June 3, 2020

The Evangelical Liturgy 15: The Creeds

creedalismThis entire series is introduced here, and you can find all of the posts under the “Evangelical Liturgy” category in the categories menu.

A hymn I grew up singing said that “My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed.” A frequent accusation made against Baptist conservatives during the conservative resurgence was that they were “imposing creedalism” on the Southern Baptist Convention.

A rule of thumb for denominational conflict: before making an accusation, make sure that the matter under discussion is actually a bad thing.

A second rule of thumb, particularly for any Baptist moderates or evangelical liberals left with the impression that “creedalism” remains an effective taunt: be sure that you don’t find yourself defending the disease and ridiculing health (or medicine, in this case.)

My Southern Baptist Convention gives no acknowledgment of the existence of the entire creedal history of the church. When Robert Webber told me that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds were mine as a Baptist, I immediately looked around to see if the Papal armies were camped outside.

Today, the theological community created by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is one of my great hopes for navigating the evangelical wilderness. Liturgical speaking, I can’t get enough of them. I’d probably accept both creeds as a puppet presentation if I couldn’t get them any other way.

The evangelical liturgy must own up to the great tradition and theological center that exists in the classic creeds. We do not need to vote on them or adopt them. As statements of the faith of the church forged in the early centuries of Christian life and debate, they stand on their own. Evangelicals do not decide to use them. We are privileged to pay our allegiance to Christ through them and to stand with those who have been defined by them.

For many of us, the Nicene Creed is as close to a definition of essential Christianity as we have and many of us believe it is the one great boundary around the waters of baptism and the Lord’s Table. The use of creeds in liturgy is commendable for any number of reasons:

1. A summary of the Christian faith

2. A connection to the great tradition

3. A connection to the broader, deeper, more ancient church.

4. A beautiful statement of the centrality of Christ and the relative place of other doctrines.

5. A confession for worship, joining all together in one proclamation of belief.

The placement of the Creed (I assume they are alternated in some form) is a matter of disgression. My own practice is to close a sermon with a Trinitarian blessing and then transition to “This is the faith that we believe…” and the creed.

In the Presbyterian liturgy, the Creed often comes early. In other liturgies, it comes late or occasionally comes at the conclusion of the Eucharist. There are sung versions of the Creeds.

The actual placement of the creeds is completely optional and should be varied. The emphasis placed on the creeds should be careful so there is no room for an accusation of “creedalism.”

At the same time, we cannot unilaterally devalue the creeds or our Protestant/evangelical connection to them. To do so is to, eventually, leave the impression that every congregation and every Christian is re-inventing the “wheel” of the Christian faith out of their own resources. This ahistorical, individualized version of evangelicalism tell significant lies regarding Christian community and Christian origins.

We do not place our faith in creeds but in Christ. As Rich Mullins said, however, “I did not make it; No, it is making me.” Such historical anchors are “making us,” if we access the rich theological and historical stories they tell.


  1. Dunker Eric says

    Having grown up in a church that professed having “no creed but the New Testament”, and reminded of times of persecution in the past when creeds were used to separate the faithful from heretics. So, I am biased.

    I accept your points, but reserve some preference for avoiding a creed because I feel it suggests too much an ability to summarize and to contain the essence of the faith. I’m not against summaries, just ones that take on a primary status as really getting it, more or less for all time.

    I guess I think it is more important to have to be referred back to the whole New Testament, to struggle with the problems, contradictions and so on.

    Of course I know you do that, even with creeds, so I am not wildly against it, just not totally convinced.

  2. Wow! Now my mind is swimming. May have to pull out the headphones and fire up the mp3 player to get rid of the image of puppets playing hammer dulcimer and singing Mullins’s “Creed”!

    But great post. I am glad to hear evangelicals supporting the Creeds. I love the classic creeds, although occasionally some modern creeds are good, too. Every year our confirmation class at church writes their own version of the creed. Last years was quite good!

    • Jay, I have no doubt but that somewhere, someone has done this exact thing 🙂

      • L. Winthrop says

        I’m thinking there should be a youtube video where the same Orthodox choir sings “Car with the license plate number DBD-661 your lights are oooooooooonnnnnnnn…”

  3. Points well-made. In my experience (Bible churches), we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater in our desire to be “biblical”. As a child growing up in the Reformed Church of America, I heard more biblical theology in the Apostle’s Creed each week than I’ve heard in a thousand sermons. And it was the thing that connected me to the old saints in the church before I ever made a public profession of my own faith in Christ–we were all in agreement.

  4. David Ulrich says

    The Nicene Creed is a beautiful, rich, and concise statement of essential Christian doctrine. It’s wonderful to read out loud with the whole congregation.

    I just left an independent, presbyterian-structured, reformed congregation where we recited the Nicene Creed at the end of the Lord’s Supper, which we celebrated once a month. While I’m now looking for a more simple, non-liturgical congregation, I’ll admit that reciting the Nicene Creed together with my old congregation was a faith-strengthening act.

    I’d love to hear a sung version of the Creed. I’m so glad you mentioned that.

  5. I’m beginning to perceive in this amazing series the foundations of a study series to lead for a potential church plant that’s evangelical and liturgical in the best sense of Robert Webber. (IOW, be careful, you’re giving this seminary kid wild ideas!)

  6. You can hear John Michael Talbot’s song “Creed” on youtube by someone who illustrated the song with a collage of artwork. I’ve always liked this song.


    You can still buy a 99¢ MP3 of it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Creed-I/dp/B0018GVAJA

  7. Excellent topic. Long before there was the “Romans Road”, the creeds were what unified the church and clearly laid out what the “fundamentals” of the faith really were. How many evangelical Christians can summarize their Christian faith as well as is done in the creeds? Maybe on certain points, modern evangelicals could do a decent job, but the creeds cover the entire range of Christian doctrine intelligently, succintly and devotionally. I understand the aversion to putting too much credence (no pun intended) in man-made writings from councils as opposed to going to the Word itself. However, in the case of the historic creeds, they represent a most sincere, dedicated, unified effort to summarize the teachings of the Word in a form easy for people to memorize, recite, meditate on, use a framework for sharing with unbelievers, etc—-they should be seen as a great starting point for exploring the Word in more depth, complementing it rather than supplanting it. Certainly, the creeds have stood the test of time as well—I find it deeply meaningful to think that the same words I’m reciting (or at least a translation of the same words!) have been recited by Christians for centuries upon centuries.

    The depth of theology particularly in the Nicene Creed is amazing and I doubt that many evangelicals today understand or have even thought of much of it. Words like “true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father” were much agonized over before the final form was decided on. Each phrase has a very specific meaning, conveying a specific aspect of Christ’s divinity and His relationship with the Father—-it’s not just repetitive language all saying basically that Jesus is God. A good book on this subject in particular is The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham—while more specific than just a work on the creeds, there is much discussion of them and how the doctrine of the Trinity in particular was such a major part of the discussions about the ultimate wording used.

    Another aspect of the creeds worth noting, in my opinion, is that (particularly the Nicene) came out of an era when official “sanction” was being put upon the fundamentals of Christianity, thanks to Constantine making Christianity the state religion of Rome. I don’t think, as many liberals or non-believers like to suggest, that all the formal sanctioning being done at this time was a matter of groups arbitrarily voting on which books should be in the Bible, which doctrines were to be accepted, etc—a political favorites game going on as to who would be included and who would be excluded. Rather, I think that this was a time when the books, doctrines and practices handed down from the Apostles and carefully preserved in spite of widespread persecutions and which the church throughout the world accepted were simply organized and summarized—I think God providentially directed the whole process so that at this time, a clear picture of what the Bible is (the canon of Scripture) and what the Gospel teaches (the creeds) were clearly set forth for all times. Regardless of what one believes about the origin of the canon of Scripture, it’s a fact that the books of our Bible today (particularly the New Testament) were formally sanctioned and put into the form and order we have today back during this time. The fact that the creeds came out of the same time period to me is significant in showing that a providentially directed summarizing and organizing of Christianity took place and that it’s fruit (the books of our Bible and what they actually teach) is something well worth our careful attention.

  8. I wish I had been exposed to & memorized the creeds earlier in my life; it’s much harder now that my brain is getting older & more full all the time. For anyone interested, there is a beautiful children’s picture book version of the Nicene Creed illustrated by Pauline Baynes that’s available; you’d probably have to order it, though.

    Our middle schoolers (my daughter among them) are memorizing the Westminster Catechism during 6th, 7th, & 8th grades here where I teach.

  9. Forgive my ignorance of the Baptist tradition, but why were creeds considered a bad thing? I would agree that they are a summary of the basics of our faith and not a comprehensive listing of all beliefs. But was there something in the creeds themselves that were considered objectionable?


    • They were simply trying to raise the specter of enforced theology, but the creeds are a poor choice for that errand.

      • Christiane says

        I have been blogging on a site that has discussed the effects of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Missionaries were forced to sign it or resign. Apparently, over seventy missionaries refused to sign the BF&M2K. They ‘resigned’ instead.

        Is this an example of the attempt of the SBC to create a ‘creed’ without calling it one?
        Or was it some kind of denominational attempt to define who the ‘real’ Baptists were among the missionaries? I found out that one man appointed the group that wrote the BF&M2K.
        One man. He is now the President of one of the SBC seminaries.
        What happened there, Michael, in your opinion?

        • Pretty simple.

          First, the BFM is a confession, not a creed.

          Second, it is the confession of the denomination, but it is not required to be affirmed by any churches in the convention.

          Third, a church found to be teaching contrary to the BFM would be likely to be disfellowshiped at some level of SBC life. (There are 3) But not necessarily.

          Fourth, ALL deniominational employees of the SBC and its entities- seminaries and mission boards- MUST affirm and teach in accord and not contrary to the BFM. It functions differently in the denominational entities than it does in churches.

          Therefore, the SBC does require its missionaries to affirm the BFM and those who refused to do so did so because the BFM had been updated since their appointment. The SBC was, in my view, legally right to do so, but was ungracious to make this a matter of resignation. It was a forced confrontation that had no point. Hundreds of missionaries who don’t agree with parts of the BFM affirmed it and are still on the field.



  10. I think Mullins was actually quoting Chesterton (from chapter 1 of Orthodoxy)-
    ” I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”

  11. I love your website, imonk! I am wondering, after reading many posts why you aren’t leaning in the Lutheran direction? Perhaps you’ve already addressed it in an older post, but so many things you tend toward are so Lutheran.

    • I’ve written extensively on why I am what I am.

      1) I’m in the middle of nowhere. Clay Co Ky. Look it up. No Lutheran churches of any kind within 2 hours. When you guys do some missions, people like me can have a church 🙂

      2) I’m in ministry at a school where I can use all of my gifts with people who need what I have to offer. I won’t desert God’s vocational calling over liturgical preferences.

      3) I have a geographic concept of church. I worship with and fellowship with many churches and traditions.

      • Thank you for summing that up. I need to read back farther in your archives. The posts I have read have always resonated with me. Thank you!

        I am not a cradle Lutheran, but attend a Lutheran church now. I also have a geographic concept of church and were I in your shoes I would likely be in a similar place. Lutherans do need to increase in zealousness for missions!

        • If you google LCMS and Ablaze you can read about the explicit missions goals of the LCMS. I’ve been a recipient of a LCMS church plant in the last few years.

          • Rob, many of the Ablaze! plants are going into bedroom communities of major and secondary-sized metropolitan areas. Start charting the locations on a Google map – many of the newest-planted churches are in areas that are 90% or more white, and are 20% or so above the average gross income levels for the country. It’s rather shocking. Ablaze! isn’t funding very many church plants in areas where there are absolutely NO existing Lutheran churches.

            I’d love to see a return of the circuit riders.

            Pr. Spencer – I apologize on behalf of my denomination that we’ve seriously failed in domestic missions. It’s criminal. 🙁

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Start charting the locations on a Google map – many of the newest-planted churches are in areas that are 90% or more white, and are 20% or so above the average gross income levels for the country.

            Reminds me of the story about the church board member who lobbied for going after the Yuppie demographic purely for the “enhanced tithing”.

            And why would these new “Led to Plant a Church” types want to go to a place where they might have to mix with The Wrong Kind of People? They might not be Safe! And their Family might not be Safe! How much of “being Led to Plant a Church” is really Christianese for “I’m getting my family out of the Big Bad City into Paradise”?

  12. textjunkie says

    I don’t get so nervous about creedalism; though when some of the Episcopal congregations started experimenting with dropping the “and the Son” phrase from the Nicene creed, I found I had a surprisingly strong gut reaction. That gave me a lot more sympathy for folks with strong attachments to details I don’t care about, like the eternal virginity of Mary–I had to really stop and say, do I know where the Holy Spirit proceeds from? What difference does it really make if it is from the Father or the Father and the Son? If I can’t make a sound argument one way or the other, then why am I getting so upset? 🙂

    Apparently my creedalism is part of what gives me the flexibility to muck about with Genesis and divorce and such things–to stand back from the Bible and give it some perspective. Unfortunately, that means I get uppity about the creeds, instead…

    • The reason why “and the Son” was made optional is that it was not found in the original Nicene Creed. It was a western addition from later in Church history. Do a Google, and you will find an interesting history. The East has never used “and the Son” and considers that an inappropriate and unsubstantiated Western addition. Interestingly enough, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will periodically skip the phrase if there is an Eastern representative present.

      • Well Father I think calling it “inappropriate and unsubstantiated” may be somewhat harsh, though I agree with you that it is a Western Tradition from as what you would consider a local Council.

        May be something to iron out in the next Great Re-Unification Council 😉

  13. Steve Newell says

    In the Lutheran tradition, we recognize three ecumenical creeds: The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and the The Athanasian Creed. While the Creeds are not at the same level as Holy Scripture, they sure to point us to Holy Scripture and to bind us together in a common faith. That is why we confess together, in corporate worship, the creeds.

    This week on Issues, Etc., they are spending the week on the Nicene Creed: http://www.issuesetc.org/ondemand.html.

  14. Scott Miller says

    I think that if evangelicals returned to the creeds then we would be able to more successfully articulate cornerstones of our faith, especially the Trinity. Perhaps our children would understand the faith on a deeper level and not fall away so easily after graduating High School.
    Indeed, many of my evangelical friends have a view of the Trinity that is very close to Oneness – like God the Father put on human clothes to enter the world as Jesus, despite the Scriptures plainly showing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once yet individually represented at Christ’s Baptism. No, I’m not kidding. In the rush to proclaim Jesus as God they avoid Jesus as a man. And this is not limited to one or two people. And the worship songs, especially Vineyard songs from the 90’s, mix the roles of Father and Son, not to mention the emotional romantic verbiage used for the Son.

    • Ah, sounds like Modalism (or Sabellianism) rearing its head once more. There’s a reason all these kinds of things were hashed out in the Councils of the first five centuries; there’s a reason we have the Creeds, because “there is nothing new under the sun”.

      It’s fascinating how the same old heresies recur again and again, often when someone thinks he has hit on a brand new idea never before conceived 🙂

    • I was talking with the Baptist father of a friend of mine (who is Catholic) recently. When he kept pressing that “Mother of God” is something that couldn’t be predicated of Mary, I asked him if Jesus was God. He replied that no, Christ is God, but Jesus is man. I was pretty stunned, and the conversation then got detoured into Chalcedonian orthodoxy. The Creeds, they are your friends…

      • I’m not sure if that view counts as Nestorianism or Adoptionism, though I’m leaning towards Adoptionism (Jesus as pious man “adopted” by God when the Christ came upon him at his baptism in the Jordan).

        You could play a pretty good parlour game of matching up ancient heresies with their modern appearances. This is also why a proper Mariology is so very necessary 🙂

        • It was pretty straight up Nestorianism, I think. He didn’t seem to think there was a time when Jesus was not Christ, just that they were two distinct entities and that one couldn’t speak of Mary giving birth to the divine Christ. Tis a parlor game which grows old quick, trust me. “There is nothing new under the sun”.

        • It arose partly, I think, out of his radical Cartesian dualism (mind and body), as he started ranting about how if he took out my brain and put it in someone else’s body, that would just be me in a different body, as the body is not part of who a person is.

          • Oh, boy. So what does he think is going to happen at the General Resurrection – if that’s not opening a can of worms?

            That kind of attitude leads to the Transhumanists and the Great Uploading to the Singularity 🙂

          • I gather he thinks our “software”, which is what we truly are, will be uploaded to spiffy new “hardware”, which is irrelevant to our personhood. It’s not far off from transhumanism.

    • L. Winthrop says

      Speaking of modalism, one poster on a message board thought “Persons” of the Trinity sounds weird (okay, it does), and wanted to say instead that they were all different aspects of the same thing!

      • Aaaand… this is why we have the Athanasian Creed:

        “And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.”

        Allow me to go off on a mini-rant here: this is what you get when you try to recast things in “contemporary speech” to save the poor little brains of the people in the pews from straining themselves, the little dears.

        As every discourse is pitched in informal usages of speech, the concepts are lost. People no longer have the vocabulary to understand and discuss, so they wander off into this kind of near-heresy.

        I say keep the complicated, archaic language! *Make* people think! *Explain* the words and the concepts to them, and let them chew on them!

        Don’t talk to me about the schools, either (mumble, mutter, grumble).

  15. The thing is that whether or not non-creedal groups want to acknowledge it, the Ecumenical creeds of the Church rule. No, I am not talking about every creed produced by different groups. Rather, I am talking about those which every Christian group has in common, particularly the Nicene.

    Why do I say they rule? Just try to seriously proclaim a doctrine that rejects one of the phrases in the Nicene. You will find the Christian world coming down upon you from every side. It is an anachronism to try to say that the reason people accept the Nicene is because it so agrees with Scripture. The massive multi-decade fights in Church history show that there was not agreement, at first, on the meaning of Scripture.

    The Nicene Creed taught the Church how to correctly read Scripture. And, to this day, woe be to the Christian group that tries to violate one of its phrases. The non-creedal groups piggyback on the heritage of the saints to understand how to read Scripture correctly in those basic areas, and then try to pretend that they do not stand firmly on the shoulders of the Creed.

  16. “Liturgical speaking, I can’t get enough of them.”


  17. I find it ironic that in the independent fundamentalist Baptist church I grew up in we NEVER said the creeds (too “Catholic”), but somehow we had no problem singing the Rich Mullins song. I remember being shocked several years ago when I finally read the Apostles’ Creed for the first time and realized that I already knew most of it! In the Presbyterian church I now attend we say it once or month or so, usually after the sermon and before communion. Frankly I wish we said it, along with the Nicene, more frequently than that.

  18. I agree with Amanda, I was raised in different churches throughout the baptist spectra, and never once said a creed or read a prayer. Once I was convinced to attend mass by my protestant friends, which I only did because they were so insistent, and found the worship delightfully reverent and incredibly honoring to God. All of the traditions associated with mass were new and exciting, especially because I saw how grounded they were in the scripture. I ended up attended a very small liturgical presbyterian church where we recite creeds weekly (and also take communion with wine not grape juice!)

    Creeds or no creeds, tradition or no tradition; I felt deeply that I was lacking in reverence growing up. I’ve never seen notes passed by the youth, or overheard snickering side conversations, the liturgy provides a worshipful atmosphere.

    But, of course, I am reminded of the pitfalls of the liturgy. Going through the motions, or turning off ones brain is an ever present temptation, especially as time goes by. Its best to keep a balance. It seems like the walk is plagued by canonical and doctrinal paradoxes; perhaps the creeds are no different.

  19. My own background is in the “Bible Church” vein of evangelicalism. However, I currently serve in an independent church that was once part of the German Reformed Church. As such, our church has kept much of its traditional heritage intact. Creeds are a not a weekly part of our worship practice, but their recitation is a regular (once a month +/-) part of it. Our church is growing, and most of the our new members are younger than 40 with children. Almost to a person they say that they appreciate the more traditional nature of our worship. We have, unintentionally and only by God’s grace, managed to blend the best of our heritage while trying to keep things fresh. However, we’re continuing to discuss ways to bring more liturgical elements into our service.

    It has been my observation that the fear that we’re becoming too “catholic” is very real, even if without warrant. When leading people through these issues, careful teaching is so important. I recently taught a class on the formulation and theology of the Apostle’s Creed. Our people loved it, and several came away saying that they finally feel like that can recite the creed without feeling “strange”. (The “descended into Hades” line gets em a little nervous.) There are many, many people hungry for their roots in the larger Tradition. This series has been particularly helpful to me in reading what the iMonk has to say, and reading how other Christians are handling these issues.


  20. Interesting… as I’ve never spent much time with Baptists and similar groups, it never occurred to me that any group calling itself “Christian” didn’t accept the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. I would have said that to not accept the creeds is heterodoxy (aside from the filioque clause). Of course, not officially adopting the creeds doesn’t mean disagreement with them.

    Again, very interesting discussion.

    • The don’t reject them. Most of them just ignore them.

      • This is so good. Thank you. I love the orthodox choir. Never heard anything like it.

        Personally, I’ve been pounded into pulp by a Pentecostal who thought creeds were very bad and you can’t be a Christian if you hang on to that. I quit volunteering at the center he had become the director of. ( Previous to him we had a female Baptist director who occasionally spoke about church abuse and was very protective/supportive of her volunteers. I don’t recall her stand on “creeds”. It wasn’t a problem.)

  21. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    As I’ve been going to an Anglican church, I do love saying the creeds. [I’ve also been praying the daily office in the morning which includes it. I’ve noticed that my brain has started to turn off when I get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Sad.]

    I think that churches need more formation on the creeds, so that they can really think it through, and add depth to their recitation of the creeds. Does anyone know of a few good books for lay people on the creeds?

    I love the idea of singing the creeds. When my wife was in choir at college, she got to be a part of a concert called “Gospel Mass” where the parts of the Catholic mass where sung in Gospel style. So we have a really bad recording from that concert, and we listen to it every once and a while, because it is so cool. I love the sung Nicene creed in the Gospel Mass. The first half is somewhat dark and somber, climaxing in the death of Jesus. Then there is a pause and a beautiful joyous Gospel melody celebrating the resurrection, and finishing the creed. It almost sounds like two different songs. Very amazing. I hope more people experiment with putting the creeds to song.

    I also love how the creeds help us put our hot button issues in perspective, though I do wish the creeds could have said a little more about the history of Israel, and the Life of Jesus.

  22. Another great post on the necessity of a strong “objective” side of worship, rather than the subjective feelings-fest that is so common throughout evangelicalism. No matter how I’m doing personally, or emotionally, no matter how many times I’ve stumbled or failed to live up to my calling throughout the previous week, when I stand with my brothers and sisters and recite our beliefs in unison each Sunday, I find that I’m standing once more on solid ground.

    • I’d like to echo that. When my son died this year accidentally, and so many people are so upset and you don’t know up from down, you can just go to the creed, when you need to.

  23. The Nicene Creed has remained a touchstone for me. In all that I’ve considered, accepted, rejected, or reevaluated, the Creed has been a sort of theological home or safe spot.

    The Rich Mullins version of the song is all kinds of awesome.

  24. I don’t mean to be a tool, but which [Nicene] Creed do I choose?

    325 Council of Nicea
    381 Council of Constantinople
    Catholic Church in communion with the Pope
    Text used by the Orthodox Church in America
    Coptic Orthodox Church – Book of the Divine Liturgies version (2001)
    Anglican Communion – Book of Common Prayer version (1662)
    Episcopal Church 1979 Book of Common Prayer version
    Church of England Common Worship version (2000)
    Lutheran Service Book version (2006), LCMS and the Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC).
    The Liberal Catholic Church version
    1975 ecumenical version
    1973 draft for an ecumenical version
    1988 ecumenical version

    • I see the information, and I’m aware that there are variations of all creeds, but is there a point here I’m missing? Slow kids like me can’t figure out what this means. If you are your church’s liturgist, choose whatever you want.

      I’m especially interested in what these are:

      The Liberal Catholic Church version (Can you find that one for me?)

      1973 draft for an ecumenical version (What is this?)

      • An [poor] attempt at a bit of snark/humor re. the unifying power of creeds… like picking the “right” bible translation.

        Anyway… via Wikipedia keyword(s) “English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use“:

        The Liberal Catholic Church uses the following text:
        We 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 ages,
        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 and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and 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 we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the 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 we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
        We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
        And we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

        … and…

        1973 draft for an ecumenical version
        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,
        one in Being with the Father.
        Through him all things were made.
        For us men and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven
        by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
        For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered, died, and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
        in fulfillment of 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.

        Interesting differences.

        • Hmmm – the only differences I see are the modernisation of the language between one version and the other. Just differences in emphasis between the older and the newer English versions of the Latin, which is the authoritative version (for Western Christianity).

          “Being of one Substance with the Father ” and “one in Being with the Father” are both translations of “consubstantialem Patri”; if you’re interested, the proposed new English version of the Mass is going to render this “consubstantial with the Father” to be closer to the Latin.

          Actually, for a Latin version of the Creed, here ya go:


        • Yeah, those two creeds are the same, as Martha points out, though different people are going to be defining the words differently (what is “apostolic”? what is “one”? what is “(C)catholic”?).

      • …choose whatever you want.

        Serious question: Doesn’t that go against the point of having the Creeds?

        • 1) Does your denomination define a version for you? Then use it.

          2) Are you writing your own and calling it the Nicene? Then don’t call it that.

          3) Are you an independent evangelical? The go to the RCC down the street and use theirs.

          I’m still missing your point here. There are various versions of everything in Christianity. If that bugs you, then you become Catholic or Orthodox or Anglican etc.

          If you don’t join an authoritative communion, then your congregation makes the decision.

          • I’m still missing your point here. There are various versions of everything in Christianity. If that bugs you…

            No, I think it’s me who is missing the point. I have always had the notion that the Creeds were intended to be a singular, unifying description of the universal faith across party lines.

            Now, creeds just seem to me to be simply another denominational distinctive.

            I’m back a square one.

          • Creeds state the essential uniting minimums. They don’t create unity. Those who use them are expressing unity. We are all working towards it by confessing the Nicene faith.

            So yes, if you think a document passed by a church council and used in slightly divergent forms by the vast majority of Christians is an exercise in hopeless fractiousness, then you ought to avoid them.

          • Well, I’d be willing to tussle over the status of the Old Catholics.

            Besides, they seem to spend most of their time running around ordaining anyone who can stump up for a set of vestments.

            If they’re saying a group which believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden are in apostolic succession to the Twelve, hear me go “Ah, come on, Ted!”

          • Well, sure, Martha, at some point the succession gets broken, but I’m certainly no expert in where that point is, and as far as I know, many of them still have valid Orders.

      • L. Winthrop says

        The “Liberal Catholic Church” was founded by Theosophists. Suffice it to say that its theology of liturgy involves natural elementals such as elves.

        • Oh, man. Why do all the fruitcakes call themselves Catholic?

          Yeah, yeah: “catholicos” means “universal” and all that jazz, but why don’t they call themselves Liberal Baptists or the like? Noooo… have to get up on their hind legs and say “We’re the Original Primitive One True Church, us!”

          My sister, as I think I’ve mentioned before, hung around Anthroposophists and I got the earfuls at Christmas and Easter about the Two Christs and all the rest, but I didn’t hear this version of the Creed.

          I didn’t know when I was well-off, did I? 😉

          • The thing is that the Liberal Catholic Church has *valid* Bishops and Sacraments, who are actually ordained properly in Apostolic succession. It has to do with Post-Vatican I schismatics, the “Old Catholics” as they are called.

    • In my expierience, the only differenes between the “versions” are merely variations of the same thing (with the exception of the filoque clause- but thats another debate for another time). That being said, if there is a huge difference in meaning, I would love someone to tell me.

      It must be noted, however, that just because one recites a Creed doesn’t neccesariy mean they accept all its doctrines. But, overall, the Creeds serve as an anchor for orthodoxy.

    • Now this, this is a substantially (ha-ha) different Creed:

      Creator of Heaven and earth,
      And of all things visible and invisible.
      And in his Spiritual Son, Jesus Christ,
      Whom was born of Mary and Joseph,
      Was not consubstantial nor co-eternal with God the Father almighty,
      Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died, and was buried.
      On the third day His Spirit was resurrected.
      He ascended into Heaven,
      And sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty.
      Whence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead,
      Of whose Kingdom there shall be no end.

      And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,
      The communion of saints,
      The forgiveness of sins,
      The resurrection of the Spirit,
      And life everlasting.
      Amen. ”


      • That’s not classical Arianism, though, is it? The “born of Mary and Joseph” bit? My understanding is that the Arian position was that there was a time when the Sln did not exist; that He is a created being, similar to (though greater than) the angels.

        This sounds more like an Adoptionist creed – a purely human Jesus who was “adopted” by God the Father when the divine Christ spirit descended upon him.

        Though I suppose there would be some development in the past fifteen hundred years, and heresy does tend to be fissiparous 😉

        • Well, no, they are eccentric Anglican schismatics, not the heirs of the Arian tradition. You might be right about them having an Adoptionist position, but there never was a “pure” Arianism, there was quite a bit of variety, all the way up to Semi-Arians who were one vowel away from Nicaean orthodoxy.

          • Sam, this is where I say “Anglican” *already* carries the implications of “eccentric”, not to mention “schismatic”, but that’s not fair to all Anglicans.

            You’d never guess I spend time defending the Archbishop of Canterbury from some Episcopalian critics of his lack of leadership in the Current Unpleasantness, would you? 🙂

            Though I did read some liberal Episcopalian clergyperson banging on about how dreadfully unfairly poor Arius was treated by that mean old Council and how it’s time for a reappraisal of his theology and all the Christianities which were labelled “heresies” by the enforcers of orthodoxy (by which he meant, I think, the same kind of guff as Elaine Pagels pushes regarding the Gnostics).

      • Okay, checked out that website link.

        (1) Three dioceses – oh, I beg their pardons, “ARCHdioceses”, but they’re a worldwide church. Yeeeessss.

        (2) They misuse “whom”. If they can’t tell the difference between when to use “who” and when to use “whom”, I take it that their theology is as shaky as their grammar.

        Yes, I’m fussy 😉

  25. In my LC-MS church, we have matins once a month which doesn’t have the Creed but we sing the following hymn:
    We All Believe in One True God, Father
    By: Tobias Clausnitzer

    We all believe in one true God,
    Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
    Ever present help in need,
    Praised by all the heavenly host;
    All he made his love enfolds,
    All creation he upholds.

    We all believe in Jesus Christ,
    Son of God and Mary’s son,
    Who descended from his throne
    And for us salvation won;
    By whose cross and death are we
    Rescued from all misery.

    We all confess the Holy Ghost,
    Who from both in truth proceeds,
    Who sustains and comforts us
    In all trials, fears and needs.
    Blest and holy Trinity,
    Praise forever yours shall be.

    Hymn # 212 from Lutheran Worship
    Author: Kirchengesangbuch
    Tune: Wir Glauben All An Einen Gott
    1st Published in: 1699

  26. Hey,
    As an art professor and Eastern Orthodox Christian at a Baptist University, I appreciate your… situation and comments.
    As an ingeneous twist, Check out ‘God in the Gallery’ by Dan Siedell. He makes a compelling argument (S) for coming to terms with Modern Art via what he calls “Nicene Christianity’ (not that I personally needed to come to terms with it). It is a remarkably living tradition of the dead.


  27. I was raised Catholic, and recited the Nicene every Sunday. When I studied it formally in my undergraduate, I was surprised that I was only person in the entire class who was raised in a tradition that recognized it.

    While I am not a Catholic now, I still find it strange that evangelicals freak out about it. This blog has given me some perspective about it. After all, I am more or less a post evangelical – and am especially far from the dogmas of the SBC.

    I think it is sad that the creed is not recited during baptisms.

    I still recite Apostles creed often before I pray. I like to recite in Latin, because I’m a nerd like that.

  28. There are few things as breath-taking as an Eastern Orthodox choir.

    • Christiane says

      Unearthly how beautiful and reverent it is.

    • Pardon the humor here, but I found it kind of funny that someone in the choir was wearing a Villanova sweatshirt. Villanova is a Roman Catholic University.

      • Christiane says

        Villanova is open to all faiths. Catholics tend to be respectful of those whose beliefs are different. The Orthodox are very close in their observance of the Eucharist to Catholics.

    • L. Winthrop says

      I was impressed that they knew “Pontius” is a three-syllable word.

  29. I like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed very much. And even though I like music very much too, I would just rather say the creeds with my fellow parishioners, not sing the creeds. It takes so long to sing them, it detracts from the meaning of the words. At least it does for me anyway.

  30. As an Evangelical (Vineyard) and a close friend of Lutherans after working in their camps for four years, I can honestly say that I do not disagree with or reject the creeds. I will say that perhaps one denominational qualm, I guess I will call it, with the creeds is the secondary nature of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sort of tagged on as an afterthought to the last paragraph. Whereas Father and Son receive substantive attention and description of their divinity, the paraclete receives this: “I believe in the Holy Spirit”.

    Since much of the Vineyard movement’s theology focuses on Holy Spirit empowerment, miracles, signs, wonders, prophesy, tongues, etc. it seems that it is slighted in the creed.

    I have had the chance to talk with LCMS and ELCA pastors and young people about their conception of the Holy Spirit with great variation. However, most of them told me that they had never seen the Holy Spirit as equal with the other two parts of the Trinity (indeed, if the Holy Spirit is not equal with the others, it cannot be God) or as worthy of worship.

    I cannot speak for other Evangelicals or even my movement as I am not ordained, but for myself, while I love the Creeds and support their use, they seem to reflect Christianity without the understanding of God’s grace as not only seen in creation and crucifixion, but also as seen in the sending of the Spirit to empower us to righteousness and to further the spread of the Gospel.

    • You might want to look at the Athanasian Creed which speaks more thoroughly about the Trinity, especially how the Holy Spirit is in no way unequal or less than the Father and the Son. The Nicene Creed also has a few more statements about the Spirt than the Apostles Creed does.

  31. I was raised Baptist (though I’m not one now), but looking back, I can see that there was a real void in teaching when it came to other Christian traditions and Christian history in general. I can remember being under the impression that church history ended with the death of the apostles and then picked back up with the establishment of the Baptist denomination — though you did get an occasional reference to the Reformation. But, as for all that time in between, it was largely treated as if it didn’t exist or was written off as the “dark age” of Catholicism, and, unless you knew better, you would think that the church must have died out altogether and then started back up centuries later.
    The first time I was exposed to one of the historical creeds (the Apostles Creed, I think) was in a nondenominational church (of all places). We were each given a written copy of the creed during a Wednesday night Bible study, and the pastor gave a brief history of how this creed came into being. We then broke off into groups and conducted a cooperative search to find scriptural support for the various assertions contained in the creed. Finally, when we all felt that the creed was an accurate reflection of scripture, we stood up and recited it together. I thought that was a really good way of making the creed meaningful to a bunch of nondenom, nonliturgical Jesus freaks.
    And I think it would be a healthy thing if churches of all varieties included a little exploration of other church practices, traditions, and, most importantly, a more comprehensive look at church history. That might help dispel the illusion some seem to be under that their particular church traditions and practices either grew up in some kind of purely scriptural vacuum or sprang full grown from the mind of God.

  32. Can someone define for me exactly what “creedalism” is? Is it too much of a focus on the creeds? A use of them as a litmus test of orthodoxy? A rote and meaningless memorization/recitation of them? Or what?

    The creeds appear to me to be a basic summary of Christian doctrine. If someone starts saying, “Well, I can’t say the Creed because I disagree with…” then I either assume that there is a misunderstanding of the Creed or a lapse in orthodoxy, especially since almost every word directly relates to the nature of God or the nature of redemption. Plus, the creeds give us a direct and concrete link with the Church throughout history. When we say the Creed today, we are joining in with the great saints of history who have left us with our great heritage and faith.

    With that in mind, I think it would be great to see more and more churches teach upon the history of the creeds. Where did they come from? Why were they formed? What do they actually teach? Why is that important? Understanding the ancient heresies (Arianism, Monothelitism, Nestorianism, etc.) has helped me attain a greater appreciation for the person and work of Christ, as well as the lives and sacrifices of the saints and martyrs. I would love for me people to experience what I have and hopefully even more.

    • L. Winthrop says

      Creeds are sets of non-negotiable beliefs (and wording). There are a number of reasons why one might be suspicious of them.

      Perhaps one does not believe in all of the items. For example, some Baptists [MOD NOTE: I’ve been a Baptist for half a century and studied them extensively. Gthere must be 15 of these, to say some Baptists reject the Trinity is like saying some atheists believe in God. You’re on moderation, sir.] and Church of Christ people reject the Trinity as unbiblical. Many Christians disbelieve in the general resurrection.

      Many items make use of philosophical terms whose meaning can be opaque. For example, does it really make any practical difference whether one believes that Christ is of “one substance” with God the Father, rather than “similar substance”? And what of those who find this statement too difficult to understand–should they be pressured to affirm it anyway?

      Those who emphasize the authority of the Bible may see creeds as detracting from this. If a belief is in the Bible, then the creedal article is superfluous. If it is not in the Bible, then then creed is adding something extraneous.

      The political process of creating the ancient creeds may strike some as all too reminiscent of all that Protestantism rejects about the Catholic Church. The councils were by no means courteous, scholarly affairs, but more typically involved emperors and factions of church leaders attempting to impose their favored views from the top down.

      By the same token, the adoption of creeds by modern churches may also be a divisive political act. One rarely hears of churches facilitating church-wide dialogue on what ought to be in the creed.

      One may question the priorities of the creeds, which emphasize the Trinity and the Incarnation but fail to mention, for example, love of one’s neighbor. (Who’s a Quaker fan?)

      • You say:

        For example, does it really make any practical difference whether one believes that Christ is of “one substance” with God the Father, rather than “similar substance”? And what of those who find this statement too difficult to understand–should they be pressured to affirm it anyway?

        I would say that it really does matter (it’s fundamental to the doctrine of the Trinity) and that’s why the specific wording was chosen. And as to the second statement, there will be always be those who don’t fully understand, but the official statement of faith should strive for correctness since it is the standard. If everything got watered down to the level of the least educated or intelligent (or even interested) person, statements of doctrine would amount to little more than generic, fluffy statements about God exists and is full of love or something like that. That’s my opinion.

        Incidentally, I wouldn’t argue that there were controversies to be settled in the councils, but I would suggest that the widespread perception that choice of the canon and content of the creeds was simply a political affair is incorrect. The History Channel constantly proclaims the show Banned From the Bible as if to say that a bunch of equally valid books were arbitrarily prevented from getting before the eyes of the world just because some prejudiced powermongers in the councils didn’t like them. I think that’s a far cry from the truth—both the canon and the creeds associated with it came from a much more reasoned, providentially led process which I think Christians can be thankful for and confident in. Again, my opinion.

        • L. Winthrop says

          “Creedalism” is a word used by those who reject the use of creeds. I was giving some common reasons for this. Of course the creed-affirming churches respond much as you do.

          (For me, perhaps the most vexing issue is whether the word ‘creedal’ ought to have one e or two.)

          As for the Oneness Baptists, I was just going by something I recalled from the Encyclopedia of American Religions. I am not sure why iMonk is offended, but defer to his expertise on how many o them there are.

      • L. Winthrop says

        P.S. Most of the creeds resulted in schism. Are we so sure that the Catholic / Orthodox tradition is superior to those of the Syrian Church of the East (the so-called Nestorians), or the Coptic and Armenian churches?

        • True unity can only be found in truth. Creeds didn’t really cause schism, but revealed where error was being taught. Are we so sure that the Catholic/Orthodox tradition is superior? Wrong question. Are we sure that the creeds accurately summarize the Christian faith and that those who are teaching otherwise are erring? I believe that is the correct question and I believe that the answer is yes.

          On another note. I-Monk, do you make use of the Athanasian Creed at all?

          • L. Winthrop says

            Here is the website of one group which you have rejected: the (Coptic) Monastery of St. Macarius, founded AD 360.


            Now if you are Catholic or Orthodox, I understand why you would say that the Copts are in error, no matter how fine-sounding their rhetoric. But why would Protestants take sides in this? Don’t the Copts seem equally worthy representatives?

            By the way, iMonk–I had mis-remembered. Apparently there are “Oneness Pentecostals” (who reject the Trinity) and “Seventh-Day Baptists” but not “Oneness Baptists.” My apologies.

          • I work with many Ethiopian Ortho students, who come from the Coptic tradition. I don’t “reject” them, but there are serious and substantial differences. They have 20+ more books in the canon, for starters.

        • Yeah, except the disagreements (“Monophysite”/Miaphysite vs. “Diaphysite”/Hypostatic Union, and Nestorianism: “Jesus wasn’t God but a man, Christ was God”, the former being an extreme reaction to the later error) between the Ortho-Catholics (since at the time the big East-West division was nonexistant) and the Oriental communions have been addressed by various statements of Popes and Patriarchs, and found to be mainly semantic and political in nature. The Nicene Creed (at least the first draft!) is held in common by all, as is the Athanasian Creed (very much so for the Coptic tradition). To reject the Creeds is to reject Christianity, straight up. Course, as you said, I am Catholic, so I guess I would say that. 😉

        • The creeds didn’t cause schism: they, by and large, were used by a concerned church to address schisms where they already existed by affirming simple historical orthodoxies.

          Kind of like most of us would admonish KJV-onlyists by stressing the REAL fundamentals of the faith, the creeds were used to build and demonstrate consensus, not abruptly conclude conversations.

      • There’s a huge practical difference between saying one thing about the nature of Christ and another.

        A cursory read of history shows exactly what happens when little cults of personality develop around able expositors of heretical ideas who are willing to break with the flock.

  33. I agree, to some extent, with this. I think it’s good to have traditions to fall back on. Should they always be examined? Yes.

    Does that make them inherently bad? No. Good traditions uplift us, give us a moral core to call our own, and something to fall back on- the tenets and bulwark of our faith.

    So long as we keep checking to make sure the timbers haven’t rotted out beneath them, they’ll be fine.

  34. Internet Monk:

    The Nicene Creed is also an excellent tool for people trying to find authentic Christianity in a world with numerous churches using the name “Christian”. The Creed can become, in the spirit of Vincent of Lerins, a way to rule out all of the following:

    1. Liberal churches/denominations that deny the deity of Jesus, the virginity of Mary and the resurrection of Jesus.

    2. Churches/denominations that deny the Trinity.

    3. Churches/denominations that deny that there is “one Baptism for the remission of sins”

    With the churches/denominations left, you just have to work out the following issues:

    1. The addition of the filioque – big deal or not.
    2. The role of apostolic succession – necessary or not.
    3. The nature of “Church” – what does it mean to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic?