Friday, October 26, 2012

The Ancient Creedal Faith

The United Methodist Church professes no faith other than the ancient Christian faith, "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3), rooted in Sacred Scripture, interpreted and taught by the Early Church Fathers and the Ancient Ecumenical Councils.  This same grace-centered and Christ-centered faith was reasserted by the Reformers and was affirmed by the Anglican Church in which the Methodist movement first arose.  

The earliest summary statements of this faith are the ancient Ecumenical or "catholic" Creeds, formulated by the Early Church teachers and Councils.  They are "Ecumenical" (meaning "of the whole") and "catholic" (meaning "universal") because they have been held by the whole universal Church, across cultures, and across the ages.  The United Methodist Church, along with orthodox and Biblical Christians across the world, affirms these Creeds, as our Book of Discipline (the book of official doctrine and canon law) states (para. 101, page 42):

"Faced with diverse interpretations of the apostolic message, leaders of the early church sought to specify the core of Christian belief in order to ensure soundness of Christian teaching.  The determination of the canon of Christian Scripture and the adoption of ecumenical creeds such as the formulations of Nicaea and Chalcedon were of central importance to this consensual process.  Such creeds helped preserve the integrity of the church's witness, set boundaries for acceptable Christian doctrine, and proclaimed the basic elements of the enduring Chrisitan message.  These statements of faith, along with the Apostles' Creed, contain the most prominent features of our ecumenical heritage."

These Ecumenical Creeds are used in the worship and teaching of The United Methodist Church.  The United Methodist Church's doctrinal standards, such as the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith, restate and reaffirm the doctrinal content of these ancient Ecumenical Creeds, while also addressing and clarifying other doctrinal questions.

The Apostles’ Creed
(developed AD 100s-300s - United Methodist Hymnal, 882)

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Nicene Creed (AD 381)
(United Methodist Hymnal, 880)

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, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. 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], who with the Father and the Son is worshipped 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.

The Chalcedonian Creed (AD 451)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.


The "Athanasian Creed" (also known as the Quicunque Vult), an ancient creed of the Western churches, was contained in The Book of Common Prayer of John Wesley's day, and as such is one part of our broader Anglican and ecumenical tradition.  However it was not included in John Wesley's revision of the Prayerbook and is not used in United Methodist liturgy, nor is it used (as a general rule) in teaching at the seminaries, nor is it mentioned in The Book of Discipline or other official documents of The United Methodist Church.