What do you think of the Nicene Creed, or, for that matter, do you think of it at all? A friend cornered me the other day, dismayed that a priest he knew wanted to dispense with it altogether if it could not be rewritten to make sense to the American mind. The creed had not been something he had given much thought to. It was just what was recited each Sunday after the sermon and before the confession. So we talked about it with me giving a highly digested version of its story: that it was written to make clear the relationship between God the Father and God the Son in terms that made sense to the 4th and 5th century Greek way of thinking, and to resolve the argument between those who followed Athanasius and those who followed Arius.
As you recall, the dispute was more complicated than just two schools opposing one another, but they were the main event. Arius claimed that Jesus (the Christ) was the first and greatest of God’s creations, but not divine. Athanasius said, no, Jesus (the Christ) was of the same substance of God, but he was also of the substance of Mary, and therefore fully divine and fully human. The emperor Constantine called a council of bishops to resolve the issue. It took them about 75 years to finalize what we now call the Nicene Creed, which throws in the Holy Spirit at the end to make it clear that we are Trinitarian Christians. The Arian side lost the debate, but they didn't go away. The dispute rumbled on for centuries, and today the largest remnant of the Arian view are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
With that as background, I thought I might take a shot at an Americanized version of the Nicene Creed that would appeal to the tiny rural congregation of Grace Episcopal Church where I serve a few times a month. As long as I was going to commit gross heresy, I thought why not do it publicly and see what happens. So here goes.
A Creed More of Less Approximating the Nicene Creed
We believe in one God whose love for us is such that God desires to be called father and mother.
We are only beginning to understand the vast expanse of the universe, whence it came and how, yet in that nascent understanding we affirm that it is God who has brought all things into being whether we can see them or not. We do not have the vocabulary to explain it. The best we can do is say that God spoke, and that God’s Word began the process of creation.
We believe that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, who is the Christ. Because he is the Word of God, he is of God and not a creature, and because he is of God there never was a time that he was not of God. Yet by God’s power, known to us as the Holy Spirit, he took form through Mary, a virgin, so that he shared with us all that is human in a time and place certain. He came so that we might see and believe that through God’s love for us all that has burdened and broken us will be healed, and that by following him human death is not the end of life, it’s the beginning of life, full, abundant, and everlasting.
The record of Jesus life, work, teaching, death, and resurrection are known to us, and to history, as occurring when Pontius Pilate was governor in Judea. It’s not a myth or fantasy. It’s an event in human history. In Jesus we see all that is true about God that can be communicated in human form, and, as his followers attest, he did not stay but returned to be one with God, yet he remains for us the face of God, and it is to Jesus that we turn to seek God’s presence in our lives.
It is said that he will return to judge the living and the dead. We cannot presume to fully understand, but we do know that the end of time for each of us comes swiftly, and we are confident that in following Jesus we will enter through the gate of death into a new and greater life.
While in our human limitations we cannot know God fully, we are content that God has called us to say he is our Mother, our Father, and we are comfortable in saying that Jesus is God’s Son, and we his sisters and brothers by invitation. We have experienced God’s presence with us in ways we cannot see, but which are powerful, and we say that it is God’s Holy Spirit that is with us and for us for all times. God is not elsewhere. God is here now.
To be clear, there is only one God, but God has chosen to reveal God’s self to us, and we have come to know him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith is not something new. It is rooted in God’s self revelation spoken through millennia of prophets. We proclaim that we are the gathering of God’s people, the Church, which is itself one in faith, holy, and universal. We are not called to be exclusive, but to proclaim God’s love to all people in every place. We believe that through the water of baptism we have been ordained as ministers of God’s work of love for all persons. We anticipate that every person will experience resurrection, and while we cannot say how or when that will happen, we await it in joyful expectation.