From the period beginning with the first church, the church was plunged into a myriad of problems. The church in Jerusalem was extremely poor and the Pauline churches were collapsing one after another, especially after the apostle’ execution. With the ascension of Emperor Nero to the Roman throne, the church faced continued persecution. This was the period that saw the execution of Paul and Peter. The Roman administration, in executing Christians claimed that Christians had begun the fire of Rome that burned the city’s slum area.
The Early church was born in this perilous time and period in history. History has labeled this time in which the early church was born as the Dark Age. A worse kind of threat faced the early church than persecution. This threat is greater because it risked the contamination of the Christian faith it attacked the Christian belief system. It was the growing philosophical cum religious teaching of the Gnostics. The Gnostics taught that the material world was created by an imperfect god. The Gnostic teaching also implied that, there were many gods who were subject to a super deity (Freke and Gandy 2002).The super deity was not perfect and did not require human beings to be perfect. Sensuality according to Gnostics could be controlled through the application of the teachings of philosophy.
The Gnostics were very influential and a great number of church faithful were systematically being drawn away. Their false teaching was spreading so fast in the vast Roman Empire which was the seat of the early church. It was against this background that, the church fathers met in the city of Nicaea in A.D325 to create a correct statement of faith that would differentiate between true Christians and Gnostics (Burstein 2006).
That meeting of the church fathers that marked the first ecumenical council came up with the Nicene Creed. This creed was the profession of the Christian faith it summarizes the bible teachings on God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed dedicates several lines to the assertion that Jesus is the son of God .The issue of the crucification, death and the resurrection of Jesus take center stage in the creed. The issue of the Holy Spirit is also given attention. The judgment of the dead is also highlighted in the Nicene Creed. The question of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and final judgment are addressed in the creed because they were the contentious issues then. They were the subject of great concern to the early church because the Gnostics greatly and publicly contested the divinity of Christ and his purported death and resurrection from the grave. The Gnostics flatly refused to acknowledge that, that was a Holy Spirit (Robinson 1978). The fact that the Gnostics believe that man is only a material being without a spirit, made the church adopt the line about the last judgement. Thus the Nicene Creed was adopted to defend the Christian faith in times of great spiritual confusion.
Gnostism forms the background to the adoption of the Nicene Creed. This is because it countered the philosophical and spiritual challenge of the Gnostics that threatened Christianity. This threat was the one that contributed to the calling of the first ecumenical council to articulate the correct and acceptable profession of the Christian faith.
Gnostism has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and it borrows heavily from the work of renowned philosopher Plato. The teachings of Gnostism contradict the bible in a blatant and unabashed manner. One major teaching of this movement is that, there are many gods who proceed from a superior divine being. These gods control certain elements in the material and metaphysical world. Thus, according to Gnostism, there is a god who controls rain, while another controls the sun and yet another one controls the fertility of women. These gods are independent of one another and also from the supreme god. Gnostism further asserts that the gods are distanced from the Supreme Being who is over them.
The Gnostics taught that the God of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic faith was only a creator god who was secondary to another supreme god. This Christian god was a tyrant who had created an imperfect world (Layton 1982).
Not only was he imperfect, but he was just the creation of the imaginations of his followers. Gnostics argue that creation is eternal and did not need anybody to create it. They also assert that creation cannot be destroyed.
In Gnostic teaching, the human body is seen as inherently evil and the only way to bring good to the body was by consistent self denial. The Gnostics taught that sex is bad and should be avoided altogether. Gnostics called for its followers to lead an ascetic life. The ascetic living would enable one to attain good in the body.
The Nicene Creed
The ancient world having changed the rules of the game and lessened their persecution of Christians, it was the time the church was to receive another blow .The price to pay was not blood or one’s life but it was the essence of the Christian faith. As has been stipulated above, Gnostism was growing in strength considering that, the world at that time was mostly pagan and that Gnostism was quite appealing to young converts to the Christian faith who were not mature in faith and hence unable to answer for their faith (Ayres 2006).
The first ecumenical council of the church that convened in the city of Nicaea was meant to equip every believer with the right creed, to apologetically answer any critics of their faith. It’s important to note that the creed was drawn up in a time of conflict, where the faith of the church was being crucified and, many among the Christian congregation could not answer for the faith they claim to profess. Also let the essay put it categorically that the persecution of Christians had not ended. So the first council drew up the creed to distinguish between believers and unbelievers. Those who accepted the creed were to be accepted as Christians. The creed was then to serve as a kind of identification for those professing Christianity as their religion.
Another serious threat that forced the church to meet and adopt the Nicene Creed was the teaching of a Libyan preacher known as Arus. Arus taught that Jesus was the created son of God, and there was a time in eternity when he did not exist. This teaching contravenes the doctrine of trinity as it made Jesus lower than God. To counter the teaching of Arus that had sparked a great controversy, the Nicene Creed of AD 325 had to affirm the divinity of Christ and his relationship with the father in the trinity (Ayres 2006).
The Nicene Creed affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ, his suffering at the hands of Pontius Pilate and his death on the cross. It also affirms Christ’s resurrection and his glorification at the right hand of God the father in heaven. It speaks of Christ’s return to pick the church.
Improvements on the Nicene Creed
Church continued to face several controversies and questions especially concerning the issue of the Holy Spirit. It was discovered that the issue had not been addressed by the first ecumenical council. So the second ecumenical council was convened in Constantinople in A.D381.it included in the creed the assertion that the church believed in the Holy Spirit. Other improvements as made to the Nicene Creed after the second ecumenical council are documented below.
One such inclusion is that the kingdom of Christ shall never end .This is too emphasize that Christ is truly God and that he reigns together with his father in the trinity. Another affirmation of the second ecumenical council added to the Nicene Creed is that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the father and is to be worshiped together with the son and the father. The affirmations included also include the declaration that the Holy Spirit was spoken of by the prophets in the bible. The second ecumenical council also asserted the Christian believes in the universal or catholic church. This was mainly inserted to foster church unity in those trying and extremely perilous times.
The importance of the Nicene reed to the early church
The Nicene Creed played a very crucial role in the early church. First it managed to give the church a form of distinct identity that separated it from many other organisations of those times (Forell 1965). The church was able to consolidate doctrine by reciting this creed especially at a time when its faith and doctrine was under fire. The church was able to gives its faithful armour to answer the church’s growing enemies. The church was able to distinguish between heretics and the true believers at this time in the history of the church.
The Nicene Creed, one of the church’s first known efforts to summarise her doctrine arose like all other Christian creeds during a time of great conflict in the church. It was a response to a sure and dangerous threat. This threat emerged from the secular world that was teaching doctrine likely to splinter the church. Surprisingly, some preachers like Arus were teaching erroneous doctrine that Jesus is lesser than God. But the major challenge was the teaching of the Gnostics who taught a doctrine quite appealing to the intellectual world of then. The Gnostics taught that God was an illusion of the human mind that the Christians had concocted to escape reality (Kelly 1982). In stark contradiction of their teachings the Gnostics acknowledged the presence of a weak creator god who was tyrannical in character and who created a world imperfect to make man suffer.
The Gnostics further claimed that there were a plethora of gods who were responsible for different elements in the physical and metaphysical world. The essay has shown that it was against this background of heresy and apostasy that the church fathers met in Nicaea to formulate a statement of faith and doctrine that would anchor the Christian faith in those trying times. This was in A.D325 and in the same year the Nicene Creed was adopted by the church.
The first draft was not adequate to answer all the questions and some preachers like Arus from Libya continued to raise controversies by claiming that Jesus was lesser than God the father. The second ecumenical council was then convened to fine tune the Nicene draft and make it a wholesome creed able to adequately answer all the questions surrounding the various controversies (Burn 1925).
The essay has shown that in AD 381 the church fathers met once again in Constantinople and made various improvements to the Nicene Creed. The affirmations made include the insertions to the Nicene Creed that the kingdom of Jesus is unending and that Jesus will rein together with God the father. Another insertion made to the creed is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the father and that he is spoken of in the scriptures (Burn 1925).
All in all the Nicene Creed was a pivot that anchored the church in times of great conflict and it is the mother of all modern Christian creeds including the Apostles ’ Creed.