In ad 325 by Constantine’s request, 318 Christian leaders met in the city of Nicaea (in present day Turkey) for the first ecumenical council. Their purpose was to attain consensus on the core beliefs and practices of the Christian faith in order to defend against heresies that had arisen, particularly to assert the divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and His relationship to God the Father. One of the results of the council was the creation of the Nicene Creed. At the second ecumenical council in ad 381, the Nicene Creed was tweaked to provide further clarity.
The term “creed” is derived from the Latin word “credo,” which means “I believe.” A creed is simply a summary of core beliefs. Christian creeds were developed within a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Creeds, as they are based on God’s Word, provide an important defense against false doctrines, especially against religious groups that sound Christian but really are not. An example of one of the earliest Christian creeds can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.
In the Lutheran church, we use three historic creeds to summarize our confession of faith. The Nicene Creed is traditionally confessed on communion Sundays, while the Apostles’ Creed is generally shared on non-communion Sundays. The Athanasian Creed (the long one) is usually reserved for Holy Trinity Sunday, which we observe on the Sunday following Pentecost. These creeds boldly attest to the forgiveness and salvation that is ours through the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.