Why I Wrote ‘We Believe’
Biblical Christianity is not merely a religious experience. It is the belief in historical events and their objective significance for believers. The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word credo meaning ‘I believe’. We believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We believe he is truly God and truly human. And we believe that by being united to him by faith through the Spirit we have eternal life. We thus believe that Jesus is the Saviour and only hope for humanity. Implicit in these beliefs is the belief that people who rejects these truths are not saved. The New Testament suggests there are certain truths that people deny at their peril.
So most churches have found it helpful to have a summary of Christian belief. Creeds summarise who we are, they teach us what is important and they help us avoid error. Some people argue we should have no creeds except the Bible itself. In reality, however, everyone operates with an understanding of what the Bible teaches. We all have functional creeds. Those who claim only to follow the Bible simply have hidden creeds which are not open to scrutiny and can’t be used to hold people to account. And in fact, biblical Christianity has always been creedal. It has always involved confessions of faith. There are some parts of the New Testament which may have been early creeds (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:6‐11; 1 Timothy 3:16).
There are a number of aspects of contemporary culture that make people suspicious of creeds:
1. Our culture values youth over age and the new over the old. In science it is generally true that the new is an improvement on the old. But this is not the case for theology or morality. Human wisdom does not improve on divine revelation.
2. Our culture emphasises personal experience over public rituals. Within the church, too, there is a suspicious of mere formalism. People think that it is what we feel in our hearts that matters. But the validity of an action is not determined by how I feel about it. The truth we declare in the creeds is true whatever we are feeling at the time. What is happening in our hearts does matter, but the declaration of truth is one of the means God uses to rekindle our affections or calm our fears.
3. Our culture is judgmental about judgmentalism and intolerant or intolerance. In other words, it suspects assertions of the truth, especially when those involve denials of untruth. But God’s word is objectively true and it thereby refutes falsehood. One of the tasks of the church and its leaders is to refute error.
4. Our culture is suspicious of institutions like the church. It values personal freedom and therefore suspects institutions which direct people’s thinking. But the Bible says we are communal beings made to live in community. God has given us institutions (of state, church and family) to provide a healthy structure for our lives. Human institutions are not perfect and some can be self‐serving. But their failures should not negate their importance.
So we should have the humility to learn from the great summaries of Christian faith put together by previous generations. We are part of the body of Christ not just around the world, but across the ages. ‘The church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth.’ (1 Timothy 3:15) The Creeds are corporate documents. When we recite them together they link us to the church down the ages. And when we recite them together they link us to one another in the church today. We are affirming that we are united by one faith (Ephesians 4:4‐6).
Reciting a Creed is also an act of worship. As we recite the Creed together we call one another:
- away from the lies of the world and back to the truth of gospel
- away from the worship of the world and back to the God of gospel
So reciting the Creed is a subversive act. It is like singing the national anthem of France in occupied France during the Second World War. We relativise other claims. By giving our allegiance to God, we are withholding it from the empires and ideologies of the world. We exhort one another not to succumb to the subtle influence of the empty and destructive idolatries of this world. Instead we give our undivided love and allegiance to the living God.
For all these reasons I think repeating Creeds together as an act of corporate worship is an important feature in the life of any church.
The Nicene Creed is one of the most widely acknowledged creeds and one of the oldest. Strictly speaking, in the form we have it, it is the Niceno‐Constantinopolitan Creed, though most people refer to it as the Nicene Creed. It began life at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It is thought to have been revised at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, though no record of this exists until the creed was read out at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. (For more on the circumstances in which the Creed was formulated see my book, Delighting in the Trinity.) In our church we recite the Nicene Creed together. It’s one among other Creeds, some based on creedal statements in the Scriptures themselves, that we use.
But I wanted to give churches a viable alternative – a way of singing the truths of the Creed. So I’ve tried to create lyrics that were close to the original wording. But we added a chorus to give express to our response to the truths we’re affirming. By setting them to music I hope we will help the truths stir people’s hearts.
Here’s how the Creed and the lyrics correspond:
Nicene Creed #1
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.
We believe in God the Father,
Lord Almighty over all:
seen and unseen worlds created
by his will and at his call.
We believe in our Lord Jesus,
God from God and Light from Light.
Through him all things were created,
held together through his might.
Nicene Creed #2
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 againin accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heavenand 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 Christ our Saviour
born of Mary, God made man.
On the cross he died to save us,
to complete the Father’s plan.
We believe Christ rose as promised,
conquered death, reversed the Fall.
Now he reigns and reigns forever:
soon he’ll come to judge us all.
Nicene Creed #3
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 worshiped 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. Amen.
We believe in God the Spirit,
who through prophets breathed God’s word:
through that word new life is given;
through that word God’s voice is heard.
We believe in baptised people,
sharing life with God above.
We await the resurrection;
we await eternal love.
We will worship God the Father,
we will worship God the Son,
we will worship God the Spirit,
triune God, the Three-in-One.