Trinity Sunday “Athanasian Creed”
June 7th, 2020 – The Athanasian Creed
Wow! That’s a pretty short creed, hey? There are lots of details and some very important content here. I’m sure you have a few questions, so we’ll look at some of the opening and closing lines as well as the overall message which is found in the creed.
This creed first came into use in the church around the sixth century and was not written in English, but Latin. The Church accepted it as a good, and accurate, statement about all that is found in Scripture about who God is and what Christianity is. This summary of Scripture was used to battle against heresies (lies about what Scripture says) that arose in the church about who God is. A common lie was that Jesus was only a man and not God or that Jesus was a lesser God than the Father. These all have big fancy names to describe their heresy, and really serious consequences about us going to heaven, but what is important is to look at Scripture and what it tells us is the truth about God. This is what this creed summarises for us – what Scripture says. It is a foundation document for us Lutherans. Luther and all Lutherans consider this creed basic to our Christian faith. There are a few things that, in our context, need explaining.
Perhaps one of the first things that stick out to you is the words “catholic” in our Lutheran creed. As some of you know, this word does not refer to the Roman Catholic church or their faith. The word “catholic” is simply an old word meaning “all-embracing” or “universal”. When this creed says the “catholic faith” it is referring to the common faith found among Christians at the time after Christ. This is in contrast to those strange groups of people who had the wrong idea about what Scripture says and made a new religion up, and ultimately worshipped another god, with their own ideas borrowing things from the Bible.
Some of you may remember the older wording of the shorter Nicene Creed which also used the term catholic. Some in the church did not like how easy it could be to misunderstand the word catholic with the name for the Roman Catholic church, so in recent years the wording has been changed to read “I believe in One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church” instead of “in one Holy catholic and Apostolic Church.”
Why was this creed written? This whole creed really only has one purpose – to clarify, simplify, and help us confess all that Jesus taught. Or, to be more accurate in light of Scripture and this creed, to help us confess all that Jesus, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit taught. As we see in Scripture and simplified in the creed, all three are at work in all things they do. For example, in the creation account, we read about God creating. The Father speaks, the Son (as John 1 says) is the Word that is spoken, and the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters. All three are present.
Even throughout history before Jesus came, the Father would speak through prophets by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them, prophesying about the coming Messiah, the Son! All three are intimately connected in what they do – after all, they are ONE God! Even in God saving us from the power of sin in our lives, The Father sent the Son, the Son died on the cross, and the Spirit was at work in the hearts of man clinging to the promises of God. And yet they all were saving us, all doing the same parts, as one God.
As you will have no doubt noticed this creed is strongly worded. For example, the beginning lines say that whoever desires to be saved, must above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” Then the creed goes on to spell out the faith about who we worship and what He has done for us. The creed ends saying again that “this is the catholic faith, whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” Strong wording!
Today, we are not used to hearing such absolutes, such firmness, such certainty. We are used to hearing people say this thing or that about the coronavirus, but there is such uncertainty about the firmness of these words because the message can keep changing. It started that wearing a mask will not help – so no one wore masks. Then someone firmly said “wearing a mask can help” so everyone now wears masks. Things have changed, the opening dates for our province has been so close and then moved so far. The common idea of today is that truth is relative. A common thought used to be that abortion was bad, now it appears to be inhumane to deny a woman one. It used to be thought the church was good, and now it appears to many to be evil, hurtful, and oppressive. God used to be acknowledged as the supreme ruler of all, and now He seems to be merely an out-of-style mascot.
But here we are. This creed lays it out. This is it. This is the faith. You do not hold to this; you are damned to hell. You do, you will be saved.
This creed is so strong because it presents Christ’s message. What happens if you reject someone’s’ message about who they are? You reject the person themselves. Jesus says to the ones He sends out, “the one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).By rejecting what Jesus taught, you also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus says that the name of God, the name we are to Baptize in and whose name we are to preach is the one name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus does not tell us three names – but one name.
This creed is strongly worded about God because Jesus was strongly worded about who he said God was and how we fit into the picture.
There is good news here too. It is not all strongly worded and scary threats of eternal damnation. You see, this God we confess and worship with our hymns, our devoted time to Him, our offerings, our very lives as Christians, He is at work in you – this Holy Trinity is at work in you.
God created you, God sent, and came, into the world to die for you. And this one God is with you empowering your faith.
This creed makes you almost think that what you do will save you or not save you. The truth, and VERY good news, is that it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The faith to believe this creed comes by hearing it (Romans 10:17). The gift is already yours.
I’ve been very disappointed with cereal boxes these days. They used to be that you buy the cereal with the picture of the FREE cool new toy, and when the box was opened up, the toy would be right there! Ready for you to enjoy. Now, if you can even find a box that will advertise a free toy when you open the box, all you have is a list of complicated instructions on how to “request” your new toy by email, or by downloading an app, and you have to fill out all this information correctly, and send it in. Then, maybe you’ll get your free toy in 7-14 business days.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Jesus forgiveness for you is not a modern cereal box. The faith you have been given is not a gift you have to work towards to achieve or gain. You don’t have to fill out the card and hope that you will receive what was promised. Please, do not let someone tell you your faith, the forgiveness of your sins, your life in Christ, is dependant on your works of going off to Christ or finding Him, or accepting Him. He is yours not because you have done works and can now boast about how you have been saved by what you have done. Instead, may you always boast in God alone for what He has done for you and the gift He has freely given you in the good news preached to you.
You will have noticed that right near the end of our creed for today it rightly reads that all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life and those who have done evil into eternal fire. This is right and true. Without any knowledge or faith in this Triune God and what He has done, this judgement day leaves us all condemned.
Have you done good? Not really? Perhaps on the scale for your whole life, you have done more good than bad? God tells us the answer to how we would be judged on that day. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5); “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3).
We do not get to earn heaven by our deeds. We do not even get to earn heaven by our self-generated faith in the catholic faith.
We receive heaven as a free gift from God because of who God is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We receive heaven because Christ’s deeds are counted as our own. In the triune God, we are covered in His perfection (Isaiah 61:10). He saves us, he rescues from the eternal fire.
That Good News is THE faith. That is who God is.
That is who you are. Rescued. Redeemed.
Loved and cared for by The Triune God whom we worship and adore.
By the firm faith you have been given in Christ, you will be saved.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,