166 times the Bible calls us to Remember. A number that tells a story about forgetfulness, mine and yours. Remembrance is central to why we gather as believers, read and hear the Bible, baptize and participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Our memories need to be jogged, our hearts riveted again and again and our faith fed and strengthened—this happens as we preach the gospel to ourselves and one another and we recall the things of first importance.

The summons to remember is always connected to the memory of the saving work of God. The Israelites were to never forget the Exodus. We are never to forget the true Passover Lamb. The fight of faith is the battle to remember.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David” (2 Tim 2:8).

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene creed was written around A.D. 325. It was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan presbyter in Alexandria, had declared that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not equal with the Father. He made the statement “there was when he was not.” This belief made Jesus less than the Father, which posed challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of salvation. The Nicene creed was a response to this challenge and a correction to his error.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene creed builds on and elaborates the Apostle’s Creed. Paramount in this creed is the explanation of the person of Christ and his relation to the father. The creed also elaborates on the saving work of the Son, the person and role of the Spirit, and things pertaining to the church. I will highlight a few of these key areas.

  • The Son of God is unique in his dependence on the Father– He is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This creedal statement has created a lot of discussion and debate throughout church history. The doctrine here described has been called “eternal generation.” A.A. Hodge attempts to put this mystery into words. Eternal generation is “an eternal personal act of the Father wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.”
  • The Son of God is unique in his equality with the Father– The creed clarifies and balances the previous statement when it says that the Son was “begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” The doctrine of “eternal generation” does not call into question the absolute equality of the Father and Son. They share the identical nature and essence. The Son knows no beginning, he has always been. He has always shared everything with the Father.
  • The Son of God is unique in his role as Creator– The creed specifies the Son’s key role in creation: “Through him all things were made.” This is a new and important addition to the Apostle’s creed that further establishes the deity of the Son.
  • The Son of God in his unique role as Redeemer– The creed frames the saving work of Christ in a fresh way. “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” The humility of the incarnation and the empowering of the Holy Spirit are center stage in this description of Christ’s mighty work.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his role as Life-Giver– The creed identifies the Spirit as the “Lord,” equal to the Father and Son. As the Lord, he is the “giver of life.” It is the Spirit’s vocation to breathe life and sustain it. We see this in both creation and new creation.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his relationship to the Father and Son– The Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is another phrase that has produced a lot of discussion, debate and significant conflict. The doctrine here has been called the “procession of the Holy Spirit.” A.A. Hodge explains the teaching. Procession refers to “the relation which the third person sustains to the first and second, wherein by an eternal and necessary, i.e., not voluntary, act of the Father and the Son, their whole identical divine essence, without alienation, division, or change, is communicated to the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Holy Spirit is a proper object of our worship– The creed recognizes that worship necessarily follows the affirmation of deity. The Spirit is worthy of worship alongside the Father and Son.“With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”
  • The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets– The creed affirms the Spirit’s role in the speech of the prophets and by extension the inspiration of Scripture. “He has spoken through the Prophets.”
  • The link between baptism and forgiveness– This creed, unlike any previous, addresses baptism. It also draws a link between forgiveness and baptism. “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

Early Christian Writing on Baptism

The document known as the Didache is believed to be one of the earliest Christian writings. The word Didache means teaching, which captures the intent of this short catechism. The work is surprisingly short consisting of only 12 pages. Nevertheless, there is a lot here for us to learn about the views of the early church. Here is a link to the entire work: Didache.

The document starts out by explaining two paths: life and death. It states that the way of life consists in obeying the first and second greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. The Didache’s description of neighborly love is helpful. Now  all  the  things  that  you  do  not  want  to  have   happen  to  you,  you  too  do  not  do  these  to  one  another.” This is a nice explanation of a text from the book of Romans: “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10).

The Didache moves on from the “two ways” to address the ordinances and leaders in the church. I find the instruction on baptism instructive. Take a look at the text.

Now  about  baptism,  baptize  this  way:  after  first  uttering  all  of  these  things,  baptize  “into   the  name  of  the  Father  and  of  the  son  and  of  the  holy  Spirit”  in  running  water.  But  if  you   do  not  have  running  water,  baptize  in  other  water.  Now  if  you  are  not  able  to  do  so  in   cold  water,  do  it  in  warm  water.  Now  if  you  don’t  have  either,  pour  water  three  times  on   the  head,  “into  the  name  of  the  Father,  and  of  the  son,  and  of  the  holy  Spirit.”  Now  before   the  ritual  cleansing,  the  baptizer  and  the  one  being  baptized  should  fast,  and  any  others   who  are  able.  Now  you  will  give  word  for  the  one  who  is  being  baptized  to  fast  for  one  or   two  days  beforehand.

But  do  not  let  your  fasts  be  with  the  hypocrites.  For  they  fast  on  the  second  day  of  the   week  and  on  the  fifth.  But  you  fast  on  the  fourth  day  and  the  day  of  preparation.  Neither   should  you  pray  like  the  hypocrites,  but  as  the  Lord  gave  word  in  his  good  message,  pray   like  this:  “Our  Father,  the  one  who  is  in  Heaven,  your  name  has  been  made  holy.  Let  your   kingdom  come.  Let  what  you  want  also  be  done  on  earth,  as  in  Heaven.  Give  us  the  bread   we  need  today  and  forgive  us  our  debts  as  we  also  forgive  our  debtors.  And  don’t  carry  us   into  trial,  but  rescue  us  from  the  evil  one.  For  yours  is  the  power  and  the  glory  for  the   age.”  Pray  this  way  three  times  daily.

There are a couple things that stand out to me. First, there is specific instruction to follow the exact language of Matthew 28:18-20 in the baptismal act. Baptism unites individuals to the Triune community. Second, the primary mode of baptism in the Didache is immersion. However, the Didache does make an exception for sprinkling on certain occasions.

The third observation is that the document encourages fasting for the baptismal candidates. This instruction may be influenced by the example of Paul (Acts 9:9,18; 22:16). It seems that this is a practice, good or bad, that is non-existent in the church today. Fourth, preparation for baptism includes prayer—specifically the Lord’s Prayer. The Didache encourages believers to use the Lord’s prayer three times a day as they engage with God. Clearly the early church viewed this prayer as central to its spirituality. 

In the next post we will explore the Didache’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper.

Gospel and Flood

What does the gospel have to do with the flood? It does not seem like the language of “good news” and world devastation should appear in the same sentence. In the book of 1 Peter, we have a gospel-centered perspective on the flood narrative.

“…God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is,eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Pet 3:20-21).

Note how Peter draws a link between flood and baptism. Just as Noah was rescued through the waters of judgment so we are saved through judgment by the death and resurrection of Christ. Our baptism symbolizes the saving event and this actually corresponds to the flood. Thomas Schreiner in his commentary on 1 Peter has some excellent insights on the connection between flood and baptism.

 “The water that deluged the world in Noah’s day and through which Noah was saved functions as a model or pattern for Christian believers. But to what is the water related in the new covenant? The answer is baptism. In fact, we have the surprising statement that “baptism … now saves you.” Before examining that statement, we must consider in what way the flood waters prefigure or correspond to baptism. The waters of the flood deluged the ancient world and were the agent of death. Similarly, baptism, which was by immersion during the time of the New Testament, occurs when one is plunged under the water. Anyone who is submerged under water dies. Submersion under the water represents death, as Paul suggested in Rom 6:3–5. Jesus described his upcoming death in terms of baptism (Mark 10:38–39; Luke 12:50), indicating that submersion under the water aptly portrays death. Just as the chaotic waters of the flood were the agent of destruction, so too the waters of baptism are waters of destruction.”

“In New Testament theology, however (cf. Matt 3:16; Mark 10:38–39; Rom 6:3–5), believers survive the death-dealing baptismal waters because they are baptized with Christ. They are rescued from death through his resurrection (Rom 6:3–5; Col 2:12). Hence, we are not surprised to read in this verse that baptism saves “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The waters of baptism, like the waters of the flood, demonstrate that destruction is at hand, but believers are rescued from these waters in that they are baptized with Christ, who has also emerged from the waters of death through his resurrection. Just as Noah was delivered through the stormy waters of the flood, believers have been saved through the stormy waters of baptism by virtue of Christ’s triumph over death. The word “now” refers to the present eschatological age of fulfillment. With the coming of Jesus Christ the age of salvation has arrived.”[1]

Baptism is a gospel portrayal and a gospel proclamation. When it happens in the church it illustrates the the once for all work of Christ’s death and resurrection that redeems us. By faith we are united to Christ, which means we are connected to his death and resurrection. In baptism, the old man is destroyed and drowned and the new man emerges. The flood in Peter is pressed into the service of the gospel. As we better understand the terrifying justice and overwhelming grace of the flood we will be better positioned to grasp the riches of God’s grace in Christ.

[1] Schreiner, T. R. (2003). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary (193–194). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.