Reflection on two Creeds of the Anglican Church

Last week Rev. Tanis wrote a piece on the congregational singing. This week we’re sharing some work she did, reflecting on two of the creeds that are a regular part of most Anglican services. The Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds. In a few days Rev. Donald will post on a third, though much less used, creed, The Athanasian (so-called)

Reflection on two Creeds of the Anglican Church

Rev. Deacon Tanis Kolisnyk

In our Sunday worship services in the Anglican Church here in Canada, we have the opportunity to say either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Have you ever wondered why we have this as part of our service? I had the opportunity to do some reflection on this and to do some liturgical analysis to start to explore this a bit more. My question was – Why are Creeds important to us as Anglicans and why do we still have them in our services today?

Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles by Constantinople master

In Christian church history, the Creeds were useful in several ways and for some of those same reasons, they are important today. It is a public statement of faith, a standardized way in which people confess their faith in Jesus Christ. A creed is a concrete way to anchor the Christian faith and it ensures consistent beliefs from generation to generation. It was an anchor for the early church and for us today.

The Creeds were a preaching and teaching tool, giving an outline for further discipleship. Creeds could be memorized by the people and through frequent repetition this would help many believers who could not read. Even today when a believer enters into a time of crisis, pain or confusion, the creeds and our prayers that are part of our Anglican worship, can bring us comfort and come to mind quickly.

Creeds also provide a doctrinal basis for different churches to accept one another. I find this last point rather interesting in regards to Anglican/ Lutheran dialogue because both churches have the same standard creeds within their worship books. The United Church of Canada has expanded their creeds in their worship service and there are other denominations who do not say creeds on a regular basis.

The Creeds begins with a simple statement of faith in God, who has all power and is the originator of everything. Our beliefs about Jesus Christ include that he is a real specific person, born of a woman, executed under a specific Roman governor which is recorded in Scripture and in world history. These points are reflected in the Creeds. Jesus interacted with the real world. He had a real body that was born, crucified and buried, and yet he was divine, too — conceived by the Holy Spirit, resurrected and ascended into heaven at a position of supreme power. He is the Son of God, a unique Lord who is above all earthly lords, and he is the Judge who will return to earth to determine everyone’s reward.

The Apostles Creed is first referenced in a letter from the Council of Milan in the year 390. It is considered a baptismal creed since it is used in that rite and is one of the most basic statements of the Christian faith.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed originated with the First Council of Nicea who met and rejected the heresy of Arianism, which held that Christ is a creature, less than God the Father. The orthodox, led by St. Athanasius taught that Christ is ‘of one substance (homoousios) with the Father’ and ‘God of God, light of light, very God of very God’, ‘begotten not made’, to battle the views of the Arians. The debate at and after Nicaea revolved around the word homoousios, which does not occur in Scripture. The Arians used the word homoiousios, ‘of similar substance’, to define their belief. The creed of this Council forms the core of our Nicene Creed, but the full text that we now use was produced by the next Council (with the exception of one word, filioque, ‘and the Son’, added later).

Council of Nicaea.

 

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins: And I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

One thing that stands apart is that in the Apostle’s Creed there is reference to Jesus Christ descending into hell. In some of my biblical studies we used a text called Worship Old and New author Webber always encouraged liturgical analysis to be rooted in reference to the scriptures. Psalm 16:11 is a good example of the roots where the Apostle’s creeds refer to Hell as being part of the Christ story. “You will not abandon me to the grave” — to Hades, the realm of the dead.”

Some believe Jesus was conscious, and others believe he was not, but either way, scripture is the root of why this is part of the Apostle’s creed of faith. The Apostle’s Creed has been useful for Christian confession, doctrine and discipleship. Today both creeds continue to be a valid statement of faith for Anglicans and they are both in our BCP and BAS resources and our Lutheran friends use these creeds in their resources as well.

When you compare the Apostle’s Creed with the Nicene Creed, there are interesting observations.
Apostle’s Creed                                                                  Nicene Creed
Early Western Church                                                      Eastern Church
Liturgical churches                                                           Universally Accepted
“I” personal act,                                                                 “We” church assembly, communal bond.
He descended into hell – Hebrew “Sheol”                   No hell mentioned

In Marva Dawn’s theology book called, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, she says that it is important to convey God’s revelation to people. She goes on to say that institutional languages of creed and doctrine often come across as stale and timeworn. This is a dilemma then. We need to relate the objective truth of the gospel in a way that will relate to people’s everyday experiences, their feelings and concerns. I agree that our worship practices should invite people to experience the truth firsthand and not simply as tradition. The thing is our creeds have served an important purpose as my research argues above, yet this does not jive with Marva Dawns statements in her book on page 113.

It will be interesting to see how creeds that have been with the Christian church for centuries will stand the next test of time for the generations to come. Anglicans pray the Apostles’ Creed usually during services that include baptism and services of Morning Prayer. The Nicene Creed is primarily used during services where we celebrate communion together. Each of these creeds have in the past and do in the present, join Christians throughout the ages in affirming our faith in the one God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.

My hope is that Anglicans will continue to include these two creeds in our worship weekly, from generation to generation, and they will not disappear into history.