Creedal Post-Mortem, Part One

"We Believe..." These are the first words of (arguably) the most important and universally acknowledged creedal statement in christianity - the Nicene Creed. They are also possibly the most dangerous and destructive words ever professed.

In AD 312, Constantine won control of the Roman Empire at the battle of Milvian Bridge. He attributed his victory to the intervention of Jesus Christ (a shrewd political move) and elevated christianity to favored status in the empire. His motto became "one God, one Lord, one faith, one church, one empire, one emperor."

The new emperor soon discovered, however, that "one faith, one church" thing wasn't representative of the state of christianity in the empire. Believers in the new religion were already fractured by theological disputes, especially over the understanding of the nature of Christ. Arius, a leader of the church in Alexandria, asserted that Christ was created by God before the beginning of time - divine, yes, but also created. Therefore, the divinity of Christ was similar to the divinity of God, but not of the same essence, because it was of the created order. Arius was opposed by another leader, Alexander, together with Athanasius, who argued that the divinity of Christ, as the Son of God, was of the same essence as the divinity of God, the Father. To believe otherwise, they said, was to open the possibility of polytheism, and to imply that knowledge of God in Christ was not final or ultimate knowledge of God. To counter this widening rift in the church, Constantine convened a council in Nicaea in AD 325. A creed reflecting the position of Alexander and Athanasius was written and signed by a majority of christian leaders (and politicians). Arius was declared a heretic and his teachings heretical. Nevertheless, the two parties continued to battle each other, so in AD 382, a second council met in Constantinople. It adopted a revised expanded form of the creed, now known as the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed became the foundational creed of christianity, and today is the only creed acknowledged by protestant/reformed, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic traditions. (thanks to for the above summarized information).

This little history lesson is given to demonstrate a couple of crucial points. Every Sunday morning, literally millions of christians around the world - regardless of theological or denominational stripe - utter these words. However, how many of them know their origin or their meaning, and what they were attempting to create? As a former pastor (who served thousands in a quarter-century of service, I would say less than 10%). A second point is that - even its earliest days - christianity was not a unified or coherent theological system and did not understand its own god. A council of leaders was necessary (which actually was called to address a political purpose) was needed to develop an authoritative position that could be enforced within the faith community and from beyond (in this case, the empire and the sword). Someone needed to tell the poor christian lambs both what they believed, and what they were not to believe. The creed was formed as much to identify the heretics like Arius as it was to promote the doctrine of Christ as God.

The development of the creed is important to understand because it establishes the true source of belief and doctrine of christianity. Evangelical christians profess that Scripture is the only "infallible" source of faith and doctrine, but the canon of scripture was not even agreed upon at the time of creedal formation. Athanasius (yeh, the same guy who was involved in the controversy with Arius) developed a list of accepted scripture in 367; however, it was not consistent with what was finally agreed upon decades later (and ultimately contended for another thousand years). Creed came first, and creed ultimately created canon!

So, christians, do you know the creed? Do you believe it? Do you understand it?

It is ironic and amusing that the creed, which created canon and is the foundation of christian belief and doctrine, is also in contradiction to much of biblical literature. Nevertheless, christians continue to make the creedal profession and assert that the bible is the "infallible" foundation of faith and doctrine - an internal contradiction at the very foundation of the religion.

The words "We believe", stated at the beginning of the creed, represent the core problem of christian religion, and perhaps any religion. Those words establish, at the outset, that christian religion is not based on reason, logical argument, or scientific evidence, but on subjective experience or opinion that is formed by a number of different sources...not just one authoritative source (like scripture). If christians ascribe to the creed, then they willingly subjugate reason to subjective experience.

Belief is highly personal. It involves a willingness to suspend reason or rational review. Belief is formed in a number of ways, and we all practice it. I am not saying belief is "bad" - however, it must always be tested (eventually). In the test of belief, christianity has largely failed. The creed states "we believe", not "we conclude". There is not a conclusion drawn on the basis of offered evidence.

Belief, in the case of religion, is a weakness and possibly a terminal illness. It has led to atrocities in the name of its god or doctrine. It leads individuals towards delusional thought patterns and behavior. It both incites emotion and denounces it. Who, or what, can challenge a personal, subjective profession? The only real authority in christian religion is the "authority of the believer" (the protestant battle cry!). The authority of one's experience and opinion is ultimate - even the bible says so - "what we have seen, and heard, we declare to you." (1 John 1"3). How can it be tested? Christian religion spurns the test, calling it a challenge to faith, even calling it the activity of the devil.

Because belief is the heart of christian religion, the religion both flourishes and presents its greatest vulnerability. A continuous, pressing challenge on christians about their beliefs - beginning with the Nicene Creed - will eventually lead to collapse.