We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ . . .

In the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way; i.e. in a concrete or literal manner. But there are some truths which cannot be stated that way at all! Our language has to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. Indeed some of its statements are a mixture of the concreteliteral and the metaphor analogy! The very expression Jesus Son of God is just that.

Moreover, we have to acknowledge that this Creed, like the Bible itself, was compiled and written long before the scientific era of recent centuries and to-day’s world. It does not mean (as some claim) that modern science, biology, psychology, etc., or the latest historical study, disproves the biblical truths, or shakes the Creedal beliefs. Rather it means seeing and understanding all these great truths of Faith with, as it were, wider eyes and minds.

After all, these are (as I tried to show in the second article) all expressions of a great Creator’s mind. Bringing this way of doing theology to the study of God’s holy Word, and also to our holy Faith, using all that new disciplines and studies teach us, far from denying or changing this Faith, actually enhances and enriches it; giving it greater depth and meaning. Many great scientists, philosophers and historians, etc. strongly acknowledge and believe this.

We come then to this second crucial Creedal declaration which is about JESUS. We profess our faith in “One Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father”. It states that there is only ONE Lord Jesus! It means that there is only one sure and certain mediator between humankind and God; and between the whole cosmos and God. For we live in what the Bible calls a fallen world; marred, distorted and sadly spoilt by wrong doing, sin and evil. We have to acknowledge this with utter realism, when we think about the Cross and how Jesus died for us. We are affirming that Jesus is the only One who can bring about our most certain reconciliation with our Father God.

In Ephesians 4:5 St. Paul wrote: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”. Jesus himself said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). In some way, whether in this world or the next, that truth has to be real for every single soul. There is no other way; no other philosophy or religion can do it adequately and completely! Does this mean that the other great world faiths like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, have nothing to teach us; and do not have meaningful understanding of God and genuine access to him? Certainly not! But it does mean that we believe the Christian faith can fully complete their differing paths, bringing a fullness of faith and enrichment. And always in humility, we must gratefully acknowledge the immense goodness and truth in them, and learn from them. We are all brothers and sisters in our humanity, and in God.

But why “the only Son of God”? Here again we are using very limited human language to describe supernatural divine nature. The Bible teaches us both in the Old Testament and supremely in the New, that every human person is made and meant to be a child of God; a son or daughter of our Father Creator. And that we don’t just know it, but live it fully and happily in his great love. So to make this absolutely possible and truly real, God actually came to live here amongst us.

The theologian and Bishop, Augustine of Hippo (in the 5th century) put it like this: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons of men might become the sons of God”. Nowadays we have to put it this way: The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman, might become the sons and daughters of God. This means affirming what the Bible teaches in Genesis 1:27 that we are all made in the image of God; actually sharing something of his eternal divinity and nature. It also underlines the truth, stated earlier, that there is only One Sure Redeemer, One Sure Saviour.

In his life here amongst us Jesus is our perfect role model and representative; the one who by abundant grace, can help us be truly sons and daughters of our Father God. The writer to the Hebrews (12:2) put it like this: “looking to Jesus the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of our faith”. St Peter expressed it this way when it seems many were doubting or even rejecting Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68). Bishop Richard of Chichester, in a beautiful prayer, describes Jesus as Friend and Brother in heaven. How true!

Later we shall look at what it actually means to be both fully and truly human, and fully and truly divine, when in his incarnate life (taking our flesh) Jesus shared our earthly journey. We can only do this by carefully exploring that earthly life and ministry as portrayed so strongly and graciously in the holy Gospels.

Finally, the phrase describing Jesus as “eternally begotten of the Father”, is again using human analogy and language to convey a divine reality. To conceive, bear and beget children, is one of the most joyful and beautiful gifts of our human life. The children given to us are for this life only of course. In Heaven we shall all share the eternal life of another family, closer then to our Father God and Christ his Son.

The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is similar to our human ones, but for them it is a fully eternal union in a bond of holy and perfect Love. Hence our Creed uses the very poignant telling phrase eternally begotten. And it reminds us of the privilege and joy, yet huge responsibility, of bringing children into our world; and bringing them up, and how much we need the parenting God to help and guide us. Moreover as St. Paul and others remind us, it underlines the truth of our adoption, our sonship and daughtership, into the very being of the Godhead, and into the Church and family of Christ. (Note Romans 8:14-16 and Galatians 4:4-6).

Next time we shall look at the outstandingly beautiful and meaningful words that follow, describing Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”.

Now, while God’s gift of time, moves on;
And we, in this world’s space, cry out our spoken Creed.
So may our Faith flow out in prayer and generous love;
And God our Father evermore be praised,
In his true dear, and only Son, our Lord.
“Jesus, my Lord and my God”

Amen.

George Abell

God the Creator (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

As we saw in our last article there is Only One God; One Supreme Being who is the Creator – the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel; of all existence, animate and inanimate; of all life in endless variety and wonder; of a vast Universe with untold billions of galaxies, in which one of the smaller we are set. He is the Eternal God, the beginning and the end, described in the New Testament as “the Alpha & the Omega” (Revelation 1:8 & 22:13 ); the timeless One; yet also Our Father, with whom we have real personal bond, known by faith and sustained by Love; and with whom we are linked forever, in time and for eternity.

In this article we shall first think about the Creation itself, recognising that it has, along with its sheer greatness and grandness, a moral heart. In other words it is made for a purpose, with a good and wonderful plan, and a glorious final end. Creation, though beginning billions of years ago with what scientists call the big bang, is not a pure chance happening. It does not move in totally random, unsure direction with no certain goal. It is, as we know from the innate consistent dependable physical laws that govern it, the result of very definite design and meaning. It is the work, we believe, of a great Creator’s mind; the activity of God himself; who is forever intimately concerned with and caring of its entire life.

Within that plan of course is what we call Evolution. In modern understanding that process of evolution, taking place over many billions of years, far from denying Divine design and creativity, actually demonstrates the amazing genius, the great inventive mind, and unlimited power of God. As we come to faith in God, without which we can make only partial sense of creation and existence, we see that it is Divine Love that has both made all, and sustains all. That is shown all through the Old Testament, and supremely in the New, where in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, we see that Love at its fullest and most wonderful (John 3:16).

The Christian Faith, as do other World Faiths, asserts categorically that the Creation is GOOD.  The Genesis story of Creation states several times boldly and clearly that what God made was indeed both wonderful and good. He meant it to be wholly good, not something shoddy and inferior (Genesis 1:21). God does not deal in the substandard or second best. And God does not, and cannot create anything that can be described as evil or contrary to the good and his great Love. I have always loved the song “What a beautiful world” composed by Bob Thiele & David Weiss, set to music by Louis Armstrong (top of the charts more than once when I was a young curate!). Here are two of its verses:

I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom for me and you:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night:
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world
.

The Book of Genesis (began over 3,000 years ago by several authors, and later edited several times) is not a text book of geology, astronomical physics, palaeontology (study of fossils), or any other human or biological science. But it does present, within a framework of the highest religious thought of ancient times, a strong sense of Divine creative genius and power. And it proclaims the moral truth and purpose of Creation for all time. Creation Story is well thought out imaginative legend or myth, made in the only way possible for that era of human knowledge. Some see it as a poem of Creation, and like all good poetry, conveys truth and meaning and the truly beautiful. The Bible contains some of the world’s finest poetry; the Psalms; the Song of Songs; and countless passages elsewhere.

The tendency for some Christians is still to read and interpret sections of Holy Scripture in a largely literal way, failing to see that its particular genre and actual setting in ancient times and cultures must be taken into consideration. Remember that these were pre-scientific eras where myth, story or legend was usually taken as accurate historical fact and objective truth. Biblical understanding and interpretation today must take into account all that the wide fields of modern knowledge, the sciences and prudent literary criticism, have to teach us. Otherwise we do grave injustice to Scripture and fail to understand it properly, learn from it, and use it in the best possible way.

In this series we are thinking about the Nicene Creed, starting with the One Creator God who creates only the Good. So we have to ask what did go wrong in this good creation? There isn’t space here to explore the complex story of how our human species, homo sapiens, evolved over many millennia; and gradually developed a moral sense with awareness of right and wrong. Or, in the long distant past, the origins of human sin and evil, and all that is contrary to goodness and love. Genesis Chapter 3, in a poignant and telling legend, describes what we call The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, choosing to go their own way rather than his. This falling away from the good and the best in human relationships, first with God, and then with each other, sadly affects us all. The Christian Faith proclaims the Good first, and then how God can indeed rectify our damaged moral state, and does so lovingly, faithfully and ceaselessly. So the next article will be about JESUS, how he and only he, can accomplish our SALVATION.

However, I want to stress again that the goodness of the whole Creation, and the essential goodness of all humanity, despite our many sins and failings, has never been destroyed or totally lost, however much it seems diminished at times. The Creed expresses our core faith that God in goodness and eternal Love never deserts us, but forever seeks to bring us back to himself, and to hold on to us, for all eternity. When we come to the Resurrection of Jesus I shall write something like this: “This central and wonderful truth of faith asserts that all creation is essentially good, for God made it so, and his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm its goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it through Christ. Indeed, all creation, everything around us, everything made and done for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness, reveals the life and presence and goodness of God”. (Genesis 1 again; Acts 14:15-17 & 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia!

 A Song or Prayer for Easter Day or at other times

God, good Creator, please accept my praises:
Offered, dear Father, on this happy morning:
Death now defeated, life unending granted, heaven now wide open.

George Abell

We believe in one God

Exploring the Nicene creed

In this series of articles we are thinking about the important and central statements of the Christian Faith: i.e. the basics and essentials. So we begin with a brief declaration about God. That there is Only One God; one supreme being who is both Creator and Father, the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel: a 3-dimensional, living yet finite creation, with its (also finite) fourth dimension called time. But a Creator who is also the source and life of an eternal world, of which we can get only tiny fleeting glimpses with the eye of faith. It’s a world, that like God himself, is in a true sense, completely other and beyond us, yet touches us and impinges upon us as we shall see in a host of ways. This essentially is because there is yet another ‘dimension’ in creation called LOVE, which in all its depth and splendour and glory is made tangible and real in JESUS. Indeed God’s greatest strongest power is the power of Love. The power indeed which brings about and sustains ALL that there is. We shall look at this in more detail and frequently as we proceed in these articles.

There is a line in the closing scene of the powerfully religious musical “Les Miserables” which is very moving and true: “To love another person is to see the face of God”. St. John in his 1st Epistle put it like this: “… everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. (1 John 4: 7). The world of our great Universe and Cosmos, and the eternal world of Heaven, are thus linked inseparably by their Creator. And that means that you the reader (and I the writer) are also linked in our humanity to “the life of the world to come” [the very last phrase of this Creed]. And that our Creator God and Father will never never unlink us. So though God is beyond and other, he is also in a true sense personal and knowable. We can therefore love him, and even more so be loved by him, speak to him, listen to him, and learn from him. We would expect that from any good father and mother, and God is just that in all perfection and measure, and in wisdom and endless mercy also. (See Luke 11:1-13).

However, we have still to acknowledge that even with our most enlightened human thoughts and words our understanding of God is very very limited. To begin with, as the Gospel of St John puts it “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4: 24).  The passage of course is saying that the nature and substance of God is not like our human nature. His is a reality that we can only think of in spiritual but nevertheless real terms. Hence we can never fully and adequately describe God. If we could it would not be God but a human creation of our human imagination! We use terms like All Goodness, All Beauty, All truth (as great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas did): or words like All Merciful, All Compassionate, All Loving, All Holy (as the Muslim Faith does perhaps more strongly than Christianity). And these are certainly helpful and point in the right direction. And are strong clear Biblical concepts or truths. But we have only scratched the surface of the incredible depth of the wonder, mystery and majesty of the Eternal God.

All these notions speak the language of faith; and the gift of faith is a most precious gift of God, given to those who will open their hearts and minds and reason. I stress the place of the rational mind, for I want to emphasize strongly that there is no conflict or divide between the scientific mind and approach to truth and meaning, and the religious and spiritual mind with its truths, the way it seeks those truths, and the things of the spirit. The scientific mind, whose task essentially is to discover tangible observable facts and truth, concrete empirical evidence, and so forth, deals largely with the how of things; leading to invention and application, and how the worlds and things work. The religious mind and the theologian (and all deeply thinking Christians are theologians) pursue another complementary path to truth, and speak of the why of things, or the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence: Why are we here anyway? Is this all there is? How should I live my life? And so on…  Briefly, religion is essentially about a loving relationship with God and with each other. And this leads to what I will call “altruism”, meaning how we live our lives fully and to our best ability, around a framework of faith in the God who made us in his own image (more about this later), and the best possible ethic and morality. And a God who also has an eternal glorious destiny planned for us. As we shall see, supremely for us as Christians: “Jesus is the way, and the truth and in the life”. (John 14:6).

Good Science and Sound Religion are complimentary ‘reflections’ of a great Creator’s mind, meant to enhance in harmony, and for good, the precious gift of humanity that we share together, both constantly needing divine inspiration and guidance.

Both science and religion are on a journey of discovery. Both going forward in faith and trust, using of course the other tools of their respective professions; constantly learning, revising, and often having to jettison error and mistakes. Both need each other, for science has been and can still be the tool of evil ideology as well as for the best good of humanity; and where religion also needs scrutiny and dispassionate judgment and correction, for it too has been and still can be the tool of abuse evil and terror, often refusing to acknowledge an ever changing world with huge good advances in human knowledge in many varied fields.

Finally, such a faith that I am trying to share with you can only prompt a deeper love, with a more profound respect, reverence and awe, before our Creator and Father God. All through the Bible, as steadily and patiently God reveals more and more of himself, we see a growing knowledge, love, reverence and awe. For me I see that culminating in the experience of those who met and loved Jesus, or those who later took the great Gospel of his love to their hearts also. For me I find this summed up in the words of the once doubting apostle Thomas, who when the risen Christ gently showed him the wounds of his great sacrifice for us, could only say in grateful love “My LORD AND MY GOD”. (John 20:28). If we can say and mean that, as we make this most exciting journey of faith and prayer, then the Nicene Creed as we explore and open it up, will surely help us on the way.

“My God, how wonderful you are, your majesty how bright;
 How beautiful your mercy seat in depths of burning light!
 How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of you must be;
 Your endless wisdom, boundless power, and awesome purity

George Abell

Sometime by Patrick Zentler-Munro

Sometime

They all prayed for me,
and I felt them so
just before I went under.

The power of prayer brings
the gift of answer, and
the strength to carry on.

Everyone moves on and so must I:
push away the old regrets
and go into pastures new.

Patrick Zentler-Munro

George Abel suggested we print this poem in memory of Patrick. It is taken from Patrick’s book “Dolly Mixture & Other Poems”.

The Nicene Creed: : its Origin & Development

In this article we shall look at why in 325AD it was necessary to formulate such a creed at all, and how it needed to be added to within just 50 years.

Try to imagine, if you will, being a new Christian in a period say about a hundred years after the last books of the New Testament were written, i.e. about 200AD. Perhaps, through the encouragement of a parent, friend or work colleague, or may be a Christian minister himself, you have become a Christian – baptised and confirmed. Now you are part also of a worshipping community meeting most likely in a home, for very few church buildings if any were around then. For you, the historic Jesus of Nazareth whom you learnt about (not exactly in an Alpha Course but something similar) and who gave his life sacrificially for everyone and for you, is really and truly alive. He is someone you can truly believe in and trust; with whom you can converse and talk in helpful prayer, and know personally as a real friend and companion. He is someone whose life and teaching you wish to emulate and follow, giving richer purpose and worthwhile meaning to your life. Moreover, he enables you to live a moral life of genuine goodness, purity and unselfish love. And, because you know only too well that you often fail him, and let him and others down, he can still ‘clean up’ your heart and conscience and give you a fresh start.

You have discovered and learnt – perhaps very gradually, for this is profound ‘stuff’- that this Jesus whom you love wholeheartedly, was (indeed is) not only a truly real and fully human being born of Mary, but also in some almost incredible way is nothing less than divine . . . God himself. And as you grew in this remarkable faith and way of life you, like many others who really think about it, were sometimes puzzled by the question: what do I make of this enigma that Jesus is both human and divine? Can it really have been possible, and if so, why? How can I explain it e.g. to my own children as they think about matters of faith, the serious questions of life, and make their own choices as they must; or to folk who want to know why I believe what to them is strange stuff! [If you the reader have not thought along these lines I will be very surprised. I certainly have and still do!]

It was these kind of issues and questions that not only the ordinary thinking members of churches faced, but much more so, the churches’ leaders and teachers, the Bishops and Clergy. Moreover, the questions faced were not only about the nature of the historic Jesus, but of the one eternal God himself, and the nature of the Christian Church too. Remember that this was the era of countless gods and diverse often strange religions, and where both were brought into the civil and political arena, and often where the gods were made by law to be worshipped. Remember also that at this time you would certainly have had the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament now), but not a complete New Testament; perhaps just one or two Gospels or first editions of them, and a few only of the Letters of Paul and others. It is many years before the official Canon of Scripture (the Bible as we know it now) was promulgated after much debate as to what writings might or might not be included.

It was to give the best possible definitive answer to all the endless questions and debates about Jesus and God and Church that prompted the Churches’ Bishops to gather in prayerful Council. The earlier shorter creeds needed amplification. There had been far too much often unseemly, even heated and acrimonious, debate! Ideas had been expressed by many that did not fairly and fully represent the New Testament portrayal of Jesus. Some ideas were quite way out, plainly wrong or heretical. Some went so far as to claim that humankind can sort out his own sinful state and moral dilemma himself, not needing Jesus as the absolutely necessary Saviour. They saw Jesus as a great teacher and example, but no more than that.

Hence, after long prayerful debate, the first Creed of Nicea was drawn up in 325AD. The Bishops in Council believed that the Holy Spirit would guide them, just as Jesus had promised, to lead the Church, and so us also, to a better understanding of Saving Truth in Christ (See John 16:13). They followed the pattern of those first Apostles who had wrestled with major issues concerning the very existence and purpose of the Christian Church and its Faith (See Acts 15:28).  They believed that God would speak through them and confirm their conclusions.  And we too can believe and trust that this first Catholic & Ecumenical Creed (i.e. world-wide and representative of all the universal Churches), in seeking to affirm the Christian Faith, as revealed and taught in God’s Word of Holy Scripture, has the guidance, ‘seal and approval’ of God’s Spirit.

However clear in content, and healing after tough debate as this Creed certainly was, it was soon felt that improvements should still be made!  Hence in 381AD, at another mainly Eastern Council held at Constantinople (the eastern capital of the Roman Empire – now called Istanbul in modern Turkey) it was decided to strengthen the earlier definition that Jesus was also God as well as Human. That the work of the Holy Spirit and the nature of the Church should also be included in more detail, and some other statements enlarged. Strictly speaking we should call the Creed we now recite on Sundays the Niceno-Constantinopoitan Creed of 381AD. However, we’ll stick to the more familiar and easier title “The Nicene Creed”.

Dear loving Creator and life-giving God, the birth of every baby is a thing of wonder, miracle and joy.  Yet always it is preceded by uncertainties, and often pain and anxiety before the final pain of delivery. But then follows the overwhelming joy of a unique new child, loved by you, and delightfully lovable by mother, father, and all.  The pain and fears have passed.  A new life has begun, with a future of good hope in a journey for ever with you Lord.

Dear Lord of the Church, the story of how your Church wrestles with the eternal truths of the Christian Faith is just like that. Those early centuries were marked by strong hopes, but also frequent pain; yet eventually the birth of a richer truth and understanding of your holy Word. Help us Lord, each one of us in our own personal journey and faith, and in our common life together in Christ, to know that your guidance is constant and unfailing. That in the confusions and divisions still of to-days’ Church you do not leave us, and that a greater fullness of truth, harmony and unity, love and peace is not so far away. So please keep us faithful to the task, and thank you Lord for your dear Son’s sake. Amen.

George Abell