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Message from 01-06-08… The Nicene Creed

January 10, 2008

An Affirmation of the Nicene Creed

What are some of the things that we as church family believe and affirm? We are asked that question often, and we are admittedly a little anxious about our answer. We aren’t anxious because we have a lack of belief. In truth, we have a rich faith and belief tradition in this congregation’s past, present and in, God willing, its future. We are anxious because that question is sometimes a pretext to hurtful, judgmental divisions. Within our faith and belief tradition we have always affirmed the richness and strength of our diversity. Our congregants come from many great faith traditions such as American Baptist, Catholic and Pentecostal, just to name a few.

But even in our diversity we still find ourselves standing, as a congregation and as individuals, within two thousand years of amazing Christian community. Standing within that “great cloud of witnesses,” as the writer of Hebrews calls it (See Endnote #1), means that even in diversity we still belong to one another; we are in this together.

One of the unifying fixtures of our greater faith community has been the creedal statement. We at Church in Bethesda, with others who have spanned the globe, generations and church traditions, affirm the Nicene Creed of the 4th Century. The Nicene Creed reads as follows:

   We 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. Amen.

What does it mean to affirm a creedal statement?

The intent of affirming an ancient yet living creedal statement is not to condemn or exclude someone who does not immediately understand or support every line of the statement. It is an effort to help others understand the flow of belief and faith which frames our own faith today.

To affirm the creedal statement is not to bind it upon each person who fellowships with us as a test for “rightness” or one’s value as an individual believer or as a member of our community.

Every person’s faith journey is at once extremely personal and also inextricably bound up with those with whom we live, work, play and worship. To affirm a creedal statement is to respect that connection. To not hold that statement as a litmus test for fellowship or individual worth is to respect our diversity.

Think of the Nicene Creed as one of the many anchor points that we have as a community at Church in Bethesda within the greater community of Christians through the ages. Historically and theologically it helps people within and without our community to understand where we are coming from and where we are going. Our understanding and use of the ideas within the creedal statement are somewhat fluid and porous as we interact with its truths and its mysteries, but even as we leave our individual impact on the statement we affirm its integrity and authenticity. We grant the Nicene Creed a gift of “life,” to be a living, growing and interactive part of our life.

How does the creed operate without binding us?

Need an example of how we affirm a creed but not be bound by it? Let’s talk about the historical language of the Nicene Creed; it’s completely male oriented. The creed’s age and place in history means that the male image is predominant, but it does not mean that we at Church in Bethesda believe God to be exclusively male, nor the Holy Spirit to be male. God is above and beyond language, above and beyond sex. We do not use the male imagery and language exclusively at Church in Bethesda.

Ultimately we are dealing with the use of doctrine in a community of faith. We are struggling to join the rich tradition wrestling with doctrine, living doctrine and some instances changing or creating doctrine as we experience God in our communities, scripture and individual lives. But we do not do this in a void; we come as a collection of individuals to this rich history called Christianity.

It’s not a password to get in the door or positions of power…

You are not required to make a personal statement of belief or support of any specific interpretation of the Nicene Creed to be in fellowship at Church in Bethesda. We only hope you will join us in this dynamic experience and journey through the faith which we’ve individually and jointly inherited. We are heirs of this great treasure together.  (See Endnote # 2)

We come from many different Christian traditions to form Church in Bethesda, and we come with varying experiences and attitudes towards “creeds” and creedal statements. Some of us grew up loving and reciting creeds, and others (me included) grew up in traditions that taught them to be inherently bad and a part of a misinformed practice. The truth of the creeds worth and authenticity will reside in the veracity of its ideas and the handling of it by living, creative human beings.

Whatever the individual’s background, we are each invited to experience the creed and envision a way forward with it. Our way forward will be free and open, enlivening and creative. A creedal statement, after all is said and done, is simply a collection of words, inherently worth little more than the paper or pixels with which it’s printed. Human beings are the image of God. Amen.

Helpful Definitions

Affirm
Verb, to express agreement with or commitment to;
uphold; support: to affirm human rights
Creed
Noun, any system or codification of belief or of opinion
Begotten
Adjective, (of offspring) generated by procreation;
“naturally begotten child”
Incarnate
Adjective, embodied in flesh; given a bodily, esp. a human, form
Catholic
Adjective, universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all
Apostolic
Adjective, of or characteristic of an apostle; pertaining to or
characteristic of the 12 apostles; derived from the apostles in
regular succession
Baptism
Noun, a ceremonial immersion in water, or application of
water, as an initiatory rite or sacrament of the Christian church

*All definitions pulled from http://www.dictionary.com, and each was chosen for its appropriateness to the discussion at hand.

Endnotes:

1 Hebrews 12:1 NIV, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  The writer of Hebrews has been listing great examples of faith, male and female, from the Old Testament stories so readily familiar to the letter’s first recipients. Today we can include the great New Testament examples from Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon and the Apostles, right up to the wonderful examples of faith in our families and all around us. We are caught up in a beautiful, pan-generational, pan-millennial, and pan-global faith story. Our names have been added to that colorful, exciting list of characters.

2 Romans 8:12-17 NLT, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”  Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome about the reality of being “in Christ.” It is a re-orientation of life which impacts our relationship to God and to one another.

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