The Great Creeds

The Creeds The Catholicity of the Anglican Church

In the early centuries the word “catholic” was used for those whose faith was defined by the Ecumenical Creeds. This word derives from the Greek words kathholike,| “according to the whole” and was explained as “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. [1]

Historically, those who deviated from these “catholic” beliefs were deemed “heretics” (the original word hairesis meant “self-chosen opinion”) and “schismatics” (the original word schizein meant “to split”). The words “heresy” and “schismatic” are old fashioned and rather confrontational yet, they express the reality that the “catholic” faith is a defined faith that calls for convinced commitment from church members. Accordingly, the creeds are instruments of godly unity. Those who deviate from them do so wilfully and idiosyncratically, based on their better judgements and in consequence they divide the body of Christ.

Evangelism, Baptism and the Creeds

It is evident from the New Testament that evangelism, instruction and baptism were a continuum. Before he departed Jesus gave this instruction.

Make disciples from all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you… Matt 28:19-20

Jesus calls for three connected activities: first, “going, make disciples”; second, baptizing them in the triune name; and, third instructing them in Jesus’ teachings.2 Just as Jesus “made disciples” and “instructed” them, so they in turn were to do, with his promise, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age”.

By early second century we see the emergence of doctrinal summaries that (a) referred to the three persons within the Godhead, and (b) expanded the section about the Son with items taken from the gospels.

For example, early in the second century Ignatius affirmed the deity, humanity and Messiahship of Jesus in these words.

For our God Jesus Christ was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan of the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit…

By the mid-second century the triadic “shape” with expanded second Christological section was confirmed, e.g., by Justin Martyr.

…we worship the Creator of this universe…and that with good reason honour him who taught us these things and was born for this purpose, Jesus Christ,who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea in the time of Tiberius Caesar, having heard that he is the Son of the true God and holding him in second rank, and the prophetic SpiritApology 1.13

The Apostles’ and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds of later years had their beginnings in these early creed-like statements that were based on the embryonic trinitarianism of the New Testament and its explicit Christology (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; 1 Pet 1:2; Rev 1:4-7).

Function of Creeds

The earliest function of the creeds was baptismal, that is for instruction beforehand and interrogation of the candidate at the baptism itself. Between their embryonic beginnings and ultimate finalization of the creed in the forms we have them further elements were added. This was because the era between the New Testament and the finalization of the Creeds in the fourth century was chaotic, with the intrusion of serious doctrinal errors threatening the survival of apostolic truth and the unity of the church. These errors came from the surrounding cultures.

From early in the second century the western church was under dire threat from various kinds Gnosticism, which in their repudiation of the material universe rejected the teaching that God was Creator and therefore the genuine humanity of his Son and his bodily resurrection. The wording of the Apostles’ Creed was designed to defend the church against Gnosticism.

In the Eastern Church the challenge came from Arius at the beginning of the fourth century. Arius held a form of Platonism that asserted the indivisibility of God that led him to reject the intrinsic trinitarian being of God and the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ. The words that the Son of God was “of one substance with the Father” inserted into an older creed at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) buttressed the church against the effects of Arianism that threatened to swamp the church.

In other words, the apostolic doctrines, which in any case were not yet stated in systematic terms, were subject to various forms of cultural syncretism. In this respect the history of the post-apostolic church is a kind of parallel with the faith of Israel, subject as it had been to Baal worship and other ancient near eastern syncretisms. Accordingly, although the creeds were for baptismal instruction and baptismal interrogation, by the fourth century they had taken on an extra role, for the definition of heresy.

Nonetheless, the creeds also continued their original function for the baptism of those who had been evangelised. Catechists typically instructed baptizands over many months, article by article. Since the creeds evolved as much as a means of defence against heresy as for positive doctrine it required a deepening reflection by church teachers and catechists.

Meanwhile a third aspect of credal use had developed, the gathered church’s declaration of its members’ faith. This is the primary function of creeds today. Unfortunately, the baptismal activities of instruction and interrogation have tended to fall away.

Doctrines of the Creeds

(i)            The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed begins by asserting that God is the “almighty” sovereign over history, the Creator of the universe and “the Father” of his Son and of those who belong to him.

The second article arises from the gospel about the Christ/Messiah, asserting him to be “[God’s] only (i.e., only begotten) Son” and “our Lord”, thus identifying him with YHWH/the LORD. There follows the affirmation of his conception by the Holy Spirit and birth from the Virgin Mary (teaching manhood and deity), his sufferings under Pilate, his crucifixion, death, burial, descent to Hades, from which he arose on the third day, thereafter ascending into heaven to the Father’s right hand, whence he will come again as the judge of all.

The third article directs faith towards the Holy Spirit, the holy, catholic church, the fellowship of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Each element is directly or indirectly scriptural. Clearly its teachings were relevant against the threat of Gnosticism. Equally, however, the elements of this creed touch the neo- Gnosticism of modern times, the denial of the Creator, the rejection of the deity and the bodily resurrection of Christ.

(ii)            The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed4, like the Apostles’ Creed is shaped by the trinity and like the Apostles’ Creed having an extended Christological section. Many items are identical in doctrine, if not in words. Its most noticeable differences are that the Son of God is “eternally begotten of the Father…begotten not made, one being with the Father (homoousion to| patri)…through whom all things were made…who came down from heaven…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary…became man”, elements that emphatically excluded the Arian heresy that had contended that God was an indivisible monad.

Thus the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed employs philosophical terminology where the Apostles’ Creed is more straightforwardly biblical in terminology. Given the subtleties of the Arian heresy it was necessary the orthodox leaders to use correspondingly subtle terminology to refute those errors.

By AD 381 the Second Ecumenical Council was necessitated by other heresies that had arisen. One was Apollinarianism, which asserted that the Son of God lacked a genuinely human mind or will, but was merely passively human. The words, “he came down from heaven…by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” were inserted to refute this heresy. Another error was Macedonianism, which questioned the deity of the Holy Spirit. This heresy was addressed by the insertion of the words, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified”.

The doctrines of the Trinity of God and the deity of Christ are the bedrock of Christianity. It was the brilliant achievement of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed to secure these great truths for the worship and instruction of the churches in the years since.

Importance of the Creeds

Jesus’ Great Commission to his apostles was to go to the Nations, evangelise, baptise and instruct. From that time the “ministers of the word” began to devise simple triadic summaries as a basis for the instruction of those who had been evangelised, preparatory to their baptism. With the passage of time those summaries needed to expand to answer the challenges to apostolic teaching, in particular about the Creator and the relationship to him of the One who came, Jesus the Christ. By the fifth century there had been numerous such challenges with correspondingly detailed rebuttals from Ecumenical Councils and the Creeds they issued.

It is probably fair to say that the Creeds that dealt with those early challenges have at the same time anticipated the majority of the challenges that have arisen in the centuries since that era.

Notwithstanding their massive importance the Apostles and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds did not anticipate every challenge to orthodoxy, for example, the nature of the atonement, the work of the Spirit within the life of the believer (who though saved remains a fallen person wrestling with remaining sin), or the nature of the sacraments, ministry and church order, civic vocation, intra-gender issues or more modern concerns like the future of our planet..

Evangelism, Baptism, Creeds, Catechisms and Catechists

Enough has been written to establish the historical continuum beginning with evangelism, continuing through baptism-and-instruction and perpetuated in church-based credal declarations, Sunday by Sunday. The creeds played a critical role as bases for instruction for baptism but also to define orthodox truth in the face of destructive error. Creeds, however, imply catechisms and catechisms imply catechists.

The eventual creation of new catechisms must surely call for the recruiting and training of catechists. But this must be seen as part of a dominically mandated continuum that Christ himself began and was continued by his disciples made disciples, instructing and baptizing them. Furthermore, in the face of modern heresy and schism we need to reclaim the notion of the “catholic” church, whose members’ personal faith is circumscribed within the teaching of the faith set out in the Creeds.

[1] The so-called Vincentian Canon, formulated by Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, in which he defined the meaning of “catholic”.

Paul Barnett



Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism


It is important to begin with two comments:

1)         This paper was inspired by something J.I. Packer wrote in 1995

‘Speculating in Anglican Futures’.  I have added to it, but Dr Packer must not be blamed for my additions, or the final form this brief paper has taken.

2)         I need to define ‘Anglicanism’.  You will notice that I qualify it as ‘historic’ Anglicanism.  What do I mean?  I mean the Anglican way – the way of the Church of England as defined by the three historic documents:

the Book of Common Prayer (1662); the Ordinal (for Bishops, Priests and Deacons); the 39 Articles of Religion.  We find the doctrines, beliefs and ethos of historic Anglicanism in these documents.

Let me now turn to these ten elements.

First and foremost this Anglicanism locates its final authority in matters pertaining to salvation in the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article  of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation  (Article 6).

This places final authority for faith and salvation in “Holy Scripture”.  By contrast the church is the “witness and keeper of holy writ”, but not the source of “Holy Writ”.  The articles recognise that various “rites” need to be authorised and adjudication given in matters of “controversy” and the church has “power…and authority” in such things  (Article 20).  Nonetheless, churches may err and have erred within history; they are not infallible.

So, to begin, Holy Scripture is the basis and touchstone of faith.

Thus the church must defer to the Bible in all matters relating to salvation and, indeed, in the ultimate in all matters relating to rites, ceremonies and controversies.  Thus the Anglican Church is biblical as to the basis of its authority.

At ordination the minister is given a Bible as the instrument of ministry.  The Bishop’s charge in the Ordinal, along with the questions and answers, make it abundantly clear that Christian ministry has the Bible as the basis and means of ministry.

Second, Historic Anglicanism is protestant.  Article VI states, “…whatsoever is not read therein,” that is, in the Bible, “is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith.”  The church upholds the right of the individual to read and understand the Bible for his salvation, as opposed to salvation truth mediated to him by the church.  This is not to deny the importance of the minister in teaching, explaining and applying the Bible.  Nonetheless, the hearer of the word takes the responsibility to accept, modify or reject the minister’s teaching.

Third, this church recognizes that great truths of biblical revelation have been secured in creeds and confessions at moments of high theological controversy.   Significantly, Articles I-V affirm the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, which were in dispute in the early centuries.  Thus “historic” Anglicanism is committed to views on Trinity and Christology that are catholic, that is, “according to the whole” church, as opposed to heretical or sectional teachings.  Our word “catholic” is derived from two Greek words – kath holike, meaning “according to the whole”.  That is to say, what the “whole” church has “always” believed based on the teaching of the Apostles of Christ in the New Testament.  The creeds – the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian – are important as expressions of “catholic” Christianity, to which “historic” Anglicanism has committed itself.

However, fourth, “historic” Anglicanism is reformed, articulating the great biblical insights of the reformers Luther, Calvin and Cranmer that sinners, which all people as the offspring of Adam are, are righteous before God “only for the merit of Christ the sacrifice for sin, not on account of their works or deservings” (Articles 9, 11).

Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of  comfort (Article 9).

Only two sacraments or effectual signs of grace – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are recognized, both of which were ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ, both of which take their character from the gospel.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him (Article 25).

These sacraments, however, are seen as having a significant place in this church.  Both are subject of significant liturgies, that of the Lord’s Supper reaching great heights of theology and devotion.  Their high place within Anglican order is secured by the simple instrumentality whereby the one called and sent to teach the congregation – the priest / minister – is the one who administers these effectual signs.

Fifth, this is a liturgical church.  Anglicanism employs liturgy to several ends:

•to secure regular acknowledgement from the church that sinner are saved only in Christ;

•to express the congregation’s adherence to the catholic faith in the use of the historic creeds;

•to express the need of the congregation to hear the Bible in both Testaments read systematically, giving a special place to the Psalms as articulating biblical piety;

•to provide for prayer which is carefully crafted theologically and which reflects international, national as well as local needs.

Liturgy is not used for art’s sake (that is, aesthetically), but for truth’s sake (that is, theologically), in order to retain the Bible, the catholic creeds and the reformed confessions at the centre of the church’s faith and witness.

And it uses liturgy for the sake of the laity, to protect the congregation from the whims of the minister and to provide for the voice of the congregation to be heard articulating the faith, and not just the voice of the preacher.

Cranmer recognised that the Book of Common Prayer was subject to change and alteration.  In the Preface we find these words:

So on the other side, the particular Forms of Divine worship, and the Rites and Ceremonies appointed to be used therein, being things in their own nature indifferent, and alterable, and so acknowledged; it is but reasonable, that upon weighty and          important considerations, according to the various exigency of  times and occasions, such changes and alterations should be made therein, as to those that are in place of Authority should from time to time seem either necessary or expedient.

Cranmer understood well the teaching of the Apostle Paul that the words used in church must be intelligible (1 Cor. 14:6-25).  It was for this reason he insisted on services in the common tongue and that ministers speak clearly to the congregation.

Cranmer wanted the people of the English church to know and love the Scriptures.  To that end provision was made for systematic and extensive reading of Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms.  It is to be regretted that this is today at a discount.  It’s a matter of one reading, often done badly.

Contrary to one’s impressions, the time taken by the actual liturgical content within a service is not great.  Take out the hymns, readings, sermon, and notices and there may not be more than ten minutes in e.g., a service of Morning Prayer.  In a crisply conducted service it is possible to have the liturgical content, two readings, a psalm, the creed, reasonable intercessions, four hymns and a twenty-minute sermon and be all finished in an hour.  How often I have attended a free church, by contrast, and not got to the pulpit in under an hour and had neither Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, Creed,  or meaningful intercessions beforehand.

Sixth, the Ordinal, Catechism and Occasional Services commit Anglican ministers to a ministry which is evangelistic and pastoral, expressed in terms which are biblical and theologically orthodox.  However, the evangelism envisaged is not of the “hit and run” kind independent of the continuing life of the local church.  It is settled, routine and recurring, within a parochial setting.  Some traditions operate on “believe before you belong” basis but Historic Anglicanism acknowledges the doctrine of “prevenient grace” (the grace that precedes faith) that is consistent with “belong before you believe” whereby the liturgy, the Bible the hymns, the prayers inculcate faith over a period of time.

Nonetheless, there is a significant need for the catechizing of the congregation.  This of course applies to those who have been baptized and who are being prepared for Confirmation.  But catechism is also applicable to adults so that they understand the teachings of the Bible.

Seventh,  “historic” Anglicanism is episcopal and parochial, requiring that only those who are duly recognized by the bishop to engage in preaching in the congregation and in ministering the sacraments among the people.  The role of ordaining and licensing ministers and lay people who teach in churches is placed in the hands of the bishop.  Provision is made for the deposition of “evil ministers,” which, regrettably, has been under-utilized (Art 26).  The existence of the episcopate has provided laity aggrieved with their ministers with a place of appeal, sometimes justified, sometimes not.

The hierarchical nature of Anglicanism provides a stability not found in many churches.  The bishop ordains and licenses those who meet his approval and the affirmation of the laity.  The incumbent minister is expected to be loyal to the bishop and to exercise the ministry of the word and sacrament in a humbly, godly and diligent manner.  Typically, ministers hold their licence from the bishop and cannot be unseated by the congregation, apart from exceptional circumstances.  This protection can be abused by the clergy, but usually works well.

Eighth, historically speaking, “historic” Anglicanism has been of rational ethos.  It has been prepared to engage in study and debate.  Anglican evangelism has been associated with apologetics, eschewing manipulative or unworthy methods of bringing people to Christ.  C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer and J.R.W. Stott come to mind in this regard, giving thousands in their generations and beyond a ground for hope in the intellectual and moral acceptability of the Christian faith.

Ninth, in common with other churches of the Protestant Reformation, “historic” Anglicanism has affirmed laypersons, their role in marriage and the family and their civic vocation within society.  Thus “historic Anglicanism” is affirmative of both creation and society.  It is concerned with the common good, for the “welfare of the city,” to use Jeremiah’s words and its intercessions are directed to that end.

Tenth, likewise it is a welcoming fellowship, not restrictive of membership, or exclusivist or sectarian in temper.  This provides for a broad accessibility to the church of those outside its active membership.  A steady flow has come to it from other churches, which historically had separated from it, as well as from the non-believing community.

These are elements to be appreciated and valued, as a motivation for a free and un-coercive expression of ministry, both in church on Sunday, as well as during the week.  With the passing of the years and the opportunity to experience other traditions I have come the more to value my own. In this regard, I echo and endorse the sentiment of J.I. Packer that, “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in Christendom.”[1] I commend it to us as something to be valued and appreciated and out of which we exercise our ministries.











[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism











[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.








[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.








[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.


Why Jesus is Remembered.

Why was Jesus remembered?

Flavius Josephus, our chief source for the history of Palestine in the First century, refers to numerous charismatic leaders and prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, the ‘wise man’ amongst them.  In passing, ‘Jesus’ was a popular name and can be found 21 times in the index to Josephus’s works.

Most of these leaders and prophets appeared in times of great political tension.

In 4 BC, after the death of Herod the Great, Judas sought to capture Galilee, Simon Perea and Athronges Judea.  The Romans marched down from Antioch-on-the-Orontes to suppress these uprisings and install Herod’s sons in charge of various regions – Archelaus in Judea, Antipas in Galilee-Perea and Philip in Gaulanitis.

In AD 6 the Romans sacked Archelaus and conducted a census when they annexed Judea as a province of Rome.  Judas the Galilean led a rebellion, proclaiming ‘no master except God’, that is, ‘no Roman taxation and no Roman occupation’.   The Romans killed him and suppressed the rebellion.

The period AD 6-37 ‘all was quiet’ in Judea, according to Tacitus.  It was in this relatively ‘quiet’ period that we read about John the Baptist and Jesus in Josephus, and of course, in the Gospels.

From AD 41-44 Herod’s grandson Herod Agrippa ruled as king over a united Israel – Judea, Galilee-Perea and Gaulanitis.  We meet him in Acts 12.  When he died unexpectedly in AD 44 the Romans re-annexed Judea, but now also Galilee and Gaulanitis.  There there was a succession of very bad Roman governors and this seems to have been the reason various prophets like Theudas and the ‘Egyptian’ arose.  These prophets took their many followers to locations evocative of the Conquest of Palestine (the Jordan, the desert) where they promised ‘signs of freedom’, presumably believing they would trigger an eschatological act, the expulsion of the occupiers of the Land, as in the days of Moses and Joshua.  The Romans killed these prophets before they could work their miracle-‘signs’.

In the 60s with Roman invasion now inevitable the Sicarii (‘assassins’) captured Masada and various warlord-leaders arose to defend besieged Jerusalem (e.g., Simon bar Gioras, John of Gischla) and a bizarre prophet Jesusson of Ananias, a peasant, prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Josephus, Jewish War 6.300-309).

The movements of these leaders did not survive their deaths; nor was there any documentation to our knowledge from within the movements, or names of their followers.

Josephus also tells us of various ‘philosophies’ or sects: the Pharisees, the Saduccess, the Essenes, and the ‘fourth philosophy’ (in effects, ‘zealots’).  These ‘philosophies’ emerged during the Maccabean era 200 yeaqs earlier.  The Essenes, Saduccees and ‘fourth philosophy’ did not survive the AD 66-70 war when the Romans invaded the land.  The Pharisee movement did survive and morphed into ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ and produced e.g., Mishnah and Talmudic writings.

The charismatic leaders and prophets had very large followings, many more than Jesus.  It’s true that vast numbers heard and saw Jesus, in fact, 5000 men on one occasion.  Yet the actual number of those who seriously ‘followed’ Jesus was small, a mere twelve disciples.  These other leaders and prophets are now forgotten and only of interest to historians of the period.  But hundreds of books about Jesus are written every year.  Why?

Why was Jesus of Nazareth remembered, as we learn from Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny who each refer to an ongoing and growing ‘Christ’ movement?

Let me suggest eight reasons Jesus was remembered

(1)            Jesus was preceded and heralded by the great prophet, John the Baptist.

(2)            Jesus proclaimed the coming of the ‘kingdom of God’ in the here and now, as witnessed by

- his miracles, including expulsion of unclean spirits

- his parables, explaining the kingdom of God

- in the wisdom and force of his teaching to crowds and opponents

(3)            By his effective training of the twelve to continue his mission

(4)            By the conversion of Paul and his astonishingly tenacious missions

(5)            By the nobility of Jesus’ manner of death despite its cruelty and injustice

(6)            By the conviction that his death was potent to save people from their sins

(7)            By the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, witnessed by miracles

(8)            By the dedication of the original disciples, their evangelism and writings

Within the next generation vigorous mission work (led by Peter, James, John, Paul) followed, accompanied by mission literature (27 New Testament texts).  By the end of the first century the Jesus-movement was largely rejected by Jews and embraced by Gentiles, to the point in AD 313 where in the Edict of Milan Constantine proclaimed toleration of Christianity as precursor to it becoming the religion of the empire.

Jesus is remembered because millions believe the writings of the New Testament that tell us Jesus was the Son of God who died for human sin, was raised alive from the dead and is the Lord of history.  Furthermore, this is not merely empty knowledge.  God sends the Spirit of Jesus to those who believe in him giving them profound conviction that he truly is all the New Testament teaches about him.