The Nicene Creed — Who for us… became human

Posted on November 23, 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.)

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.

One of the most controversial phrases in the Creed is “For us” because many would ask, “Why would God bother? Why would He make such a circus just for humans? What about animals and aliens, and whatnot?” But, of course, the Bible is written to humans and concerns our own affairs. What salvation, if any, is planned for anything or anyone else, is not covered in the Good Book. This does not mean there is no salvation for them, just that it isn’t part of Christian teachings.

Salvation in the Early Church was palpable. It was not about being saved after death, but being saved was something everyone experienced through the baptismal waters. They were saved even in life. They expressed that through their references to their freedom and power. Freedom, not from persecution, but from fear. The freedom to speak their minds in the service of the Lord. Power, not to change their lives, but to live joyously regardless of their circumstances.

This is a very different perspective than what pervades the Church today, with its emphasis on sin and good works. The Earliest Christians were keenly aware that Jesus had freed them from sin forever, and that it was only when they strayed from Him that it even became a topic for them again. Their focus was not on preventing sin, but on salvation in the here and now.

That loss of sin-consciousness has left many present-day Christians without much sense of salvation. Without a traditional sense of sin, and without an appreciation of grace as an elevation of the human condition, they struggle to make sense of salvation… Such a minimal Christology offers a Jesus who is at best a guide… Salvation therefore means following moral teaching or participating in social reform.

This reduces Christianity’s appeal over and above other morality-based theologies like Islam or Buddhism.

Mary’s virginity is another point of contention for some Christians, but not in Traditional Christianity. Calvin, Luther, and many other prominent reformers all held to her virgin birth. Many even agree with Catholics that she was perpetually virgin, as later references to Jesus’ “brethren” could be referring to half-siblings or cousins.

Jesus’ crucifixion is one of the least contentious points in the Creed, as it has been well-documented by historians of the time. This method of death was chosen specifically by God because of the Jewish understanding that “Cursed be everyone who hangs upon a tree.” (Deut 21:23). So, Jesus was cursed to save us from being cursed with death. By doing so, He left us with the concept of “redemptive suffering”, which is the exact opposite of the “prosperity Gospel”. Traditional Christians believe that suffering can be a good because it can lead us to a deeper understanding and communion with the Lord. Not that we’re masochists that go looking for trouble, but that we accept the suffering that comes to us through living the Word.

The last bit is significant. Jesus was buried. He came here to be truly human and to go through the entire human experience, including death. As is documented in 1 Peter 3:18-20:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

And then further in 1 Peter 4:6:

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Posted in: Book Review