CREEDS & CONFESSIONS
Concise Statements of Faith
New Covenant Community Church incorporates several creeds, catechisms and a confession as part of its system of beliefs. A creed is a concise, written summary of Biblical doctrine. Philip Schaff, in his book "The Creeds of Christendom," defines a creed as "a confession of faith for public use...setting forth with authority certain articles of belief which are regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation, or at least for the well-being of the Christian Church."
A creed usually results from a doctrinal controversy and is intended to be a concise statement to refute errors. Creeds in the Protestant church are always based on the revelation of Scripture which we believe is the only infallible rule of Christian faith and practice. The value of creeds depends upon the measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. Creeds and Confessions, when submitted to Scriptural authority, are the summaries of the doctrines of the Bible. They are standards and guards against false doctrine and practice. We use two creeds - the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.
The Apostle's Creed is believed to be the earliest creed of the Christian church. This summary of Christian doctrine has been called the Apostle's Creed because some believed it was the product of the Apostles who prepared it as a summary of their teaching before leaving Jerusalem. Others believed the Apostles wrote this creed on the tenth day after Christ's ascension into heaven. In reality, the Apostle's creed was developed between the second and ninth centuries but nonetheless the name stuck. However, each of the doctrines found in the creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator, refuting the heresy of Gnosticism.
The Gnostics Believed:
The physical universe is evil and God did not make it.
God could not have taken a human body, but distinguished between the divine Christ and the man Jesus.
The teachings or knowledge of Christianity could only be understood by a select number of people and that men did not need forgiveness but enlightenment.
The ultimate goal of the Gnostics was to be free from the taint of matter and the shackles of the body and to return to the realm as Pure Spirit.
We continue to use the Apostle's Creed to be reminded of the core truths of Christianity:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth,
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hades.
The third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic church,*
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN
(*or "universal church")
The Nicene Creed was produced by the Council of Nicea in the year 325 AD. This council lasted two months and twelve days and was attended by the Emperor Constantine along with three hundred eighteen bishops. Emperor Constantine summoned the council of Bishops in Nicea to repudiate Arius.
Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria in Egypt in the early 300's (4th c.). He taught that the Father, in the beginning created (or begot) the Son, and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world. The result of this was to make the Son a created being, and hence not God in any meaningful sense (but the closest thing to it). Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him. Arius did not recant from his position and was excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. The Arian position has been revived in our own day by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who hail Arius as a great witness to the truth.
The Nicene Creed was further modified at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD where Pope Damscus, Emperor Theodosius I and one hundred fifty bishops added the clauses referring to the Holy Ghost and defined His deity.
The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted and used brief statements of the Christian Faith. Many groups that do not have a tradition of using it in their services nevertheless are committed to the doctrines that it teaches (such groups as: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists).
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Live,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son;
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.
The Westminster Standards
The historical doctrinal standards of Presbyterian churches in America were born in England and carried to the "New World" by those who settled here. The development of these standards has an interesting history. England, like other European countries, was under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church. The 16th century Protestant Reformation in England had many peculiarities. One of these is that the Reformation in England was more political than it was religious. England did not have an outstanding Reformation leader like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin or Knox. Instead, as the Roman Catholic Church became more and more secular the people of England began to view the power of the Pope as just another foreign prince and they began to resent his rule.
In spite of this discontent, it was King of England and his desire for a divorce that propelled the Church of England into the Reformation. King Henry VIII desired to divorce his wife, Catherine, and marry Anne Boleyn instead. When the Pope failed to grant the divorce King Henry had Parliament pass a law which made him head of the Church of England. While King Henry replaced the Pope as head of the Church of England, he still maintained that any doctrine contrary to the Catholic Church, and failure to acknowledge him as head of the Church of England were heresy. So, when Henry died in 1547 the Church of England was still, for the most part, solidly Catholic.
Nevertheless, sentiment for the Reformation grew during the reign of Henry VIII, and with the succession of his son Edward IV, many changes were implemented. These changes moved the Church of England steadily toward reform. At the point where it appeared a complete reformation was possible, Edward IV died and was succeeded by his sister Mary in 1553.
Mary was strongly Catholic and proceeded to undo all the changes that had been made. Laws passed during the reign of Edward IV regarding the church were repealed, the Catholic form of worship was restored, and church leaders favoring reform were removed from office. Bloody Mary, as she came to be known, had almost 300 church leaders executed for heresy. Many other church leaders fled to Geneva where they were warmly welcomed by John Calvin. The previous work of the reform in England was completely undone.
Mary was succeeded to the throne by her sister Elizabeth in 1558. Elizabeth had been educated under the supervision of Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer, a prominent Protestant, was martyred by Queen Mary. Elizabeth, a Protestant, now took the opportunity to reestablish the Protestant movement in the Church of England. The persecutions of Bloody Mary had done much to arouse sentiment against the Catholic Church and this worked in the favor of reform. Many of the Protestants who fled to Calvin's Geneva under Queen Mary now returned, greatly influenced by Calvin's ideas. Because these reformers wished to see the Church of England purified, they were called Puritans.
The changes made during the 40+ year reign of Queen Elizabeth would not be undone. Even though the Puritans saw oppression under Elizabeth's successors James I and Charles I, they continued to gain prominence in Parliament. When Charles I tried to overthrow the Puritan controlled Parliament he was defeated in the Thirty Years War by Oliver Cromwell and executed in 1649. During this civil war Parliament abolished the form of government in the Church of England and convened an assembly of 121 clergymen and 30 laymen to create a new creed and form of church government. This Westminster Assembly (so-called because it met in Westminster) was overwhelmingly made up of Puritan Presbyterians.
The Westminster Assembly, which did its work thoroughly and well, turned out to be one of the most influential gatherings in the history of the church. This Assembly, which met from 1643 to 1647, drew up the Westminster Confession of Faith and prepared the Westminster Larger Catechism for use from the pulpit and the Westminster Shorter Catechism for the teaching of children. The Confession of Faith is the last great creed to come out of the Protestant Reformation. The Confession of Faith and the two catechisms, all excellent expositions of Reformed doctrine, were adopted by Parliament in 1648. The Confession of Faith was also adopted by the General Assembly of Scotland. This work of reforming the Church of England to Calvinism was completed in 1648, the same year the Thirty Years War ended with the Peace of Westphalia.
This is not the end of the story, however. Upon the death of Oliver Cromwell, Charles II (Son of Charles I) was restored to the throne. Charles II, and his brother James II who succeeded him, implemented many changes that moved the Church of England back towards Catholicism. The Puritans, who desired to reform the church from within, were now forced to separate from the church instead.
Conspiring with Louis the XIV of France, James II planned to completely restore the Church of England to Catholicism. Mary, daughter of James II, was married to William III, king of the Netherlands. A champion of Protestantism, William drove James II from power and William and Mary were crowned King and Queen of England in 1688. James II, with the support of the French army, returned to occupy the Catholic area of Southern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland, which were strongly Protestant, supported William. William defeated James in 1690 at the Battle of Boyne, saving Protestantism for Holland, England and America. The result was that religious toleration was granted to Protestant dissenters and they could now freely worship alongside the established Episcopal Church of England.
The Westminster Standards (the Confession and Catechisms) continue to be the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.