At the Christmas season, millions of Christians will confess their faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. To some evangelicals, this smacks of a “dead liturgy” not too far removed from heathen prayer wheels. No doubt these words of Nicea have lost their meaning for some, and their repetition has become merely a mechanical ritual.

But it need not be so. Once men died over these words. And in our twentieth century, there are still those who have gladly laid down their lives for the truths for which these ancient words stand. In Western Christendom, alas, these words have lost their power. We have forgotten what they mean—if we ever knew. But the words of Nicea spell out the heart of Christian faith.

Refinement Under Fire

The Nicene Creed, first formed at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 324, comes down to us as reshaped at Constantinople in the year 381. The main difference between the original form and the one associated with the Council of Constantinople is the article on the Holy Spirit including the references to Scripture as the source of divine authority (“according to the Scripture” and “Who spoke by the Prophets”). Still later the Western churches changed the original “we believe” to the more personal “I believe,” and then, long after, at a provincial synod in Toledo, Spain, added the famous “filioque” (and the Son) to the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Most evangelicals now agree that whatever may be right about the additional phrase, it ought not to have divided the church in A.D. 1064. In any case, churches of both East and West, Catholic and Protestant, have adopted this 1,600-year-old statement from Constantinople as a standard second in importance only to the Apostles’ Creed.

Hundreds of millions ...

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