************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 15, 2012
Nicene Creed 01
We begin a series of sermons on the Nicene Creed this evening. I have four reasons for this. First, a number of years ago one of our newer members asked me why we don't recite the Nicene Creed more often. She came to love the Creed in her last church and hoped we could say it more often at Trinity. Ever since, I've been trying to use it at least once a month in worship. Second, the Nicene Creed is one of the creeds of the United Reformed Churches. Third, did you know that the Nicene Creed is also the most widely used creed in the Christian church? It is used and accepted by more churches than the Apostles' Creed. Fourth, in 34 years of the pulpit ministry I realized I have never once covered the Nicene Creed in my sermons.
A Now, if one word could sum up the theology of most Christians and churches today, it would be the word "amnesia." They have forgotten everything that comes before them. They have forgotten that the Christian faith is built upon a foundation first laid down at the time of the early church. They have forgotten that our Christian identity is based upon that which the church has received, preserved, and carefully transmitted to each generation of believers.
What do you believe? A mantra that we hear over and over again today is, "No creed but Christ: that is my confession." Those who talk this way have no use for creeds and confessions. They view doctrinal statements as being divisive. They claim that creeds create a negative and intolerant religious environment. The result is amnesia – spiritual amnesia – as an entire generation of Christians grow up with no knowledge of our creeds and confessions.
B "No creed but Christ." This mantra goes out the window, however, when you ask, "What do you believe about Jesus?" Was He really God? Was He fully God or was He only partly divine? How can He be both God and man? How can He exist in one person with two distinct natures? Any attempt to answer these sorts of questions ends up being a creed, a statement of faith.
Creeds, therefore, are unavoidable. The word "creed" comes from the Latin word "credo," meaning "I believe." Any attempt to confess what one believes is a creed. Look at Peter's statement in our Scripture reading this evening: "We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:69). This ends up being a creed. Peter explains what he believes to be the who and what of Jesus.
At heart, the Nicene Creed tells us what we believe about Jesus. How necessary this is when you consider that false religions like Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses all acknowledge a belief in Jesus. Looking at these religions, it should be obvious that affirming a belief in Jesus is simply not enough. So, "What do you believe about Jesus?"
C Let me give a couple of reasons why we have creeds like the Nicene Creed.
First, creeds protect us from error and guide us in truth. A creed, such as the Nicene Creed, can help to distinguish a Christian from a Muslim when it comes to Jesus. Creeds protect us from danger. If you were walking along a forest path, wouldn't you appreciate it if someone warned you of a dangerous animal further down the trail? If you were about to drive a car with no brakes, wouldn't you appreciate it if someone warned you? Creeds offer us this kind of warning so we can avoid potential dangers.
Second, it is necessary for our salvation that we believe the right thing about Jesus. Believe the wrong thing and you end up in hell. Creeds help us believe the right thing about Jesus.
Third, creeds help us answer very old and very difficult questions about God, Jesus, salvation, creation, and the Spirit.
Fourth, creeds are an excellent witness to a needy world. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Christ commands Christians to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that He commanded them. Creeds help us teach others the faith. Indeed, Christ also tells His followers in Matthew 10:32 to "confess" Him before men. Paul says the same thing in Romans 10:9: "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Creeds help us in this missionary task of teaching and witnessing.
The ancient creeds of the church are God's gift to us; they are not doctrinal entanglements. Ironically, they are not the cause of doctrinal controversy; rather, they are the answer to it. We should he happy to know that the ancient creeds of the church can liberate us from the frustrations of doctrinal controversy. They ease the burden of reinventing the wheel and lift us onto the shoulders of the men who have gone before us.
A In Greek, the first word of the Nicene Creed is the verb "pistuomen," which means "we believe." While the Apostles' Creed begins with the singular, "I believe," the Nicene Creed begins with the plural, "We believe." Why this difference between these two creeds?
Some in the Middle Ages proposed that the apostles themselves created the Apostles' Creed. However, it was not a creed that was ever formulated officially in the courts or councils of the church. Rather, it began as a personal confession of faith at the time of baptism; hence, the use of "I" rather than "we".
The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, begins with "we."
B Think of the implication of this. The Nicene Creed was and is not the expression of an individual, but of the corporate body of Christ, the church.
Take note that the Nicene Creed was first formulated at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Additions were made by the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. It was accepted in its present form at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 though one phrase was not added until A.D. 589. The "we" reminds us that the Nicene Creed is a product of a church that was guided by the Spirit and based upon the Word.
The "we" of the Creed also 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." All those who would follow after Christ must join with others who also believe. The creed establishes that Christianity is most definitely not an individualistic religion. It is personal, yes, but not individualistic. Individualism creates splintering, centrifugal forces, which cause nations, churches and families to fly apart. Hence, the creed starts with an antidote to individualism using the phrase "We believe."
The Nicene Creed is not something an individual believes in isolation from the church. The authors of the creed did not believe they were expressing the collected thoughts of isolated individuals. No, they truly believed that the Creed expressed quite literally the God-breathed faith of the Scriptures as given to the church.
The truth of this Creed is not something new nor is it something optional. It is simply what Christians believe. If one is a Christian, then this is the faith that one must confess. It is also the faith one shares with others as members of this one body. Individuals are not free to modify, restructure, or change the faith in order to suit their individual tastes.
"We believe." This is the faith to which each individual must submit and to which each individual must subscribe.
C "We believe." Let me remind you that God has always meant for our faith to be communal. After God made the Creation and everything in it – with its beauty and vastness and majesty – He pronounced that something was "not good." Do you remember this? "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen 2:18). We usually think of this verse as only applying to marriage. But it applies to faith and religion as well. "It is not good for the man to be alone." In the matter of faith and religion, mankind needs a helper, a companion. Isolation and individualism runs counter to God's creation design.
D "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. So, instead of talking with one another, what do today's teens and young adults do? They text each other. Even when they are in the same room they text each other.
Ruth and I were in a restaurant a few weeks ago. Across from us were a father, mother, and three kids. Everyone of them was on their smart phone. The kids were texting, dad was looking something up on Google, mom was looking at picture messages. I doubt if they said ten words to each other throughout the entire meal.Isolation and individualism is a real problem. It has become very hard to forge bonds of attachment to or cooperation with, other people.
Yet, this is precisely what Christianity demands. Tuesday evening, at the congregational meeting, Pastor Godfrey read from Philippians 2:
(Phil 2:1-4) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, (2) then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (3) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (4) Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.The example we are told to follow in living up to this is the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5).
"We believe." While some people and some cultures nourish individualism as a virtue, Christianity assaults it as a curse. The beginning of the Nicene Creed helps us to appreciate that Christianity in its most basic form attacks individualism like antibodies attack germs in the body.
A The Greek word meaning "believe" has a lot more depth to it than you might first imagine. The word indicates much more than mere intellectual assent. It can even be translated "trust" or "have faith."
There is an idea out there that doctrine can somehow be separated from life. Modern and postmodern culture has nurtured a false sense of separation between what one says and what one does. This belief is found at the highest levels of political and corporate leadership.
For instance, one of presidents of the United States lied under oath and then quibbled over the definition of the word "is." Many of our political leaders seem to wink at perjury as long as it is used to cover over a political scandal and as long as they don't get caught. In the housing downturn and the financial crisis of the past few years, we discovered that many corporations cooked their books in order to appear more profitable. However, one cannot separate words from actions without tragic results. I am sure you all realize it is hypocrisy to say one thing and to do another.
"We believe." "We trust." "We have faith." Words and actions are always connected. According to the Creed, there can be no separation or division between what one believes and how one lives. To believe is to trust and to trust is to believe. To believe is to follow. We follow the one God the Father Almighty, Who is the maker of all things.
B "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 one knows the Creed, then one knows the Gospel. As Peter put it in our Scripture reading, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). There you have it – to have the Gospel, as expressed in the Creed, you have words of life. And, to turn away from these words as so many did (cf Jn 6:66), means you are without the words of life.
This means that our children and grand-children who grow up confessing the Creed grow up knowing the Gospel message. What a blessing for our children!
I would like to encourage the Creed to be used in our homes. I would encourage children and teens and parents to memorize it, to say it, to learn it, to study it, and to recite it together.
In the Nicene Creed we say, "We believe." We declare our dependence upon the past. We declare our mutual dependence and care. We declare our trust in the Gospel message.
So, with the church of all ages we say, "We believe."
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