The Original Creed
The first Christian creed was, “Jesus is Lord!” (Mark 1:1) This drew a hedge around what it meant to be Christian…and since it was a play on the Roman creed, (“Caesar is Lord!”) it did this by being a bit prickly to those who were not.
But Aren’t All Religions Basically the Same?
This is the mantra of the day-repeated often enough to be assumed uncritically. Unfortunately, the world’s great religions are not at all the same. Each makes individual faith claims that stand (or fall) on their own merits. To say anything less is deeply dishonoring to the world’s great traditions. Every one of the world’s major religions does, however, seek to answer 3 core human Questions:
- How did we get here?
- What went wrong?
- How do we fix it?
The Christian answers, by the way, are;
- One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Gen 1:1-3).
- Sin – We voluntarily walked away from our loving creator and God’s good way for us. (Is 53:6)
- We don’t. God did. God’s grace was given through Jesus’ death & resurrection. (Eph 2:8-9)
All of which lead to the one really big human question: What about me? Christian Answer: We follow God by faith, living a life of gratitude toward God and faithful service to the world (John 1: 12, Eph 2:10).
The Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds very carefully only answer the first question. They stay on “Who is God?” That is the nature of a creed. Creeds assume that if you get the “who” right, everything else will fall into place. That focus on the “who” is what makes creeds different from confessions. Since creeds are the least you can belief, churches that cannot endorse the Nicene Creed, like the LDS or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not considered Christian churches. This is not personal. It is not meanness. It is simply that to not be able to endorse the Nicene Creed means we are talking about different Gods. As we said in our last post, creeds are the broad fence around the very least it means to be a Christian. A lot of groups fit into that playground: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Pentecostals, Copts…anyone who holds to a trinitarian view of God. It is only these late theological innovators that do not wish to enter the fence of the trinity to whom Christians say, “We are sorry. But change your mind on the Trinity and come on in!”
The shape of Creeds: A Trinitarian Narrative
At their most basic level, creeds do not express a systematic theology but a narrative one. As I said in the previous post, the creeds give us the interpretive framework from which to view the Christian story – a new story within which to orient our lives. The Christian story, in a nutshell, is that God, dwelling in triune love, desired to share his great love and so created. Taking love for granted, we wandered. God, unwilling to let us go, moved into the neighborhood in the form of Jesus, showed us a vision of a kingdom to come, and went to the cross to redeem us from our sinful God-rejection, walked victorious from a tomb 3 days later, breathed on his own 4o days after that, and went to heaven where he “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). From there he will someday return to make all things right. Humans are now invited into that divine love through the plan of God, the work of the Son, and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit.
So the next time you say the creed. Don’t just say it. Pray it.
4 thoughts on “Aren’t all Religions are basically the same? (Creeds for Newbies, Episode 3)”
Awesome post, Matt. Following up on an affirmation I received last Wednesday (at midweek bible study) from one of the dear seniors who gathers here, I think it applies to you even more than it does to me. She said that I teach and lead bible study in a way that she can really follow. Not with high-falutin’ language or talking down from some high and lofty place, and she really thanked me for my accessible way of teaching the bible. Matt–I’m doing the same to you, except even more so. The creeds are a challenging subject, to be sure! In these several blog posts, you have made the Nicene and Apostles creeds much more accessible, especially to “newbies.” (Even to veterans/professionals, like me.)
In all seriousness, you gave me a fresh look at the creeds that I haven’t had since I took Reformed Tradition and Theology at McCormick, some years ago. Being a theology and history geek, I loved taking a close look at the historical creeds of the Reformed/Presbyterian faith. Sadly I haven’t dipped into that realm of reading since. Thank you so much for whetting my appetite for meaty subjects like these.
I did take this past Saturday for a Soul Care Retreat Day, though. Much needed! Being kind to myself? On a silent retreat. http://wp.me/p4cOf8-gm
The confessions of the Reformed faith have much that is wise and thoughtful. I am part of a different tradition, one that is about a different form of church authority (rule by the family rather than rule by the Statement of Faith), which is probably a 4th blog post on the subject. 🙂
Thanks for teeing me up with another topic!
Loved this post on creeds. They (Nicene) are a great plum line of whether a system of beliefs is in line with the entirety of the gospel or just a twisted version of it. I really like how you brought up the Trinity since that’s usually where cults will fall off the wagon.
Thank you, Hope you are well!