The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 8:48 “The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ 49 Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50 But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’ 52 The Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he shall never taste of death.’ 53 Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’ 54 Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; 55 and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ 57 The Jews therefore said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ 59 Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple. (NASB)
The Lutheran church is a creedal church. So is the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern/Russian Orthodox Church, Presbyterians, some Methodist, Anglicans, and Episcopalians. These days the question has more to do with what such church bodies confess. While many make use of creeds, what they confess in those creeds is hardly biblical Trinitarianism.
A creedal church is a church accepts and makes use of creeds. A creed is a statement of faith. A Christian creed is a statement that summarizes the Bible’s teaching on specific doctrines. The historic ecumenical creeds were created to provide the church with a definitive statement regarding doctrines that were under dispute in the early church. Once written and accepted by the faithful churchmen of the day, the creeds were included as part of the church’s regular liturgy so that the people had a clear summary of the Christian Faith. Creeds clarified what the Bible taught about God and salvation. The creeds also gave people an opportunity to publicly the “faith once delivered to the saints.”
The faithful accept three ancient creeds (the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian) as a correct exposition of who God is and what He has done for our salvation.. All three are included in the Book of Concord to show that reformers of the 1500s were not creating a new religion.
The Apostles’ Creed was in circulation by the middle of the 3rd century and was a part of the baptismal rite. The first two parts (on the Father and the Son) of the Nicene Creed was written and approved in 325 a.d. and the third part (on the Holy Spirit) in 381 a.d.
The longest and most complex of the three creeds is the Athanasian Creed and it showed up sometime in the 5th century. It uses unusual words and phrases and is quite complex and profound, but explains the doctrine of the Trinity in the most depth and in such a way so that Bible believing Christians and the true church can be clear about what it means to say God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When Luther preached on one Trinity Sunday he said this about the creeds in general and the Apostles’ Creed in particular.
“Rightly did the church fathers compose the Creed, or Symbol, in the simple form repeated by Christian children; ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son [and] I believe in the Holy Ghost.’ This confession we did not devise, nor did the fathers of former times. As the bee collects honey from the many fair and beautiful flowers, so is this Creed collected, in appropriate brevity, from the books of the beloved prophets and apostles–from the entire Holy Scripture–for children and for unlearned Christians. It is fittingly called the Apostles’ Creed.”
The Old Testament teaches that God is one. Christians are monotheist. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
At the same time, a plurality of persons within the Godhead is implied throughout the Old Testament. First the Hebrew name for God, Elohim has a plural ending, yet it is not translate gods, but God. Then there’s verses like this. God said to Himself, “Let us make man in our image” and at the tower of Babel, “Let us go down there and confound their language.”
The New Testament speaks of the persons of the Trinity much more clearly. As Jesus was ascending He instructed the disciples saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” He didn’t say to baptize in the “names” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He said “name” (singular). As we confessed in the Athanasian Creed, we worship three persons in one God and one God in three persons, the blessed Trinity.
In the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus made it clear to the Jews that He existed even bebore Abraham and applied the name of God, the great “I am” to Himself. 56 “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ 57 The Jews therefore said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’” When Jesus claimed to have been living before Abraham and then applied the “I am” title to Himself they understood what Jesus was claiming. That’s why they wanted to kill Him. Same thing happened in John 10: 30-31 when Jesus said, “‘I and the Father are one.’ 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.”
So why the need for three creeds, each longer and more detailed than the one before? Because false teachers have arisen in every time and every generation of the church. In the opening centuries of the New Testament Church false teachers were undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures and one person of Jesus Christ. In the middle ages false doctrines focused on how a person is saved, philosophies regarding free will and good works were commingled with the Gospel.
Jesus taught that we must remain in His word and words if we are going to have eternal live. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” We just said the same thing when we read the Athanasian Creed: “All who would be saved must first keep the true Christian faith, and if anyone does not keep it whole and undefiled, without doubt will perish forever. And the true Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance.”
But why Creeds? As long as we are at it, why liturgies and formal prayers and hymns and songs that instill a right understanding and real comfort? The answer is simple really. It is because false teachers use the words of the Bible too. They invoke Bible verses. They use Christian vocabulary. But false and errant teachers twist the meaning. They rip things out of context. They don’t understand the language. They explain the mysteries of the Christian Faith through the philosophies of this world. That’s why St. Paul was given by the Holy Spirit to write, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
The Apostles’ Creed was probably written in the second century to deal with the teachings of Marcion. He denied that the Old Testament God was the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The Nicene Creed was developed in response to the teachings of Arius. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius said that the doctrine of the Trinity was too difficult, it was easier to believe in the Son as something like an angel, a being superior to humans, but inferior to the Father Almighty. According to Arius Jesus was a sub-god– a demiurge.
The Athanasian Creed was a exposition of what the Bible actually teaches regarding the Trinity. It was intended to wall us off from all heresies concerning the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Up until the 20th century, Christians and Christian churches took doctrine seriously. Christians took Jesus seriously when He commanded the church to teach everything that He had instructed them to teach. The Apostles did take the doctrines of the Old and New Testament seriously. There’s a reason for this stubborn adherence to doctrine. All Scripture is about Jesus Christ. The apostles held stubbornly to Christ’s teaching of Scripture and the first Christians in the opening part of the book of Acts took the apostles’ teaching seriously. Acts 2:42 “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
In this regard the church of the West has lost ground. All the old heresies concerning God, the person and work of Christ, free will and good works, how one is made righteous, and fundamental morality have been renewed and multiplied.
But God revealed Himself to as the Holy Trinity. God revealed Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God is “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity . . . For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.”
And no one comes to the Father except through God the Son – Jesus Christ. The Father was in the Son reconciling the world to Himself. From the Father and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit and no one can say, “‘Jesus is Lord,’ [that is believe in Jesus Christ] except by the Holy Spirit.” (So much for free will and decision theology)
All three persons of the Trinity were present and active in creation. The same three persons of the Triune God brought about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God the Father sent God the Son and the Virgin Mary conceived the God/Man by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Jesus began His public ministry at His Baptism. The Holy Spirit came down as a dove and the Father declared that Jesus is His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased with Jesus. Jesus prayed to His Father and the Spirit was with Him throughout His earthly ministry.
Then came the cross. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) In that moment, the eternal union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was in some way broken–God the Son was forsaken.
Yet even in that moment, God the Son was carrying out the will of God the Father and God the Father was there reconciling the world to Himself.
On Easter morning, the Father raised God the Son from the dead. Over the next 50 days, Jesus would remind and point the disciples to the sending of the Holy Spirit both in the Christian heart and in the Word and Sacrament ministry of the Church.
It was into the whole name of God that you were baptized. You are a believing Christian because God the Father, called you by the Word and the Holy Spirit, into the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are a believing congregation for the same reason – He has called gathered, enlightened and sanctified us. We are also the “whosoever” in the Athanasian Creed.
The name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our invocation, but it is also the name in which you live and move and have your being (Acts 17:28). No other god has sent His Son into the world to die for sinners like us. No other god came into the world to be despised and murdered by men. No other God hides Himself in words, in water, in an office, and in the bread and wine. What other god saves by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. Only our God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.