Of Creeds and Christians from a Muslim Background, Part 2 of 2
This is Part 2 of 2. If you missed part 1, click here.
What of the Nicene Creed (or the Nicene-Constantinopalitan Creed, for those who wish to be more detailed)? Likewise I recommend its memorization. The genesis of the Apostles’ Creed was related to baptism: what was a biblical summary of the basics of Christianity that everyone could confess, such that someone who moved from Rome to Athens and wanted to take communion could be acknowledged as a Christian? What were the Scriptural basics of “mere Christianity”?
The Nicene Creed has its genesis elsewhere and later, in the 4th Century in the context of the great Arian controversy—the most formative event in the Church’s 20 century-long life, more so than the Protestant Reformation. The question forced on the Church’s bishops and elders was, what is the relation of the Son to the Father? The controversy predates Islam by almost three centuries, but the question itself is one that is pressed on Christians, and especially CMBs, often.
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.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped 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.
Much of the text is similar to the Apostles’ Creed. It is the material in relation to the Son’s relation to the Father that is new. So, your CMB is asked by a relative or neighbor, you say that Jesus is the Son of God? What does that mean? And here is an answer, drawing on biblical imagery (mostly from the Johannine corpus: begetting, the Son as ‘light’): “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.”
It is concise; it is clear; it invites reflection and contemplation. It refutes any contention that Christians believe that Jesus is the progeny of a sexual act between God the Father and Mary.
A survey of the autobiographies and conversion narratives of converts from Islam reveals that sooner or later CMBs are always, with no exception to my knowledge, confronted with such foundational questions: What do Christian believe? How is Islam different from Christianity? Why do you say that Jesus is the Son of God, what does it mean?
There are many other questions, some of which I have addressed in other articles (how could you betray your people?). Memorizing the creeds affords the CMB with a reasonable and substantial answer to provide in the context of an adversarial, even dangerous, context.
In terms of identity it also can assist the believer in understanding herself as part of a non-sectarian body that transcends time and space, the Church universal, the body of Christ. That body may not be visible or accessible physically at certain times and in certain places, like when she goes back to visit her parents in her home town which is devoid of Christians and churches. But, in the words of Hebrews, her identity is strengthened and confirmed, knowing that she is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller lives in Madrid with Sharon and their three children where they teach and minister at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer. He is associate faculty at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE). You can contact Duane here