Proclaiming Truth, Rejecting Heresy: Reflections on the Nicene Creed

A depiction of the First Council of Nicea.

In worship services at your church, do you ever recite creeds?

A creed is a statement of belief—in the context of the Christian church, an outline of theological beliefs that the creed’s authors consider to be true. A creed isn’t considered God-inspired in the way that the Bible itself is, but because the goal of a creed is to clearly and simply communicate Biblical teachings, they bear a close relationship to Scripture.

Creeds are on our mind at the moment because this month in the year 325 A.D., a council of early Christian leaders gathered to create one of the most important and influential creeds in all of Christian history: the Nicene Creed.

The text of the Nicene Creed is below, but first, a bit of background: During the days of early Christianity, Christians sought to articulate the exact nature of God (particularly the nature and relationship of the Trinity), but found it a challenge to develop a new vocabulary for a Christian faith with predominantly Hebrew roots. As a result, many Christian teachings circulating throughout the early church were eventually deemed inadequate or even heretical.

Into this scene stepped the fourth-century priest Arius, who taught that God is indivisibly one—a teaching with serious implications for Christians’ understanding of the Trinity and particularly of Jesus Christ. Arius held that the one called the “Son of God” was only “son” in name. Many bishops initially sided with him, but the overall opposition to these teachings was overwhelming.

The emperor Constantine summoned the church’s bishops to Nicea for the purpose of settling the controversy and reuniting Christendom under one orthodox understanding of God. The gathered bishops composed a creed that rejected Arius’ teachings and effectively outlined Christian beliefs regarding the Triune God. Countless churches around the world recite the words of this “Nicene Creed” in worship services each week:

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.

Here are a few questions to consider as you reflect on the Nicene Creed:

  • Do you find this type of creed useful in your personal spiritual walk? Have you ever used the Nicene Creed or another creed in your devotional reading or worship?
  • If the Nicene Creed’s writers did their job, every statement in the creed can cite one or more Bible passages to justify its inclusion in the creed. How many of these claims can you verify in the Bible?
  • Like many creeds and church documents, the Nicene Creed is both presenting a positive statement of belief and repudiating specific erroneous claims that were prevalent at the time. What picture do you get of the heretical claims the Nicene Creed was rejecting?

For more information on the Nicene Creed, see Herbert Bouman’s “The Nicene Creed: Hymn and Confession,” which informed this post.

Related posts:

  1. Link Roundup: Heresy, Church History, and Rocks
  2. Monday Morning Scripture: 1 John 5
  3. Explore the Evidence for Jesus Christ in the “Investigating the Bible” Newsletter
  4. “An Extravagant Outpouring:” Reflections on the Wedding at Cana
  5. Reflections on Good Friday

Posted by Katie

Filed under History