Statement of Faith

Yesterday I taught a class on the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith to our confirmation class. As I was preparing for the class, I thought of a lot of stories that I know about statements of faith and creeds. I didn’t tell the confirmands all of my stories in part because it would have taken too much time, in part because I was more interested in what they believe than in telling my stories. So I thought a journal entry with some of the stories might be interesting for today.

The way many Christians are taught about the council of Nicea is that in 324 Constantine convened a council of all of the bishops of the church. 318 responded to his call and after Constantine made his entrance in a stunning purple robe adorned with priceless jewels and gold, he opened the conference by appealing for unity. He stressed that the council should come up with a single view of the basic tenets of Christian faith, especially the relationship of Jesus to God. The council came up with the Nicene Creed, which was later revised on a couple of minor points and stands to this day as a statement of faith used in liturgy throughout the church.

Well, that isn’t quite the way the council unfolded. As soon as the bishops were assembled they began to argue. Eusebius of Nocomedia was the first to speak and he began to expound what was called the Arian doctrine. Arius, author of the doctrine was not himself present, not yet having been ordained bishop. Alexander was the spokesperson for the orthodox view, which was held by the majority of the bishops. The argument continued back and forth until Eusebius of Caesarea introduced a draft of a creed into the assembly. It impressed the bishops and even more so Constantine. A few minor revisions were suggested. Constantine suggested that the creed be signed by all of the bishops. Two bishops, Thomas and Secundas, both of Libya, refused to sign. They were officially censured as was Arius. They were declared heretics and ordered to be hanged.

Another story says that Arius, although not a bishop was present at the council and allowed to speak. The more he spoke the more agitated Nicholas became. Finally, feeling that Arius was attacking the essence of the Christian faith, he became so outraged that he rose, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! This shocked all of the bishops. Could a bishop be such a hothead that he would lose control in a solemn assembly? Nicholas was stripped of his bishop’s robes and thrown in jail. The way the story is reported by the Nicholas center is that he prayed for forgiveness in his jail cell and Jesus and Mary appeared to him in the night, asking “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you!” came the reply. Jesus gave a copy of the Gospels of Nicholas. Mary give him the official garnet of a bishop. When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose and lying on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishops robes, quietly reading Scripture. He reported to Constantine who ordered Nicholas to be freed and reinstated as bishop.

It has been a long time and there have been many people who have told stories about the council. Our memories are incomplete at best.

But I do know part of the story of the creation of a more modern statement of faith. The Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ. The United Church of Christ was formed in a General Synod on June 25, 1957. Its constitution was declared in force on July 4, 1961. The Statement of Faith for the new church was adopted by the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church (the two uniting groups) meeting in 1959 in Oberlin, Ohio. The statement had been drafted by a committee of 30 - 15 from each denomination. They had worked long and hard and had gone over every word of the proposed statement over and over again. Reflecting the time in which it was drafted, the committee was all male and they used male pronouns to refer to God. More importantly, they came up with a shared statement. It was a statement of what the church believed, not an individual statement of faith. In that, it reflected the language of the nicene creed, which begins, “We believe” as opposed to the Apostles Creed which begins, “I believe.” That distinction was important to the committee. They were creating a statement of shared belief. They were envisioning a church that would be made up of people who would believe together. They believed that it is insufficient for an individual to be able to state individual faith. For the church to exist a community must be able to speak of shared faith.

Over the years the leadership of the church has changed. Having historically ordained women since 1853, the number of women clergy in the church increased greatly during the 1970’s. In 1976, Robert V. Moss, president of the United Church of Christ proposed an inclusive language version removing all references to masculinity of God. This statement was used unofficially by many different congregations. Then, in 1981 the Executive Council of the United Church of Christ approved a version of the statement of faith in the form of a doxology. This version, the one used on our congregation and the majority of other UCC congregations addresses God directly: “We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify.”

Used as a testament of faith, but never a test of faith, the statement is employed in liturgy to give words to shared beliefs, but never in an attempt to weed out those who disagree. Members of the United Church of Christ speak boldly of the deeds of God without condemning those who use different language or express their faith in different ways.

The statement continues to grow with the denomination. It is worthy of careful teaching as we prepare confirmands to affirm their baptism and declare their faith.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!