Nicene Creed here at Swift the first Sunday each month.
For hundreds of years after the death of Christ the early church leaders write letters back and forth about all kinds of practical and theological issues. The early church was a mess. There were pretty much two things they could agree on, the practice of baptism, and the practice of coming to the table to share the bread and wine.
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CONSTANTINE, the Roman emperor, converts to Christianity in the 4th century. and the more he studies it, the more he realizes that church leaders disagree with each other on key issues. Particularly one question: Was Jesus God?
There’s a theologian named Arius and he sets forth an argument that Jesus is not equal with God the Creator. In practical terms, he depicts Jesus as God-like, but not totally God. His theology was actually a quite common through the Mediterranean world. The people who ascribed to it were known as Arians. But this theology runs smack into conflict with the Hebrew Scriptures which are quite clear: there is no God but God. There are no such things as demigods or God-like creatures. So Jesus is either God or Jesus is not God. There’s no halfway. Now, for us that seems self evident. But then, we have that affirmation from what took place 1700 years ago.
Emperor Constantine calls a meeting of all the Christian bishops. About 300 show up in Nicea (now in Turkey) and Constantine tells them they have two main jobs:
■ Figure out the date of Easter, because no one is celebrating it at the same time, and
■ figure out if Jesus is God.
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WHAT COMES OUT of that hotly deliberated council is the Nicene Creed. We’ll look more, next week into who we affirm Jesus to be. Today, let’s look at the opening words.
The first word of the Nicene Creed is “we”. The Nicene Creed was not and is not the expression of an individual, but of the corporate body of Christ, the church.
The “we” of the Creed reminds us that the faith we confess is “our” faith, not primarily “my” faith. It expresses what “we” believe and not, first of all, what “I” believe. From its very first word, then, the Nicene Creed expresses the communal character of our faith.
“We believe.” The Greek word meaning “believe” can even be translated “trust” or “have faith.” Those who would follow after Christ must join with others who also believe. It is the faith one shares with others. You and I are not free to modify, restructure, or change the faith in order to suit our tastes. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. It is personal, yes, but not individualistic.
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“WE BELIEVE.” The “we” of the creed’s opening statement demands unity and implies obligation and responsibility to one’s neighbor. I am sure you realize that the trend of society and culture today is to be more and more impersonal. More and more self-focused. Isolation and individualism is a real problem. It has become very hard to forge bonds of attachment to, or cooperate with, other people.
We ignore the pain of families forcibly separated at the border. We are unresponsive to killing of school children. We blame others for their lack of health care, food, shelter, financial success. We don’t want our money used to support someone else’s kids’ education. We don’t care about the Palestinian Christians and their struggles against the nation of Israel.
This creed reminds us we are all in this together. We have a responsibility, because of Christ, to each other. “We believe.” “We trust.” “We have faith.” Words and actions are always connected.
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ACCORDING TO THE CREED, there can be no separation or division between what we believe and how we live. To believe is to follow. We follow the one God the Father Almighty, Who is the maker of all things.
■ “We believe.” ■ “We trust.” ■ “We have faith.”
This is not just a group of ideas, but the Gospel because all of it, from beginning to end, is a summary of the Gospel message. If you know the Creed, then you know the Gospel. As Peter put it in our Scripture reading: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
There you have it — to have the Gospel, as expressed in the Creed, is to have words of life.
— Keith Cardwell