This is an introduction to what I hope will be a series of posts with the title ‘We believe’ – working through the Nicene Creed we use in church, phrase by phrase.
It may take a while…
On sabbatical at the moment (for which I’m very grateful), I’m taking a step back from ministry for a few weeks to think, read and pray. I’ve tried to keep doing those things throughout my ministry, of course, but I know that most of my serious reading and thinking on theology was done at theological college between 1989-1992. With the privilege of studying a theology degree at Oxford, I found that the area I most enjoyed (and did best in when the exams came) was ‘modern doctrine’ – the more philosophical side of theology, looking carefully at what we believe and what that means for us. That’s now over half my lifetime ago, and I think it would be good to have another look now at the beliefs that I spent so much time thinking through then. In some ways, theology seemed simpler then, working out the framework of truth from the Bible, the church’s tradition and reasoning. Since then I’ve tried to keep thinking, but over more than 27 years of ordained ministry I’ve got to admit there’s been a fair bit of theological ‘winging it’ and a general sense that things aren’t always as clear as I thought they were, once we’re working out what faith looks like in people’s lives.
So it seems like a good time to get back to the books (including some that have been written since 1992!), set them alongside what I’ve experienced in life and ministry and think again about what I believe.
There’s a tradition of approaching doctrine through ‘systematic theology’ – working through areas of belief in a logical and structured order. These books can be heavy going, but worthwhile! (I’m currently reading Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology, which I’m enjoying a lot). But as a parish priest it seems to me that it might be more useful to start, at least, by working my way through the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith that most of us here use most often in worship at church. Hopefully that will make at least some of this useful to at least some of you as well as to me.
What I’m hoping to do is to go through the creed phrase by phrase, and in different ways. If only part of this feels relevant to you, please feel free to skip over or ignore the rest!
- A prayer written after I’ve written the rest of the post. I have a feeling that, if I’m writing about belief, I should be able to put it into a prayer I could say to God with a straight face…
- 250 words or less to sum up what I think that phrase means and why it matters
- What people have said about the subject of that phrase – some history, some of the people I’ve read who’ve written things worth sharing (and some who haven’t, but who have led to the others writing what was worth sharing)
- Why it matters – to me and to all of us
- Suggestions (if I have any) for reading and thinking further about this.
I’d love to hear from you as this goes on – especially if you’ve found something helpful, but also if what I’ve written seems wrong or just confusing. I’m open to going back over things I’ve written and improving them, so please help me do that!
The Nicene Creed (Common Worship text)
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,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and 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,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who 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.