Category Archives: Nicene Creed

We Believe – week 7

Week 7, October 3, 2012

 

This week is the last of our seven-week series on the Nicene Creed. These articles will continue to be available in our archives under the Categories listings.  

To listen to interviews, find questions for your own reflection, and view the creed in photos, click on the Nicene Creed tab above.

A package of the articles, interviews, thoughts for reflection, and a PowerPoint presentation of the Nicene Creed in photos is available for personal or congregational use. To receive the package, email Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

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We Do Not Believe in the Nicene Creed 

by the Rev. Mike Marsh

“One night the Master led his disciples into the open fields and a star-studded sky. Then, pointing toward the stars, he looked at the disciples and said, ‘Now concentrate on my finger, everyone.’ They got the point.”  (Anthony DeMello, One Minute Nonsense, 135)

In another story DeMello is less subtle about his meaning: “When the sage points to the moon, all that the idiot sees is the finger” (One Minute Nonsense, 132). 

In some sense these two little stories put in context all the previous articles of this series about the Nicene Creed. They also offer us a warning. We must be careful that we do not mistake the Creed for the Reality to which it points, directs, and guides us.

The Creed is a symbol of our faith, pointing beyond itself to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As we hear and say the Creed over and over we discover that seeing is not believing. Rather, believing becomes a new way of seeing. For most of the world, what you see is what you get. But that way is simply too limited, narrow, and small. It cannot understand or reveal the fullness of God’s life and presence in and among us. It is unwilling to trust the Mystery that is beyond human thoughts and ways. It does not know “the Father,” the one who acts “for us and for our salvation,” or “the giver of life.” It offers no hope for “the forgiveness of sins,” “the resurrection of the dead,” or “the life of the world to come.”

Neither God nor the Creed offer us a “what you see is what you get” world.

The Creed is the pointing finger. It always points to more than we can ask or imagine. Some will spend their time intellectualizing and studying the finger. Others will use it to gouge out eyes, their own or another’s. Still others will use it draw lines in the sand. (One Minute Nonsense, 134.) All three options arise from believing in the Creed. We must, therefore, be “sufficiently detached from the finger to see what it is indicating” (One Minute Nonsense).

Creedal Christians do not believe in the Nicene Creed. Instead,
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty….
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God….
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life….” 

Having declared what we believe and, through believing, what we now see, there is only one thing left to say: “Amen.”

Our “amen” makes the Creed a prayer that what we believe and see may be realized in our own lives, personally and corporately.  

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

We Believe – week 6

Reflections

on the

Nicene Creed

This Week: Sept. 28, 2012

The life we seek but can never obtain for ourselves comes from the Spirit, says the Rev. Mike Marsh in article six of our exploration of the Nicene Creed. Read We Believe in the Life-Giving Spirit, below.

In 2003, NPR’s Krista Tippett, of Speaking of Faith, talked with religious scholar Jaroslav Pelikan about the Nicene Creed. Pelikan, who died in 2006, had devoted his life to exploring the modern vitality of ancient Christian doctrines. He believed that strong statements of belief are not antithetical but are necessary if 21st century  pluralism is to thrive. This is a long (one hour) interview, but worth taking the time to listen to.  Click on the link. http://www.onbeing.org/program/need-creeds/feature/will-believe-and-need-creed/1293.

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below

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We Believe in the Life-giving Spirit

For most of us, I suspect, there are moments when the existential questions of life can no longer be answered, ignored, or denied by focusing on our careers, jobs, marriages, families, acquisitions, or accomplishments. Who am I? What is my purpose? What have I really accomplished? How will I be remembered? Will I even be remembered? Where is all this going and what’s it about?

Some will simply chalk it up to a mid-life crisis or the frustrations and difficulties of life. Others will try to reinvent themselves. In those moments we face our own mortality, the passing of time, and the limitations of this world. That we are finite, biological creatures with a beginning and an end becomes more clear. These are “spiritual” moments par excellence.

At the heart of these moments are our longing and yearning for life, not just life as we know it, more of the same, but a life we can scarcely imagine, let alone obtain for ourselves.

Who is the one that will give us that life? What does that life look like? Those questions are answered by the third and final part of the Nicene Creed:

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.

The life we seek but can never obtain for ourselves comes from the Spirit. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless” (John 6:63). Our created, biological identity and existence cannot offer the fullness of life for which we long. That does not mean the created stands in opposition to the spiritual. It means, rather, that we can live as creatures of the Creator but that our ultimate identity and mode of existence are not limited and bound by our created nature. We are given a new mode of existence that comes not from our own possibilities but from God’s will and choice to love, to give life. There is more to us than our biological finitude. That is the scandal of being human, and it happens “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“By the power of the Holy Spirit” God is enfleshed and embodied from the Virgin Mary and made man, Jesus. In the same way, the power of the Holy Spirit descends upon humanity, you and me, indeed all of creation, to accomplish a renewal of life. This renewal of life is neither “an ethical ‘improvement’ of man, or his legal ‘restoration’” but the constitution of life itself (Christos Yannaras, Elements of Faith, p. 125). The Spirit fulfills in us our deepest and most profound desire for life.

We do not simply have a life, we become life.

It is for these reasons that the Creed declares the Spirit to be not just a giver of life but “the giver of life” (emphasis added). There is only one who gives life. That one, the Spirit, is “the Lord.” This is the same title given to Jesus Christ and is synonymous in the Hebrew tradition for “Yahweh,” God. Further, we affirm that this is not just any spirit but that the Spirit is “Holy” and to be “worshiped and glorified” in the same way and to the same degree as the Father and the Son. All this is the Church’s way of declaring that the Holy Spirit is God. The Spirit is as fully divine as are the Father and the Son.

As the life giver, the Spirit both originates and consummates life, not as events completed in the past or to be completed in the future but by the ongoing and continuous giving of life.

Life is never abstract. It is personal and embodied, though not necessarily material or tangible. That is the point of the creedal statements about the prophets, the Church, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and, the life of the world to come. Each of those is a manifestation of embodied life, the presence and power of the life giving Spirit, and not simply a declaration.

There are prophets in every age. They are the ones through whom the Spirit “has spoken.” Their words come from insight more than foresight. They speak less about what will be and more about what can be, right here, right now. Instead of predicting the future they call us to see and claim the new life God is offering in our time and place. They call us to an ecclesial rather than a purely biological existence.

“Ecclesia,” from the Greek verb meaning “to call out,” is commonly translated to mean “church.” It is the gathering or assembling of those who have a common calling. They are united not by common ideas, interests, or causes but by the Spirit’s call to a common life and existence. The Church is not just an institution or organization. It is constituted by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit takes a body of individual Christians and transforms them into the Body of Christ, the Church. In that regard, we “live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us” (Eucharistic Prayer D, Book of Common Prayer, p. 374).

Within the Church, the ecclesia, the Spirit effects baptism and the forgiveness of sins. This is the story of creation, life coming into existence. We tell this story in every baptismal liturgy:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.
In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah,
the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death.
By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
(Holy Baptism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 306).

Our existence, identity, and value are no longer determined by what we do, by what we have, or from whom we were born. Through baptism and the forgiveness of sins we die to our biological and fleshly existence. This does not mean we are without life. Rather, we are freed to receive a new life. We are freed from a purely biological existence and identity and now share in a new identity and way of being, the resurrected life of Christ. In this regard, “every baptized person becomes ‘Christ’” (John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 58n.54).

Despite our ecclesial existence we still experience biological birth and death just like Jesus did. They are not, however, our final reality or identity. Ecclesial existence for us is not about what we have become but about what we are becoming. We, therefore, look “for the life of the world to come.”

At the deepest level the life we seek and the life the Spirit gives are the same. The glory of God is found at the intersection of our seeking and the Spirit’s giving. “The glory of God,” said Irenaeus, a bishop of the second century, “is a human being fully alive” (Against Heresies, 4.20.7).

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

We Believe – week 5

Reflections

on the

Nicene Creed

This Week: Sept. 19, 2012

Heard about any good scandals lately? The Rev. Mike Marsh sees one in the Nicene Creed. Read The Scandal of Being Human, below.

The Nicene Creed is like a boulder-strewn field, says the Rev. Dr. Jane Patterson. We need to trip over some of the boulders to get us thinking about what the creed means for our own lives. Listen to an interview with Jane. Click the icon below.

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below

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The Scandal of Being Human

The Rev. Mike Marsh

Every time we say the Nicene Creed, we profess the world’s greatest scandal. God chose to become human. God chose to reveal himself through flesh and blood. God chose to enter this world in the usual way, to be born of a human mother the same as you and I were. God chose to live and die as one of us. God chose death as the way to new life. God chose to seat humanity at his right hand.

Jesus Christ is the embodiment of this scandal.

The world is full of scandals: moral failings, political debacles, sexual infidelities, economic disasters. The list could go on and on. Scandals come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes. They are the subject of headline news; the content of editorials and opinions; and the topics of gossip, blogs, posts, and tweets. Human nature, human flesh, and human blood are at the heart of every scandal. It is the scandal of being human.

The question is, from whose perspective do we view the scandal of being human? Ours or God’s? The perspective we choose, the one we most trust, will orient our relationship with God and determine the way we live and treat one another.

Far too often we use our humanity as an excuse or a justification. “I’m only human,” the scandalizer declares, as if his or her humanity were a deficiency and a barrier to God. As stated in the previous article (see the week 4 entry), however, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). For God, humanity is not a barrier to, but the revelation of his life and love. In Jesus Christ the fullness of divinity and the fullness of humanity exist and live in complete union. God does not act on humanity but in humanity.

The Church proclaims the scandal with these words:

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.

This part of the Creed structures the scandal around two relationships and one overarching movement. These three components converge in our Lord Jesus Christ but with profound implications for us all. Taken as a whole, these three components are the core of the good news, the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first relationship described is the one between Jesus and the Father. We declare that Jesus Christ is our Lord, meaning we can have no other. He is the one and only. In the Hebrew tradition “Lord” is synonymous with “Yahweh,” God. This is not only in name but also in being. The Church does not try to explain what God is. It declares that whatever God is, Jesus Christ also is. He is “God from God,” “Light from Light,” “true God from true God,” “of one being with the Father.”

Jesus is and has the same “stuff,” whatever that might be, as God, the Father, the Almighty. Jesus is God. We’re not just saying it, we mean it!

The second relationship the Creed describes is between Jesus and humanity. “In assuming human nature, God intervenes in time and places himself in human history” (Christos Yannaras, Elements of Faith, p. 101). This intervention and placement happens through historic events and people: the annunciation of Mary’s pregnancy, Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; his crucifixion at the hands of a Roman governor; his suffering, death, and burial in the earth; his resurrection; and his ascension.

The relationship is localized with particular people in a specific time and place. It is not, however, bound to or limited by those people or that time and place.

While stated as historical facts, the events of Jesus’ life contain and reveal mythological truths; meaning the truths proclaimed are bigger than and beyond their historical context. Those truths touch all people, in all times, and in all places. All this, the Creed declares, not once but twice, is for us. It is “for our sake,” “for us and for our salvation.”

The overarching movement in this part of the Creed is one of descent and ascent. The descent began when “[Jesus] came down from heaven.” It continued with his death and burial. The ascent began “on the third day [when] he rose again” and continued when he “ascended into heaven.” These are mystical not spatial descriptors. It is not a change in Jesus’ location but a change in our condition and relationship. It is a movement from God, to and through humanity, and back to God. In Christ our human nature is assumed by God and “seated at the right hand of the Father.”

That’s what the scandal of being human looks like from God’s perspective. What does that mean for us? It means we have not been abandoned. Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:39). God in Christ has accomplished for us what we could not do for ourselves. God sees us as more than the sum of our actions, successes, and failures. God always sees more in us than what we see in ourselves. When “we believe,” living the scandal and enacting the Creed, the way forward, though not necessarily easy, is open, clear, and beckoning us into endless possibilities for new life. This is where it gets really scandalous. Through Christ our humanity has become the way to our divinity. By the grace of God we can become fully divine and fully human.

Irenaeus, a bishop in the second century, puts it like this:

The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, … did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, preface).

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

We Believe – week 4

This Week: Sept. 12, 2012

How do we talk about God when God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)? Very carefully, says the Rev. Mike Marsh. Otherwise we risk imaging God and creating an idol with our words and thoughts.  Read Five Things We Believe About God, below.

What are the most important things a person can take with him or her on a mission? Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, says Betty Chumney, Director of World Mission for the Diocese of West Texas. Listen to an interview with Betty; click the button below.

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about  True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below

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Five Things We Believe about God 

The Rev. Mike Marsh

“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.”

With just 21 words the Nicene Creed describes God. Twenty-one words? That’s it? Surely there is more that can be said about God. I suspect there is. Maybe, however, that’s not the question. Maybe the better question is, “At what risk do we say more?” Let’s not forget God’s question to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2)?

How, then, do we talk about God when God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)? Very carefully. Otherwise we risk imaging God and creating an idol with our words and thoughts.

A good friend, mentor, and teacher of mine used to remind me that when it comes to theology we often say more than we really know or can know. It was his way of warning me to be humble, cautious, and not too certain when speaking of God. Perhaps that is why creedal statements are so concise and lacking in specifics.

God is not a problem to be solved, a question to be answered, or a doctrine to be explained, but a mystery to be experienced.

Creedal statements come not so much from our intellectual understanding but from our heart. As with our professions of love for another, our creedal statements offer declarations not proofs. Whether we are confessing our love for another or our belief in God, the challenge is always to live according to what we have declared. What then are we declaring in this first section of the Nicene Creed?

First, we are declaring that God exists. It is a declaration that God is God and we are not. We are believers in God’s existence, thereby distinguishing ourselves from atheists and agnostics. We are affirming a mystery, a presence, an existence at the heart of the world that is beyond our ability to control, explain, measure, or manipulate.

There is more to our life and world than what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.

Second, in declaring God to be one we are echoing the ancient confession, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). There is no distinction between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God Jesus calls Father. “God’s work in and through Israel is the implicit premise for God’s new work in Christ” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed, p. 72).

The oneness of God will not permit us to speak about an Old Testament God and a New Testament God, a God of judgment and a God of mercy, a God of law and a God of grace. Our finite minds cannot reconcile an all-powerful God and human free will, or divine goodness and human suffering.

But we are not called to understand; rather, we are called to experience the oneness of God that invites us deeper into the mystery of these paradoxes.

Our third declaration is that God is Father. This does not mean that God has sexuality or gender. Neither is it a projection of human fatherhood on God. It means that God is personal and relational. God is not abstract, indifferent to, or uninvolved in the life of the world and humanity. God can be known and experienced. To state the obvious, one is a father by having a child. In the Old Testament this is revealed in God’s creating and nurturing a people, Israel. In the New Testament God’s fatherhood is directly and most clearly revealed through his Son, Jesus. Through the “spirit of adoption” we participate in Jesus’ filial relationship and can approach God as “our father,” and cry, “Abba, Father” (Ro. 8:15).

The designation of God as “the almighty” is our fourth creedal declaration. It distinguishes God from humanity and is the premise of our prayer and the basis upon which we appeal to God. However, the personal existence of this all-powerful God means “God can do all things and God chooses to do some things” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed, p. 86). This is clearly demonstrated when, at Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36). Again, creedal statements declare but offer no explanation of how or why.

With this fourth declaration we confess that God is “the almighty” even in the midst of suffering, apparent evil, and circumstances we neither want nor understand, trusting “that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Ro. 8:28).

Our final declaration designates God as creator, the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” God is the source and origin of all that is. Creation is, therefore, good. There is both material (seen) reality and nonmaterial (unseen) reality. Thus, there is more to creation than what we can perceive by the physical senses.

The spiritual world is as real as the material world. Nothing that exists has its existence outside of God. This does not mean that creation is God but that creation points to and reveals God’s presence and activity. Creation is not simply a historic event, limited to the distant past. It is the present and ongoing work of God “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

Having begun with God’s question to Job, let us hear a piece of Job’s final response to God: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). At some point all our talk of God must give way to the profundity of silence.

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

 

We Believe – week 3

Reflections

on the

Nicene Creed

This Week: September 5, 2012

The Christian life is not about “me and my Jesus.” That’s too small, too easy, and too risky, says the Rev. Mike Marsh in Communal believing. Read it below.

What do college students think about the Nicene Creed? Greg Richards, the Director of College Mission for the diocese, talks about that and the part the creed played in his own spiritual journey. Listen here.

The creed in community: The congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX prays the Nicene Creed together during a Sunday morning worship service.  Listen here.

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about  True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below

Communal Believing

the Rev. Mike Marsh 

Someone once asked an old hermit, “Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?” “No,” said the hermit. “I prefer to share him with others.”

There is wisdom in the hermit’s words. The Christian life is not about “me and my Jesus.” That’s too small, too easy, and too risky. It can quickly degenerate into “Sheilaism.” In his book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah writes of a woman, Sheila, who had taken various beliefs from here and there and constructed a private religion she named Sheilaism. It left her isolated from a community of faith, outside a sacred tradition, and free to believe a thousand different things before lunchtime on any given day.

Individualism is one of the great dangers and idols in today’s society. It’s not just about Sheila. It is also about you, me, and the Church. It is the antithesis of the Church’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (“An Outline of the Faith,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 855). The Creeds stand against the danger of individualism.

Why then do we sometimes confess “I believe” (The Apostles’ Creed) and other times confess “We believe” (The Nicene Creed)? The very fact that we do, declares that it is not one or the other; it is both at the same time. My believing is not in opposition to, but in need of our believing. My believing is what allows me to stand next to you and, together, say, “We believe.” Likewise “our” believing is what strengthens and sustains my believing.

Believing begins with and has its origin in the community. The community’s believing precedes and welcomes the individual’s believing. Even as the individual adds to, enhances, and makes the community more fully itself, the community shapes and forms the individual more fully into herself or himself.

When an individual is baptized, initiated into the communal life of the Holy Trinity, the liturgy does not begin with the individual but with the community:

     Celebrant: There is one Body and one Spirit;

     People: There is one hope in God’s call to us;

     Celebrant: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

     People: One God and Father of all.

Individual believing happens in the context of the community, even when we say, “I believe.” In the Apostles’ Creed, for example, we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord” (emphasis added), not “my Lord.” The structures of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed both have three major parts: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This structure reminds us that our confession of faith, whether “I believe” or “We believe,” is grounded in and leading us into communal life, communal believing. The one and the many exist not in spite of but because of each other.

Sometimes the communal belief of the Church is all we have. When life falls apart and we don’t know what to say, the Church speaks for us. When we are confused and lost, the Church guides us. When we don’t know what to believe, the Church knows. When we don’t or can’t believe, the Church does. The Church’s belief strengthens and sustains our own believing and sometimes protects us from our self, our Sheilaism. “The Church always believes more and better than any one its members,” says Luke Timothy Johnson in The Creed (p. 46).

To pray “We believe in one God …,” says Johnson, is to join our voice to the Church’s voice, to step into something larger than our own ideas, doubts, fears, and questions, “in the hope that our individual ‘I believe’ someday approaches the strength of the church’s ‘We believe.’”

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com

 

We Believe – week 2

Reflections on the Nicene Creed

This Week: August 28, 2012

The Nicene Creed responds to some of the basic questions put forth by the early Church:  Who is Jesus? How did he enter this world? How did he leave this world? Read Who Believes? by the Rev. Mike Marsh, below.

At Grace Church, San Antonio, much of the congregation has never heard the Nicene Creed. What do they do on Sunday morning? Listen to an interview with the Rev. Jay George, vicar of our newest church plant

View the Creed in photos, as a PDF or PowerPoint presentation click here

A creed that raises money: Michael and Heather Smith of Dallas – a writer/photographer team – have produced a photo-illustrated book of the Nicene Creed, the proceeds from which support True Awakening, a ministry that feeds orphans in Africa. Follow the link to see the book and learn about  True Awakening. www.beautifulthing.org.

For your own reflection: questions/suggestions to help you live the Creed.click here.

Join the conversation, or start it – leave a comment below 

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Who Believes?

by the Rev. Mike Marsh 

The earliest creedal statements were short professions of faith, often reflected local concerns, and were not necessarily concerned with uniformity of expression. Within the various statements, however, points of agreement were grounded in the Jesus story.

Perhaps the earliest statement is, “Jesus is Lord.” By the end of the second century such statements were steadily moving toward an increasingly standard expression of the faith. 

However, the creeds were never intended to be exclusive or exhaustive doctrinal statements. They are, rather, a concise, formal, and authorized statement of basic beliefs about God. They do not offer details of Jesus’ life, teachings, or miracles. They respond to bigger questions: Who is Jesus? How did he enter this world? How did he leave this world? The creeds point us to the gospels for more details.

The creeds simply state a truth rather than explaining the details of that truth. They state what is rather than how it is. The “how it is” is experienced in living the creeds, in putting our faith into action.  

Thus, the creeds originally began as simple formulas of belief spoken by those about to be baptized. The Apostles’ Creed originated from a set of questions asked of baptismal candidates at Rome near the end of the second century. Its current form was set by the eighth century. Likewise, the Nicene Creed is thought to have been based on the earlier baptismal creed of Jerusalem. These earliest baptismal creeds were an individual’s profession of belief, hence, “I believe.”

As conflicting views about Jesus became more prominent, the creeds became more formal and seen as the standard of correct belief. This is especially true of the Nicene Creed which arose out of a church-wide gathering held in Nicaea (northwest Turkey) in 325. This was the first ecumenical council.

Remember, there were no denominations at this time. There was just the Church.

In some sense the statements of belief in the Nicene Creed are answers or responses to questions and conflicts within the Church. The Nicene Creed as it was expanded and revised at subsequent councils (Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451) represents the Church’s statement of beliefs, hence, “We believe.” The Nicene Creed was first used in the Eucharist in the fifth century at Antioch. That use later spread to the western church. 

The Episcopal Church uses both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is our baptismal creed. It is also used at weddings, funerals, and the daily office. The Nicene Creed remains our Eucharistic creed and is used “on Sunday and other Major Feasts.” 

Whether it is “I believe” or “we believe,” believing is more than just intellectual understanding or assent. The Latin and Greek words that are translated as “believe” also convey a sense of trust, entrusting, and commitment. At a deeper level they are saying that we are giving ourselves to God.

Grammatically, they are verbs that suggest an ongoing present action. A more literal translation from the original languages might be, “I am believing in One God” or “We are believing in one God.”

Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Believing, then, is our life’s work, and the creeds describe that work. 

The Rev. Mike Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Follow his blog at http://interruptingthesilence.com