Article 1: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
It is quite obvious that the formulation of this article as well as the next article is based on I Corinthians 8:6: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.” Notice the similarity. The apostle Paul writing to the church of Corinth states, “there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things.” Article 1 of the Creed confesses faith in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Then the Creed, following the pattern of Paul in I Corinthians 8:6, proceeds in Article 2 to confess faith in “one Lord Jesus Christ. . .by Whom all things were made.”
In general, Article 1 teaches that there is but one God. This is certainly the idea of the first part of the article, “I believe in one God.” This one God is in turn further identified. He is the Father. He is also the Almighty One. In our English rendition of the creed, “Almighty” is used as an adjective describing “Father.” The English speaks of the “Father Almighty.” The idea of the Greek in which this creed was originally composed is somewhat different. There we read of the Father Who is also the Almighty One. And, finally, this one God is identified as the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
We turn our attention first to the confession of the early church that there is but one God. This certainly is the teaching of the Scriptures. This truth is implied for example in the first commandment of the law, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The reason for this commandment is very simple: there are no other gods. Jehovah is God alone. Therefore man is to honor and recognize no other as God. This truth is also taught in Deuteronomy 6:4; “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord.” Solomon in turn pleaded with God to maintain the cause of His people, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else” (I Kings 8:60). The New Testament Scriptures also teach this same truth. Paul writes to Timothy, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 2:5). There is also the passage upon which the very wording of this article is based: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him” (I Cor. 8:6).
It was necessary for the early church to emphasize and maintain this truth. It had to be maintained first over against the paganism that flourished at that time.
Wherever the apostle Paul went on his missionary journeys he came across idolatry. The Gentiles recognized and worshipped many gods. That was true for example in Athens. Visiting this city on his second missionary journey Paul observed that Athens was “wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). Images representing all the idol gods of the Athenians abounded. There was even the altar to the unknown god. This kind of thing existed in every locality. Each locality had a number of idol gods, each with its own rank and importance. There was a god for every area of life, for every need of man.
In spite of the rapid growth of the church in the first two centuries after Christ, paganism continued to flourish throughout the Roman world. The Roman government tolerated any religion as long as it did not contradict or in any way undermine the rule of Rome. The one exception to this was the Christian religion. This was indeed ironical. There was no religion that promoted fidelity to the state more than the Christian religion. The Christian church taught her members that they must be in subjection to the higher powers (Romans 13:1). The Christians were model citizens. Nevertheless their religion was not tolerated. The Christian religion was outlawed. The saints were time and again persecuted by the Roman government. Many of God’s people at this time even suffered martyrdom.
In the year A.D. 313 all this was changed. Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, supposedly was converted to the Christian faith. We question the true character of Constantine’s conversion because there never was much evidence of true faith in his personal life. Furthermore, there is much evidence to substantiate the contention that his conversion to Christianity was for political reasons. Be that as it may, the result of it all was the Edict of Toleration in A.D. 313. As the name indicates, this edict allowed the existence of the Christian church. Christianity was placed on an equal footing with all the other religions of the empire. In the years that followed the Christian religion was even promoted and made the state religion of the Roman Empire. It became mandatory to belong to the church. In spite of all this, paganism did not die out until the sixteenth century.
This all means that in A.D. 325, when the church sought to confess her faith through the Nicene Creed, paganism was still flourishing. Hence, the church very deliberately confessed faith in but one God. Over against all idolatry the Christian confessed, “I believe in one God.”
This truth that there is but one God was also confessed by the early church against the errors of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was an admixture of Greek philosophy, pagan idolatry, and Christianity. Gnosticism taught that God is an impersonal force beyond the scope of man’s comprehension or ability to know. From this unknowable God however emanates or issues forth a series of aeons or spiritual beings. These aeons have divine characteristics. Altogether these aeons comprise the pleroma or fullness of divine power and attributes. Over against this spirit world of perfection and light is the kenoma, the world of matter which is eternal (i.e., without beginning) and intrinsically evil. The Gnostics also spoke of the Demiurge or World maker. This Demiurge was created by a fallen aeon from the spirit world. This Demiurge in turn has formed from the evil matter of the kenoma the present visible world over which he also rules. The present world is therefore intrinsically evil. According to Gnosticism, the Demiurge or World maker is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament Jews, who imagines himself to be the only God. Jesus in turn is an aeon, in fact the highest aeon, emanating from the unknowable God. For the salvation of the world he has taken upon himself the appearance of man. Obviously he did not assume the actual flesh of man for that is intrinsically evil. Hence, he took only the form of man. The Holy Spirit in turn is also another aeon, subordinate to Jesus.
There is more to this philosophy of Gnosticism. This is sufficient for our purposes now. It is quite obvious that Gnosticism was essentially polytheistic, acknowledging many gods. Gnosticism speaks of many aeons or spiritual beings that comprise thepleroma or fullness of divine power and attributes. The aeons were essentially gods.
Gnosticism was a force to be reckoned with even during the time of the Apostles. The apostle John for example speaks in his epistles of those that deny that Jesus is come in the flesh (I John 4:3, II John 7). This was the Gnostic idea that Jesus, the highest aeon, took only the form of a man. This idea John thoroughly condemns. Those who taught this were deceivers, antichrists. Such like the saints were not to bid god-speed or even receive into their homes (II John 7:10). Gnosticism reached its zenith around the middle of the second century and for a while threatened the very existence of the church. By the time the Nicene Creed was written this heresy was on the decline. But it was still a force to be reckoned with. And so also against this form of polytheism the early Christian church confessed her faith in one God.
This same truth that there is only one God is also taught in our Reformed Creeds. It is expressed, for example, in the Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 8 Q. 25. There the Catechism asks, “Since there is but one only divine essence, why speakest thou of Father, Son and Holy Ghost?” The answer is, “Because God hath so revealed Himself in His word, that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.” This truth is also set forth in the Belgic Confession, Article 1: “We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God. . . .”
It is necessary for the church to confess this truth even today. Idolatry abounds today even as in the Bible times and in the early years of the Christian church. In its most crude form, idolatry is to be found today in those countries that are still pagan. This is especially true of many countries in Africa and southeast Asia. There images of all kinds are honored and worshipped as gods. Those who worship these images embrace many such gods. But idolatry also abounds in our own country and in the so-called Christian world. The Heidelberg Catechism defines idolatry as placing our trust in any object other than the one true God, Who has manifest Himself in His Word (L.D. 34 Q. 95.) From that viewpoint there are many idols today before which men bow. There is, for example, the idol god of money. How often do not men place their trust in riches rather than in the promises of the living God? This is to deny the true God and to make money one’s god. In like manner anything can become one’s idol god. All that is required is that one place his trust in it, find his security in it. Thus, entertainment, friends, government, insurance, and a host of other things are and become the idol gods of men.
Idolatry of this kind characterizes fallen man. He is nothing but an idolater. The reason is very simple. Man has been created with a sense of dependence. He has a need for some higher being in which he can place his trust and find his security. He must have a god. Rut the natural man refuses to acknowledge the one only true God, the God that alone can provide him with all he needs. This is not because God has failed to reveal Himself sufficiently. The fault is man’s who has blinded himself in his unbelief. As a result, unbelieving man has but one thing to do. He must invent his own gods. This he has done throughout all history. However, the gods he invents are powerless to help him. They provide very little security for man as he faces the harsh realities of life and the harsher realities of death. Hence, man has become polytheistic. He invents many gods. And in the multitude of his gods he hopes to find peace and safety.
Over against this folly of unbelief is the calling of the church of Jesus Christ to confess her faith in the one only true God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. This faith she must confess in her creeds, in her preaching as it goes to the uttermost parts of the earth, and in the lives and conduct of her members as they live day by day in total dependence on God alone.