Seeing as Infants through the Nicene Creed: An Excerpt from Living in the Underground Church

Each time we open the Bible to read a passage of scripture, we should begin by asking, “How does the Nicene Creed help me to see the Triune God here?”

 

In Matthew 11:25, Jesus speaks of those to whom the Father and Son are revealed. He praises the Father, saying, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”[5]

Picture a wise and learned person entering a room, or a subway car, or a street, or a home. What will the wise and prudent person do? Instinctively they will look at the whole space and try to get a sense of who is present, what is happening, and what if anything they should do in response.

Now, picture an infant entering the same space. What will the infant do? Instinctively, the infant will look only for the face of the parent. Until the infant finds the parent and is in the arms of the parent, the room remains a blur and an uninteresting mystery. The mystery for the infant is always: Where is my parent? Until that mystery is solved, little else about the room is noted or engaged.

In the same way, each time we take up the Bible to read a passage of scripture, even on the very first reading, we should see it with the heart and eyes of an infant. We should ask, Where is my parent, the Triune God? The words and the whole passage of scripture should remain a blur for us while we search urgently for God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit therein. We should not rest on any other word or question or insight or theological truth about a scripture passage even for a moment. Otherwise, the Triune God will be a blur for us in the scripture while the rest of the passage will command our focus. We must first find him, always. Scripture will not serve its purpose in us until we rest in his arms within it.

That is the purpose of the Nicene Creed for those living in the underground church. It gives our lives an unwavering, uncompromising attentiveness to the one true God.

When we read the Nicene Creed carefully, we will see that it is not the work of the wise or learned, but of infants, for infants. This is quite a different perspective than how we may have previously been taught to regard the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is often and mistakenly regarded as a work of deep theology, an intrusion of Greek philosophy into the simple beauty of scripture. But that is simply not true.

In fact, the Nicene Creed was formulated even before the infant church finalized the list of books that compose the New Testament.[6] The infant church established the Creed as a commitment to always read the Bible in a certain way: Dominated by the fullness of the Triune God, with all else as blurry backdrop. The Nicene Creed is the infant church’s joyful cry: Here is the Triune God—we have seen him! Let no part of him ever escape our sight, not even for a single moment or a single verse! Early Christians were required to memorize and thoroughly understand every statement in the creed even before they were baptized and fully admitted to the worship of the church.[7] Only in this way could the infant church be assured that an infant believer—and the infant Christian faith—would remain infants and not become captive to the wise and learned, and to all the things that hold the wise and learned captive.

The Nicene Creed tells us all the things about the nature, character, and activity of God that are necessary and sufficient to identify him in the Bible and in the world around us. Every statement in the Creed is a statement that is only true of God, and always true of God. Even the statements in the Nicene Creed that are about baptism, the church, the final judgment, and the world to come are ultimately statements about the Triune God; they gain their right meaning only in relation to him. Because the Triune God never changes, all of the statements in the Creed are always true of God in every passage of scripture and at every moment in history and eternity, including this one.

Here is what has always been most important: The Nicene Creed is what opens our eyes wide enough to see the fullness of the Triune God in each passage of scripture, and in our own lives.

Consider an example from Matthew 8:23-27.

Then [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”[8]

If we read this passage of scripture as wise and learned people, we might be drawn to examine the experience of the disciples, since we, too, are Jesus’ disciples. We might think about whether we would respond the same way as they did. We might think of situations in our own lives when we experienced metaphorical storms and waves and wondered if Jesus was present. We might wonder about why Jesus was sleeping, and how it was possible for him to sleep through a storm at sea (especially while his disciples were working so hard around him). We might decide that the purpose of this scripture is to teach us about faith and to challenge us to have more of it. We might struggle with this kind of natural miracle and whether such an event really happened, since we are so wise and learned and have never seen wind and waves calmed like this.

But if we read this passage of scripture with our infant eyes trained by the Nicene Creed, we will read it entirely differently. We will begin by looking urgently in this scripture for the Triune God as described by the Creed. Our attention will first be drawn to the words in this scripture that we have memorized from the Creed: Jesus. Lord. Save. Man. There are also words here like storm, wind, and waves that remind us of heaven and earth and their Creator, which are also mentioned in the Creed. So when the disciples ask, “What kind of man is this?”, we are already ready to give an answer, even without yet reading the rest of the passage.

The Nicene Creed says that God the Father is “the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” Because he is the maker of the wind and the waves, he is the only one they obey. But the Nicene Creed reminds us that Christ is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” The wind and the waves that appear in this passage of scripture know this, too, and thus they obey him. They know what the Creed teaches us: The Son is not less than or lower than the Father; he is his exact visible image. The Creed tells us, “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and become man.” What kind of man is this? He is God the Son, who is fully God. The Son has come to save us. He can save us because he is God. All of creation bears witness to this and submits to him.

Through the Nicene Creed, we like infants have entered the scripture passage and first, with great urgency, found our parent, the Triune God. Having found him in his fullness, we can then go on to look at the rest of this scripture using the questions detailed in subsequent chapters in this book. Through his Holy Spirit, he will then guide us to hear the word the way he wants us to hear it and to do it the way he intends: Embraced by him, with his power pouring through us.

 

[5] Matthew 11:25, NIV.

[6] Cf. http://www.scborromeo.org/papers/nicenecreed.pdf.

[7] E. Ferguson. “Catechesis, Catechumenate.” In The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 224.

[8] Matthew 8:23-27, NIV.

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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