Skip to comments.Blueprint of Belief: The Nicene Creed, Sermon I: To believe in one God
Posted on 09/20/2005 6:10:43 PM PDT by sionnsar
From what I gather, the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama is beginning a series of sermons on the Nicene Creed. This should be a most edifying series, and I am looking forward to being able to read these. This is the first one, for this past Sunday:
Blueprint of Belief: The Nicene CreedI'd say this is a good beginning, and I am certainly looking forward to the next in this series.
Sermon I: To believe in one God
(Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2005)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
I believe in one God .
Each Sunday we say these words, and in so doing join ourselves to the practice of faithful catholic Christians for well over a thousand years. It is not just something we do: Nothing in the liturgy of the Church is or ought to be there just out of habit. We are supposed to be people, not parrots. The Creed means something something important that goes to the core of who we are as persons and as a people.
The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, meaning I believe. From this same Latin word come other such commonly-used English words as credibility, credence, and the ever-popular credit. A creed is a statement of what one believes. In the Church, it is a summary of the essential elements of the faith, much like chapter-headings in a book.
The Nicene Creed is the only creed that has a reasonable claim to be called as it sometimes is the Ecumenical Creed. It is in common use by that vast majority of the worlds Christians who are Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic and is accepted as authoritative by the Evangelical and the Reformed traditions as well. To recite it is to pledge ones allegiance to the faith which it summarizes the whole faith, not just the parts of it with which one may be comfortable. To recite it is to say, I am at one with all others who proclaim this faith. I see reality as they see it, and seek by Gods grace to live in accordance with that reality.
A common vision of reality is at the core of every sound, secure, successful, honest, peaceful, and effective society. A major purpose of the Creed is to guarantee a basic level of agreement on essential teaching. But it is not only a statement of doctrine: It is a word of praise, an act of worship. In other words, it has a doxological purpose. It is praise (doxa) which is reasonable (logikos). To tell the truth is to praise God.
So what is the truth we tell when we say, I believe in one God? Let us look at each one of these five words in turn.
I believe in one God. The Greek texts of the Creed agreed to by the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) began with a word that translates in to English as we believe and in many churches which use more a more modern idiom in their worship, this is how the creed begins. But this is sheer antiquarianism: Ever since the Creed began regularly to be used in the public worship of the Church, it has begun, I believe.
There are good reasons for this. One is so no one can submerge his unbelief in the crowd, rationalizing that it is possible to get away with saying we while meaning the majority of us, but not me. Morally, this is a very different case from that of the person who has honest doubts. When a person in this situation recites the Creed, he is allowing the faith of the whole body of Christ to uphold him until his doubts are resolved. The unbeliever who says it is duplicitous; the doubter is honest and hopeful. It is true that the faith of the whole Church is prior to that of each of her members, but it is equally true that, if a member is to continue to live, he himself must receive life through the body: It comes no other way.
I believe in one God. Belief in this sense is more than opinion. We are generally comfortable with our opinions, but our beliefs go deeper and often challenge our comfort level. Faith is a conviction upon which a persons whole way of living is founded. When we say we believe in one God, we are saying that everything we do is governed by that conviction or at least that we recognize that this should be so, and that we aspire to make it so. We are saying that the purpose of life is to come to share the life of that one God, to become like him, to see him as he is. To the extent that we are doing so, we are indeed telling the truth when we say the Creed.
A persons behavior can be predicted with a large degree of accuracy if you know what he believes about reality. Conversely, if you watch how he acts, you know a fair amount about what he really believes and that may not be the same as what he says he believes. The perception that there is to be a unity between belief and action is very deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It goes back at least to Sinai: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. Neither the Old Covenant nor the New knows anything of a merely intellectual assent to the truth which is not carried on into action. The aim of the Christian life is to have the faith to which the Creed testifies wholly embodied within each Christian.
I believe in one God. Prepositions are the most under-rated of the parts of speech. In its original Greek, the word that translates here as in also means toward and within. When we say, I believe in one God, each of us is saying not merely that there is one God, but that this one God is himself the context in which we believe. It is in him, upon him, and by him that we take our stand. If I believe in one God, it is because he has kindled in my heart faith in him and has directed that faith toward him and has taken me into himself in Jesus Christ.
I believe in one God. When we say this, we are saying that behind all that is, is one personal principle of being. In doing this, we reject that way of thinking (called dualism) that says that only immaterial spirit is good while matter is evil. If there is but one God, he is responsible for everything, material as well as immaterial. (There will be more about this in a later sermon.)
When we say that God is one, we do not mean a simple numerical singularity. We mean that he is an everlasting and indivisible unity of three distinct divine persons. Put more simply, we mean that he is three Whos in one What. He is not the Allah of Islam, who is a singularity numerically one and personal only insofar as he relates to human beings, but not within himself. Nor is he the Atman-Brahman, the One and the All of Hinduism, who manifests himself in a vast number of seemingly personal ways that have no essential distinction between them and are hence ultimately illusions. It is only the Christian doctrine of God which we affirm in the Creed that provides the foundation for the proper understanding of man in particular and the nature of reality in general.
I believe in one God. When we say we believe in God, we are saying that we arent him. That is, we affirm that we are committed to a view of reality that assumes the existence of only One who is eternal, having no beginning and no end, to whom all time is present, who is the ultimate source of all that is, who alone can justly claim Lordship over everything and is entitled to the worship of every creature.
We say this in other words in the Gloria in excelsis: Thou only art holy, thou only art the Lord . This is he to whom we give thanks for his great glory, offering the praise of the whole creation and receiving back from him his very life through his Son to the end that we may go out and both with our lips and in our lives praise him by telling his truth.
What about the Apostles' Creed? Isn't that one actually more Ecumenical? I know that the Eastern and Western churches disagree on the Nicene Creed, particularly on the "filioque" clause (the Eastern Orthodox version of the Nicene Creed only says that the Holy Ghost "proceedeth from the Father..." (i.e. not "and the Son").
That's an interesting question. The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes one of four parts to the apostle's creed. However, the essence of the faith is contained in both creeds.
"I know that the Eastern and Western churches disagree on the Nicene Creed, particularly on the "filioque" clause (the Eastern Orthodox version of the Nicene Creed only says that the Holy Ghost "proceedeth from the Father..." (i.e. not "and the Son")."
Well, not quite. The Orthodox "version" as you say, is the one the Nicene Fathers wrote and adopted. The Western version with the filioque is much later. There is no disagreement between the Orthodox Church and the Western Church on what the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed says. The disagreement used to be about whether or not the filioque addition was heresy. That's not much of an issue now since the Roman Church has agreed that the Creed without the filioque is normative.
I also have noticed that the Order for Holy Communion in 1928 Book of Common Prayer allows for the Apostles' Creed to be said at Holy Communion, provided that the Nicene Creed is said on Christmas-day, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, and Trinity-Sunday.
Need an EpiscoBaalian response to this, how dare we be so exclusivistic and judgmental in believing in one god, that just wont work with our wiccan and druid brothers and sisters.
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