Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 7th, 2016 by Joel Watts

In Support of The Nicene Creed as a Doctrinal Standard

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Andy Hargrove and Austin Rivera (he has a blog post here) have a public letter to the Faith and Order Committee regarding the passage of Petition 60980-FO-¶104-G — the one about the Nicene Creed. (You can track it here). You can read my rationale here. Of course, I maintain The United Methodist Church is creedal, but too often we find United Methodists who deny we even have basic doctrine.

The letter is as follows:

Eastertide 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As General Conference approaches many proposals vie for your attention.

Some of these have had mountains of ink spilled about them and are sure to cause great strife across the Connection. We write to draw your eyes to a very little but very worthy proposal, which we believe has the potential to increase our unity and strengthen the UMC. Petition Number: 60980-FO-1J104-G, presented by a lay member from the West Virginia Conference, proposes that the Nicene Creed (UMH #880) be added to our doctrinal standards.

The Nicene Creed was the product of a council held at Constantinople in 381. This council’s work was a revision of the creed of an earlier council at Nicaea in 325 and for this reason the creed is called “Nicene.” In an era when Christianity was being transformed from a persecuted religion to the faith of the majority under Constantine and his successors, this creed was written to be a clear statement of doctrine as the Church struggled to maintain the integrity of its message. True to this purpose it has served down through the centuries as a touchstone for what we believe about God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—the very heart of our faith. The Nicene Creed steadied the Church as it trod treacherous ground in becoming Rome’s dominant religion; it can steady us today as we venture hesitantly into a world where Christianity is no longer dominant in the West.

Yet the creed is much more than an anchor for orthodoxy: it is a powerful symbol of the global unity of the Church. The Council of Nicaea, for which this creed is named, was the first council to draw Christians from all over the world. Bishops came from Spain and India, Britain and Africa and all lands in between to attend the council. As a result, the creed which represents this global gathering and the faith which it confesses unite many Christian communities otherwise separated by so much. Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, we all trace our lineages to the bishops and theologians who gathered at that synod in the early fourth century. By making the creed which bears their name one of our doctrinal standards we would embrace United Methodism’s place in “Christ’s universal Church”.

None of our current doctrinal standards bear such an ecumenical significance. While they express well our distinctiveness they do not confess our universality—none of them testify to that old Methodist “catholic spirit” we so rightly cherish. There are the sermons and notes of one man, a Spirit-filled man, a wise man, but one man. There is his abridgment of a document written by a few divines in England during the Reformation. There is the Confession of the E.U.B., a rich document, but again written recently by a few Americans. By adding the Nicene Creed we confess that we are a church not of a few westerners of the last few centuries, but of the whole world, in union with all Christians everywhere.

We urge you then to consider supporting Petition Number: 60980-FO-H104-G. We urge you, in an age and a culture where we are constantly seduced into emphasizing the distinctiveness of our particular tribe,-to embrace the Nicene Creed as a symbol of United Methodism’s “catholic spirit.” We urge you, in an age of doctrinal indifference and confusion, to embrace it as a distillation of our sacred, life-giving teaching about God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

As you can see, Hargrove and Rivera add to the rationale powerfully. I would encourage you to copy that letter and send it to your delegates and to the Faith and Order Committee at the General Conference.

Update: 

I want to note that Petition 60230, wherein we seek full communion with our Pietist family, the Moravians, includes as part of the basis, the Nicene Creed,

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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

6 Responses to “In Support of The Nicene Creed as a Doctrinal Standard”
  1. Just for discussion purposes, what’s the chance that “who for us men”, could be changed to “who for us people”, and adopted? Otherwise it is adopting an historic, but anachronistic, document. It seems like that might be the only real objection. Or adopt it as is, with an *, “to include all people”. Then everyone should feel happy.

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