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Why the Nicene Crede?
Doctrine divides; Christ unites. In our postmodern world, this has become something of a truism. But is it that simple?
Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, devotees of paganism, Deists, and more constitute a broad array of devotees to an immense variety of deities. Even among those who name themselves as Christians, there are quite diverse views, including those who reject most of the following: the virgin birth of Christ, the death of Christ as an atonement for sin, the possibility of miracles including the resurrection, the deity of Christ, the eventual return of Christ, and even the existence of a personal God. Consider Episcopal Bishop John Spong’s statement, “Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless.”
Ours is an age of great confusion, as Bishop Spong’s statement indicates. If a Christian community is to be clear about who this God is that we are committed to following, a clear creed is essential. The Jesus we follow is not merely a good man who taught that we should love one another. Nor is He one of the prophets, the final prophet being Mohammed. Nor is He one of the many incarnations of the Hindu god, Krishna. All of these views have their adherents.
The “Jesus Creed” has been suggested as a less doctrinaire statement of faith. And, indeed, it is a beautiful summary of the response we are commanded to make to God.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no commandment greater than these.
These exhortations Jesus identified as the two “great commandments.” As such, there could be no objection to including it among an Ambleside school’s foundational documents.
But the one problem with the “Jesus Creed” is that it is not a creed at all. Only the first line, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” is credal in nature. It’s the only portion that tells us something about God’s nature. And even so, it is a statement that can only be understood in the context of the entire book of Deuteronomy. Only in its context does the statement “the Lord is one” make sense.
More importantly, it doesn’t do what a creed is intended to do, which is to clarify what we believe about God, to make known who this God is that we are following. Thus, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, certain Wiccan sects, Deists, theistic humanists, and “Christians” who deny the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the crucifixion as an atoning sacrifice for sin; these could all wholeheartedly affirm the Jesus Creed.
From the time of its founding, Ambleside Schools International has affirmed the Nicene Creed as its statement of belief. The purpose of having such a creed as part of an Ambleside school’s foundational documents is to ensure (to the extent possible) that when we say the words, “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy Spirit” we mean something close to the same thing and that what we mean is something close to the same thing that Jesus, His disciples, and the great majority of Christ followers over the last two thousand years have meant.
The Creed gives clarity to the statement, “We are not followers of just any God. We are followers of Jesus Christ, our resurrected Savior and Lord,” however imperfectly we might do so. To abandon the Nicene Creed (or something equivalent) is to abandon one’s distinctly Christian theological commitment and replace it with sentiment. “Any god will do, so long as we have faith and love.”
A creed serves an essential function in the life of a Christian community. It clarifies (for both those in the community and beyond the community) who this God is that we are committed to proclaiming, following, and serving. Thus, all Ambleside staff and board members are required to unreservedly affirm the Nicene Creed (or its equivalent). Doing so ensures, to the extent possible, that at the center of the community is a commitment to following the same God.
Of course, professing a creed, no matter how true the creed might be, is not the same as faithfully following the God who is professed. Affirming the Nicene Creed is only the beginning. More than this, Ambleside staff and board members are expected to live a daily walk of faith and obedience (though admittedly imperfectly) to the God whom we profess by the Nicene Creed.
To date, all Ambleside schools have been welcoming of students and families who are not Christians. Schools have not required affirmation of the Nicene Creed by parents. Still, it is important for all parents to understand that the Jesus affirmed in the Creed is the Jesus to whom the school is consecrated and committed. Thus, the Creed acts as a means of “full disclosure” to non-Christian parents.
Finally, the Nicene Creed is not the only option for an Ambleside school, but it is a theological minimum. A community with a more Biblicist leaning might chose a creed consisting of a selection of Bible verses. An evangelical community might choose the Lausanne Covenant. It is not that Ambleside requires member schools to have the same doctrinal statement, only that every school have a doctrinal statement that clearly communicates the nature of God, as consistent with the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed was chosen as the standard creed for Ambleside schools because for 1700 years it has served as the clearest and most broadly accepted statement of who the Christian God is.
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 of 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 worshipped 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.