Christian Doctrine – the Creeds
A creed is a statement of belief, and so we find Christian, Jewish and Islamic creeds for example. Christian creeds were devised to express belief and also to guard against false teaching or heresy. So implicit in a creed is a search for truth. It is therefore rather alarming to see some Western churches e.g. some evangelical Protestant churches giving creeds little prominence.
The Apostles’ Creed was an early statement of Christian doctrine and is still in widespread use. Contrary to popular belief, it was not composed by the twelve Apostles, link. The Nicene Creed is more definitive and was first formulated by the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and then subsequently refined by the second Ecumenical Council in AD 381. The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted in mainstream churches and is a concise statement of fundamental Christian belief.
The Apostles’ Creed
This appears to have been formulated in order to refute Gnosticism (the belief that matter is evil and that the revealed knowledge of God rather than faith is a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in man). The creed therefore emphasises the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sin (as expressed in 1 Cor 15:1-9).
Today the Apostles’ Creed is used by many Western churches, including the Anglican Communion, Methodists, Congregationalists and some Baptists, but it is not used by the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is sometimes used at baptisms.
The Apostles’ CreedI BELIEVE in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
The Nicene Creed
The Apostles’ Creed is not explicit about the divinity of Christ or the Holy Spirit, although this is implied. The Nicene Creed is very explicit on these issues and so implies the Trinitarian nature of God. In particular it uses the statement “God from God” to describe Christ. This countered the Arian controversy that declared that Jesus Christ is not truly divine in the sense that He is a created being (similar beliefs are held today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and by some adherents of Unitarianism).
The creed is widely accepted e.g. by the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and almost all branches of Protestantism. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines it teaches.
The Nicene CreedWe believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.