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June 2019

 

 

I Believe (Part IV): The Athanasian Creed

            Over the last few months, as we’ve been learning about how we worship and why, I’ve written on the Confession of Faith; this time in our worship service where we confess before God and one another what it is that we believe both individually and corporately. In emphasizing this aspect of our worship, we’ve spent some time learning about the ancient creeds that we use as the basis of our confession. These are what we call orthodox and ecumenical creeds. Orthodox; meaning correct teaching according to God’s Word, and ecumenical; meaning common among various denominations. Together the ancient church has agreed upon three creeds that are both orthodox and ecumenical. This includes the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. As Lutheran’s we continue to believe, teach, and confess these creeds, and this month we consider the final of these, the Athanasian Creed.

            Last month we learned about the battle in the ancient church over Arianism; the false teaching that Jesus was not true God but was merely a man. This teaching was quickly refuted at the Council of Nicaea with the adoption of the Nicene Creed. However, like a wart that just won’t go away, Arianism hung on for some time following Nicaea. In fact, Emperor Constantine eventually embraced the Arian faith and, upon his death, was baptized by an Arian. This caused great turmoil within the church for several decades and no one endured such hardships more than Athanasius of Alexandria. In fact, one of his nicknames was contra mundum, which means “against the world.”

            Yet, despite threats of imprisonment and/or death, Athanasius stood firmly against Arianism and continued to proclaim the truth that Jesus is “very God of very God.” The result of his efforts was that eventually Arianism was officially refuted by the church and, although not the author himself, Athanasius had his name affixed to the creed that clearly spoke against Arianism and further defined what scripture taught in regard to the Trinity and the Two-natures of Christ.

               According to Rev. Jerry Moan, “The Athanasian Creed contains a clear statement of the doctrine of the Trinity: there is one God, yet three persons in that one God. The Creed affirms that ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.’ This Creed also clearly presents the doctrine of the two natures of Christ: Christ is both God and man. The Creed teaches that Christ was not ‘created, but was begotten by the Father.’ It further declares that Jesus was fully God and yet true Man, who suffered and died for our salvation, rose again, ascended into heaven, and is coming again ‘to judge the living and the dead.’ The Creed affirms that both doctrines are ‘necessary for our salvation.’” With that final statement, we remember what we believe matters and is the difference between life and death, salvation or condemnation.

               Furthermore, Rev. Moan makes the comment, “Luther regarded the Athanasian Creed as possibly the greatest doctrinal statement of the church since the time of the apostles. In 1537, he wrote about the three Creeds of the Christian faith. Ever since, followers of Luther have shared his appreciation for these ancient restatements of biblical truth.”

             My hope and prayer is that this brief look at our ancient creeds has helped you to better understand and further appreciate these things that have been passed down to us, and perhaps you’ll be interested in digging even deeper. If anything, may this help us all be able to have a better focus and a firmer faith as we confess these things together each and every week.

Pastor Gideon

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