From the earliest days, Christians have found it helpful to compose statements of faith, by which they joyfully confess what they believe about God, themselves, and the world. Although Scripture alone is the ultimate standard for all that we believe and do, these statements of faith (called Creeds from the Latin word Credo, meaning I believe) summarize the essential teachings of the Bible in a short and memorable way. As Anglicans, we stand in the mainstream of what has always been believed by all Christians everywhere, and so we are happy to believe, teach, and confess this faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
The earliest and most important statements of faith are the three Ecumenical Creeds. They are called ecumenical because the faith they summarize is shared by all Christian denominations. The first, called the Apostles’ Creed, is the earliest, shortest, and most memorable. As the baptismal confession of the early Church, it was used to teach new Christians the basics of the faith, and to help mature believers remember and meditate on the great truths of the Bible. Today, we still use it the same way, reciting it together at Baptism services and at daily Morning and Evening Prayer.
The second, known as the Nicene Creed, is very similar to the Apostles’ Creed but provides more detail and clarity about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It was composed by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in the 4th Century, A. D. to summarize the truth of the Gospel and defend it against those who were trying to distort it. Every Sunday at All Saints, we join our voices with Christians around the world and throughout history to recite the Nicene Creed as a sign of the one faith we hold in common.
The third and final of the Ecumenical Creeds is called the Athanasian Creed. It is considerably longer than both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, expanding upon them to provide a thorough statement about the two great mysteries of the Christian faith. The first is the doctrine of the Trinity, that the one true and living God eternally exists as three distinct and equal Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The second is the doctrine of the Incarnation, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from heaven and became man, and so is both truly God and truly human. To this day the Athanasian Creed provides us with the best summary of these definitive Christian beliefs.
In addition to the Ecumenical Creeds which summarize the common faith of all Christians, Anglicans have other statements of faith that both confirm our commitment to this shared faith, as well as describe the distinct beliefs and practices of our own tradition. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, written shortly after the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome during the Reformation, are the Anglican Church’s historic confession of faith. In them, we proclaim that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for faith and life, and that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
In recent years, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a group representing the vast majority of Anglicans from around the world, assembled in Jerusalem and composed the Jerusalem Declaration. Likewise, when the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was formed, it created the Fundamental Declarations of the Province. Both of these documents represent the commitment of orthodox Anglicans worldwide to maintain and promote the truth of the Gospel in our ever-changing world.