The Nicene Creed — What the Creed Is and What it Does

Posted on October 12, 2011 by

(In response to a suggestion from a commenter, I am going to be publishing a chapter-by-chapter review of a book called The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters.)

One of the opening sentences of the chapter summarizes quite well the importance of the Creed:

In a world that celebrates individuality, they are actually doing something together. In an age that avoids commitment, they pledge themselves to a set of convictions and thereby to each other. In a culture that rewards novelty and creativity, they use words written by others long ago. In a society where accepted wisdom changes by the minute, they claim that some truths are so critical that they must be repeated over and over again. In a throwaway, consumerist world, they accept, preserve, and continue tradition.

The adherence and recitation of the Creed is therefore the core of Traditional Christianity. It is the thread that holds the diversely practicing Church together, reminds Her of Her roots and core beliefs, and protects Her from grievous heresy.

There are four basic terms that have been used to refer to the Creed, and each displays one aspect of it:

  • Profession of Faith: a statement of personal and communal commitment.
  • Rule of Faith: a measure or norm for Christian identity, particularly how Christians should read their sacred writings and how they should live.
  • Definition of Faith: the boundaries of Christian belief and therefore of the Christian community.
  • Symbol of Faith: a sign of reception and membership, and a way of affirming the community’s shared story.

That is what the Creed is.

Another excerpt tells us what the Creed does:

The creed performs five distinct but interrelated functions for the Christian community in worship and in its life beyond that context: it narrates the Christian myth, interprets scripture, constructs a world, guides Christian practices, and prepares the Christian people for worship.

So what do each of these mean?

  • Narrates the Christian myth: The Creed is written chronologically for a reason. Every time we recite it, we are reminded of the story of Christianity: the past that led us to Christ, His life and sacrifice for our sakes, and our future life with Him.
  • Interprets scripture: Contrary to common knowledge, heresy is generally based upon the Scripture, especially the Bible. It can usually only be recognized as heresy when it is viewed through the light of the other traditions, such as the Creed and the Church histories. The Creed reminds us that Christianity is not Bibliology and that it is unorthodox to freely interpret Scripture.
  • Constructs a world: The Creed defines a world that is based upon a story in which God is the main protagonist.  This gives us a completely different worldview from the rest of humanity, including those of other religious faiths. As God is the main character, so reuniting with Him is what we are all focused upon.
  • Guides Christian practices: That God is the Creator of everything and that we are One Church are profound statements that should impact our every deed and our every word. The first reminds us that we are part of Creation, and that we should care about and for it — including about other people — as Adam was charged to do in the Garden. It also instructs us to keep in mind that God is the God of the Old Testament, and that He was not “replaced” by Christ, but that Jesus is actually an eternal part of God. The second reminds us that the separation of the Church into disparate denominations goes against God’s plan for our lives and salvation, and that we should be praying for the Holy Spirit to reunite us.
  • Prepares the Christian people for worship: The Creed is generally given to new members of the Church (along with the Lord’s Prayer and the sacrament of Baptism), so that they can confess the truth about Jesus and acknowledge that they understand the core beliefs of the Church. In the same way, reciting the Creed together helps to prepare the congregation for communion.
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