As I look over the list of phrases people Google to arrive at this blog, I find a number of questions keep popping up — things like “what are the basics of the faith?” or “what should I feel when I pray?” These questions have inspired a mini-series of posts, of which this is the first: “What is the Creed about?”
There are actually a number of creeds that have been used by Christian churches down through the years. The most widely used and most popular are the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
But basically they’re all about the same thing: outlining what it is Christians believe in, and doing it in a way that’s easy to memorize and take to heart. The creeds are meant to be used both as teaching tools for new believers, and in worship.
The creeds teach about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and their actions in history:
- God is the creator of the universe and all that is in it.
- Jesus is the unique Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, was buried, and rose again three days later. Jesus is now “seated at the right hand of God” and will come again in glory as judge of the living and the dead. Jesus is the future King of God’s Eternal Kingdom.
- The Holy Spirit, “giver of life”, “proceeds from the Father and the Son” and exists in glory with them. The Spirit has spoken through the prophets.
The creeds then list a few other essential beliefs of the faith: that there is one worldwide church, made up of all believers (inclusive of all denominations); forgiveness of sins; and the world to come in which the dead will be resurrected.
The various creeds generally came into being to correct false teachings that threatened the church’s unity at various points in history.
The Apostles’ Creed (late 100’s AD?) is the earliest of the creeds, widely accepted as foundational by most churches.
The Nicene Creed is a product of the First Council of Nicaea (325-381AD). This is the preferred creed of the Eastern and Orthodox churches, and is also used in Western churches. It was originally written to counter the Arian heresy that God predated Jesus; this creed describes Jesus as being co-eternal with the Father. There are two varieties of this creed, the 325 version and the 381 version. Both may be found by following the link at the beginning of this paragraph.
The Chalcedonian Creed is a product of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in answer to heresies about the nature of Jesus. It specifically teaches that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human.
The Athanasian Creed (early 500’s AD?) is used mainly in Western churches, and focuses on defining the Trinity (Father/Son/Holy Spirit) as both three and One. Because Christians believe in one God, and because the word ‘trinity’ is not found in the Scriptures, teaching the concept has been a challenge throughout the centuries. The Athanasian Creed takes on that challenge. It has often been helpfully summarized by the illustration below: