Revs. Andy Hargrove and Charles Rivera are young-adult clergy from the Great Plains Conference of the UMC. This statement on the Nicene Creed originally appeared on the Unsettled Christianity blog. Reposted with permission.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As General Conference approaches many proposals vie for your attention.
Some of these have had mountains of ink spilled about them and are sure to cause great strife across the Connection. We write to draw your eyes to a very little but very worthy proposal, which we believe has the potential to increase our unity and strengthen the UMC. Petition Number: 60980-FO-1J104-G, presented by a lay member from the West Virginia Conference, proposes that the Nicene Creed (UMH #880) be added to our doctrinal standards.
The Nicene Creed was the product of a council held at Constantinople in 381. This council’s work was a revision of the creed of an earlier council at Nicaea in 325 and for this reason the creed is called “Nicene.” In an era when Christianity was being transformed from a persecuted religion to the faith of the majority under Constantine and his successors, this creed was written to be a clear statement of doctrine as the Church struggled to maintain the integrity of its message. True to this purpose it has served down through the centuries as a touchstone for what we believe about God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—the very heart of our faith. The Nicene Creed steadied the Church as it trod treacherous ground in becoming Rome’s dominant religion; it can steady us today as we venture hesitantly into a world where Christianity is no longer dominant in the West.
Yet the creed is much more than an anchor for orthodoxy: it is a powerful symbol of the global unity of the Church. The Council of Nicaea, for which this creed is named, was the first council to draw Christians from all over the world. Bishops came from Spain and India, Britain and Africa and all lands in between to attend the council. As a result, the creed which represents this global gathering and the faith which it confesses unite many Christian communities otherwise separated by so much. Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, we all trace our lineages to the bishops and theologians who gathered at that synod in the early fourth century. By making the creed which bears their name one of our doctrinal standards we would embrace United Methodism’s place in “Christ’s universal Church”.
None of our current doctrinal standards bear such an ecumenical significance. While they express well our distinctiveness they do not confess our universality—none of them testify to that old Methodist “catholic spirit” we so rightly cherish. There are the sermons and notes of one man, a Spirit-filled man, a wise man, but one man. There is his abridgment of a document written by a few divines in England during the Reformation. There is the Confession of the E.U.B., a rich document, but again written recently by a few Americans. By adding the Nicene Creed we confess that we are a church not of a few westerners of the last few centuries, but of the whole world, in union with all Christians everywhere.
We urge you then to consider supporting Petition Number: 60980-FO-H104-G. We urge you, in an age and a culture where we are constantly seduced into emphasizing the distinctiveness of our particular tribe,-to embrace the Nicene Creed as a symbol of United Methodism’s “catholic spirit.” We urge you, in an age of doctrinal indifference and confusion, to embrace it as a distillation of our sacred, life-giving teaching about God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.