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The Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Holy Catholic Church & One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

We have a custom at Emmaus Christian Fellowship to confess the faith together before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We typically do this by reading the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed in unison. Sometimes I (or another Elder) will read the Creed and the congregation will respond, saying “Amen”.

Both of these Creeds are very old. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the Church in 325 A.D.; the Apostles Creed existed before that. Both Creeds were penned to give a summary of the essential truths of the Christian faith brief enough to be memorized by the people of God. Historically the Church has used these Creeds to defend against heresy, to teach new believers, to confess the faith before baptism, and in the worship of the church.

There are many benefits to using the Creeds in our worship. In uttering these ancient sayings we keep the essential truths of the faith always before us. This is helpful, not only for those who are young in Christ, but also for those who have been walking with the Lord for some time. I believe it will become more important as the divide widens between the Christian Church and the American culture. The Church will, in the decades to come, labor to preserve the faith as the world presses against her more and more strongly.

Using the Creeds in our worship is not without challenges, though. One of the challenges is that both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed contain phrases that can be difficult for Christians to understand if they are not first instructed.

I would like to take a moment to deal with two phrases in the Nicene Creed which have raised questions.

We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

First of all, lets examine the phrase, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

The word catholic means universal. When we say “we believe in one holy catholic… Church” we are not pledging allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead we are confessing that there is a universal Church which has been made holy by Christ’s blood.

How important it is for us to remember that Emmaus Christian Fellowship Church is not the only true Church on the planet! No, we are but one small part of the body of Christ universal!

Christ’s Church is a universal Church. This is not to deny the significance of the local, or visible Church. Christ commissioned the Apostles to make disciples of all nations. They were to accomplished that task through the preaching of the gospel, the establishment of local churches, and the appointment of Elders and Deacons within those local churches, as the book of Acts so wonderful displays. The local Church is essential. Christians are to belong to local Churches where they will be cared for by Elders and Deacons, hear the Word preached, receive the sacraments, extend brotherly and sisterly love, use their spiritual gifts, etc. All of these things are to take place in the local Church, but we must never forget the catholic Church. Local Churches are to associate with other local Churches. Individual Christians are united in Christ no matter where they fellowship of the Lord’s Day. We should pray for other local congregations and care for one another in practical ways, as opportunities arise.

This is what it means to be kingdom minded. We are to labor to advance God’s Kingdom. Never should we seek to build little kingdoms of our own. Confessing that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” helps guard against growing self-centered and prideful in our allegiance to a particular local Church or denomination.

The word apostolic is also important. I will say less about this. When we confess that the Church is apostolic we are saying that she is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ himself being the chief cornerstone Ephesians 2:20). Though it is true that the universal Church is beautifully diverse, and that we ought to rejoice in that diversity, we ought never to celebrate when the Church strays from the foundational teaching of the Apostles of Christ.

We Acknowledge One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

Secondly, let us examine the phrase, “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

Some take pause at this statement because it seems to say that it is water baptism which washes away our sins.

Notice that the Creed is simply using the language of scripture. Acts 2:38-39:

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts 2:38–39, ESV)

The clear teaching of scripture is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. To trust in Christ truly also involved repenting of sins. To repent involves confessing that we have sinned, crying out to God for mercy through Christ Jesus, and turning from our sins to a newness of life. Faith and repentance are, therefore, closely connected – they go hand in hand.

The sacrament of Baptism signifies, or symbolizes, the inward and invisible reality brought about by Spirit wrought faith in an external and visible way. The waters of baptism do not wash away sin – Christ’s blood does. Salvation is not earned by our obedience in the waters of baptism – it is has been earned by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We receive salvation, not by being baptized, but by the instrument of faith. Baptism, however, is a sacrament. It is a sign. It is an external and visible symbol of internal and invisible realities.

The Creed and the scriptures can speak of being “baptized for the forgiveness of sins” not because the act of baptism saves us, but because the sign and the thing signified are so closely connected that they can spoken of as one and the same. In other words, to say that we are “baptized for the forgiveness of sins” is to say that we are forgiven by all at the baptism signifies. This is how sacraments work. They are signs and symbols which point to other realities – spiritual, inward, and invisible realities. The same could be said of the Lord’s Supper and the language surrounding the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Mathew 26, though we will not go there for the sake of time.

When a person is baptized he is receiving “a sign of his fellowship with [Christ], in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life” (Second London Confession, 29.1). To say that we believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” is to say that we believe that we are forgiven of ours sins through all that the sacrament of baptism symbolizes, namely, the things mentioned in the above quote. As you can see, sacramental language manages to communicate a whole world of doctrine in just one word.

I will close with this thought: Perhaps the reason the language of the Nicene Creed (and Acts 2) cause us to give pause is because we have given to little significance to the sacraments. We have been so concerned (at least in our tradition) to guard against the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration (and also the doctrine of transubstantiation) that we have opened up a wide gap between the sign and the thing signified. We do not want them to be confused. We do not want people treat the sign of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as if they were the substance of our salvation, and so we draw with heavy lines. Though our intentions are good, perhaps we have made the gap to wide. While we must guard against these errors, and others like them, we should not be afraid to use the credal and scriptural language concerning the sacraments which point to a tight link between the sign and the thing signified. Can a person be saved if he has never been baptized or taken the Supper? The thief on the cross was! But the scriptures compel in this way: “Take, eat; this is my body”, and “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”

The teaching of the Creed is this: there is salvation in no one or no thing other than Christ. If we are to have the forgiveness of sins it must be through spiritual  union with Christ, the thing that baptism signifies. To take the sign of baptism truly and by faith is to have that which the sign signifies, all by the grace of God and to the praise of his glorious grace.

Pastor Joe


 

The Nicene Creed

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 from 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.

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