Why Every Christian Should Memorize the Nicene Creed

On the nonprofit side of the house–our Seoul USA ministry to North Korea–we receive frequent requests for our statement of faith from individuals interested in contributing financially.

I consider this A Good Thing, and, in fact, since Seoul USA is a member of the International Christian Organization along with all the other Voice of the Martyrs chapters (one of our Seoul USA divisions is VOM/Korea), we actually have a shared statement of faith.

But as true as that statement of faith is about us, I’ve never liked it nearly as much as I do the Nicene Creed.

I think it’s hard for Christians today to grasp just how central–and universal–the Nicene Creed has been to believers across the broadest expanse of time and geography and denomination and language.

I’m presently reading through the magnificent Ancient Christian Doctrine series on the Nicene Creed, and I want to commend the series to every Christian teacher…and the memorization of the Creed to every Christian.

Memorizing the Nicene Creed is what Christians did for centuries in preparation for their baptism. Notes Thomas Oden in the series introduction:

During times of persecution the baptismal confession typically was memorized, not only because it was unsafe to write it down, but also because written texts made other innocent people more susceptible to charges under civil authorities. More reliable was the quiet tradition faithfully passed on verbally through the episkopoi from the apostles. The bishops’ primary task was to maintain accurate apostolic teaching without addition or subtraction.

In other words, it’s not only Christian nonprofit organizations that ought to have a statement of faith. Every individual believer should as well–and that statement of faith should be the Creed that defines the length and breadth of the teaching of the apostles, without addition or subtraction. Continues Oden:

The first article of the Nicene Creed presupposes that there is an objective body of teaching that Christians are expected to confess as their faith. This idea seems normal and natural to us, but it was a novelty in the ancient world. Neither Judaism nor any pagan religion or philosophy could claim to have a closely defined set of beliefs that everyone adhering to it was expected to publicly profess and defend against all comers.

That’s an amazing point worth much reflection. For me it conjures up no small amount of sadness since my experience has been that the idea of a defined set of beliefs that every Christian has memorized and can publicly profess and defend is a novelty in contemporary Christianity.

Fred Sanders makes this point exceptionally well in his book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything:

People who grew up under the influence of reductionist evangelicalism suffer, understandably, from some pretty perplexing disorientation. They are raised on “Bible, cross, conversion, and heaven” as the whole Christian message, and they sense that there must be more than that… Inside of reductionist evangelicalism, everything you hear is right, but somehow it comes out all wrong.

That is because when emphatic evangelicalism degenerates into reductionist evangelicalism, it still has the emphasis right but has been reduced to nothing but emphasis. When a message is all emphasis, everything is equally important and you are always shouting… The other problem is that a gospel reduced to four points ceases to make sense unless its broader context can be intuited. “The Bible says Jesus died so you can get saved and go to heaven” is a good start, the right emphasis, and a recognizable statement of the gospel–provided that it is securely lodged in the host of other truths that support and explain it.

That host of other truths? It’s the Nicene Creed. And if we’re going to be people of robust and transformational faith who value, preserve, embody, and impart the fullness of what we received in our baptism, we’d better be able to recite it–and not just some proprietary statement of faith–from memory, in the marketplace as well as in the marketing materials of our ministries:

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,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with 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.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to Why Every Christian Should Memorize the Nicene Creed

  1. Fr. Barnabas Powell says:

    Rev, Foley,

    Agreed, but perhaps the Creed should be memorized in its original form rather than the controversial edition mentioned above! 🙂

    • EFoley says:

      Wonderful, Father Powell! I praise God for familiarity with the Creed great enough to spot the controversy! Please send me the original and I will joyfully post it.

      • Ben says:

        I believe he is referring to the “filioque” part (Latin for “and the Son” in regards to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father AND THE SON) which was ADDED to the original text of the Nicene Creed by Western Churches in the 6th Century.

        This was an UNAUTHORIZED addition to the universal Creed, which is one of the key issues that split the Christian Church into East and West in the 11th Century (the Great Schism).

        I am a Protestant (a Methodist) and I recognize that the Western Churches had NO RIGHT to change the Creed, which was the possession and witness of the WHOLE Church, without the consent of the whole Church.

        Some Eastern Orthodox consider the filioque to be heretical. I think it can be fairly easily argued that it is not technically heretical, but that it has led to two terrible consequences: the historic split of the Christian Church, and a de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit in Western Churches (Catholic and Protestant). The Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements came about because of the neglect of and de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Evangelicalism has rediscovered the Holy Spirit, but even here, there is very little teaching on or understanding of the Person, Deity, and Work of the Holy Spirit. All of this is the result of the fallout from the filioque.

        The Filioque suggests that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son. If this is understood in a truly Double Processionism, then there are TWO supreme sources in the Godhead…the Father and the Son. The Father is no longer the SOLE source of the Godhead. This can lead to Ditheism (practical if not technical) or to a Semi-Sabellianism, where the Persons of the Father and the Son are almost interchangeable. In both cases, however, the Holy Spirit is DEMOTED from his status as being EQUAL with the Father and the Son. He is the only Person of the Trinity who is not the source of any other Person. He is therefore LESS THAN the Father and the Son by Nature. He is relegated to the background…his role diminished, his Deity vague at best. His Personhood nebulous. He becomes described in terms like “He is the Love between the Father and the Son”…imagery which depersonalizes and diminishes him in comparison to the Father and the Son.

        Most Western Theologians, however, do not truly believe in Double Processionism. They instead believe the Father is the SOLE source of the Godhead (preserving the unity and oneness of the Trinity), but that the Holy Spirit proceeds FROM THE FATHER THROUGH THE SON. This is an acceptable formulation and understanding of the filioque from a technical theological standpoint. True Double Processionism may indeed be heretical. But a SINGLE Processionist view of the Filioque would NOT be heretical. And this is how most Westerners understand it…all the way back to St Augustine. However, the problem still persists that even this moderated view of the filioque still results in the diminishment of and de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. If it were not so, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements would never have occurred…in fact, it can reasonably be argued that the whole Protestant Reformation would never have been NECESSARY if the Western Churches had kept a more balanced view of the Holy Spirit as is represented by the ORIGINAL wording of the Nicene Creed.

        “And in the Holy Spirit, WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER. Who together with the Father and the Son is to be worshiped and glorified.”

        The addition of the words “and the Son” unbalances the Trinity, destroys the unity and oneness of the Godhead, confuses the roles of the Father and the Son, and de-emphasizes the Holy Spirit.

        All of that AND…it should never have been added in the first place because it wasn’t their place to alter the Creed unilaterally without the consent of the whole Church.

        This is what our friend was talking about.

        Ben

  2. Pingback: Video – The Nicene Creed in a Graveyard | Do the Word

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