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Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Of the three creeds that are acknowledged by all of the ancient western Christian traditions*, the Athanasian Creed is known and used the least. It may be because it’s longer. But really it has a lot to do with its content.  Much of its purpose is an attempt to hammer down and make explicit one key point: the equality, unity and distinctness of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Maybe one of the reasons that this creed doesn’t resonate as strongly as the others is that … well, it’s not that convincing to the human intellect.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). We, of course, try to understand the thoughts and ways of God. Though there is an infinite separation between God’s truths and our ability to understand them (“as heaven is higher than the earth“), we are still encouraged to seek the face of God (Ps. 105:4, 27:8). The Apostle Paul says that, “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

All we can know about God is what has been revealed. Thankfully, God has gone to great lengths to let us know what we can know. As Jesus told His disciples on that Maundy Thursday evening, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you an advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth … He lives with you and will be in you … I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you … when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (from John 14-16). So, “all truth” is ours … that is, all the truth that we both need, and can handle. But ultimately, the fullness of truth about God is beyond our grasp.

That’s why descriptions about God can be so unsettling, and less than “convincing”. You can say it over and over again (as does the Athanasian Creed), but it doesn’t become more convincing through repetition. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.” Like a bad cowlick, no amount of hair gel can pin this down. Three just isn’t one. And different just isn’t the same.

But both are true in our revelations from God. The writings of the prophets, the incarnation of Jesus, the authoritative teachings of the apostles — all agree that a) God is one, and 2) there are three persons who are God. Equally glorious, equally majestic, equally unlimited, equally mighty, equally authoritative … all eternal, all infinite, all uncreated. “He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.” 

It’s just hard, even impossible, to “think thus.” We can say it. And we can choose to believe it. But to “think thus”? “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” 

The Ancient Path is One of Belief

Herein lies the huge point for all of us as we pilgrimage down the ancient path. Ours is a journey of belief, not all-knowing; faith, not sight; revelation, not exploration. 

Many theological traditions, especially since the days of the Reformation, have prided themselves in their exhaustive studies of the scriptures, and their incessant attempts to pin down the cowlick of the mystery of God. Rather than taking Biblical revelation and believing it, they take the revelations collectively, and “try to make sense” of it. They end up with theological systems that say things that the scriptures don’t, claiming all the while that their thinking must be true – given what we know in revelation, compounded by our own brilliance that now makes it understandable.

This kind of speculation can fool us into extra-biblical thinking. But at worst, this work of theology can be a gross violation of the first commandments: We theologically “create” a “God” who isn’t simply the God He revealed Himself to be. This “God” becomes an idol – a product of our image-ination – that we then worship. And we misuse the name of God by attributing that name to a faux-version of “God”. “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7). But, I’m ahead of myself. The ancient path of the 10 Commandments is my next blog entry …

Read the Athanasian Creed. Read it regularly. When it warms your heart, rejoice. When it bugs you, believe! It’s at those moments we are obliged to bend the knee to a God Who is much bigger, better and more brilliant than we. It is good to think thus.

– EO

* The Athanasian Creed is historically endorsed by the Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed Churches, and Roman Catholics.

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“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves.‘” (Jeremiah 6:16).

My own personal journey has led me down ancient paths. Over 30 years ago, I was gripped by a love and desire for the experience of the ancient, early church. I have always wanted to be a part of a contemporary Christian tradition that has beaten a consistent path from the first century to the present … and would most fully connect me to the early church, both in word and practice. The journey has led me to the classical Christianity ensconced in Lutheranism (particularly in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). I have chosen to take this path … and have found rest for myself. I recommend it without reservation.

This week our church* is beginning a 9-week preaching series called Ask For the Ancient Paths. It is a study of the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Confession/Absolution. This series provides an ideal time for me to share some of my journey as it relates to the foundational teachings of classical Christianity as put forth in the Lutheran Catechism.

Feel free to engage with your questions, comments and critiques. “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise. Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Prov. 15:31-32). Good sense, wise company, life! My journey continues. I hope yours will, too.

So, grab your hat, your sun-screen, your walking stick … let’s explore this ancient path together.

– EO

* Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (LCMS), Gilbert, AZ

 

 

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Anglicans and Lutherans

Anglican_LutheranAn interesting article about two of my favorite “families” in Christianity.

Confessional Lutherans & Anglicans Draw Closer Together

As I have sought out denominational families to which I could be tethered in a wholehearted and fulfilling way, these have been the two that emerge.

– EO

 

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“The Day is Surely Drawing Near” 4th Sunday of Advent – 14.12.21

castle church

Castle Church, Wittenberg

Today’s Sunday Advent hymn text comes from the 16th century. Bartholomaus Ringwaldt puts a comprehensive theology of the second coming of Jesus into poetic form. It combines both the glories and tragedies of the apocalyptic events on the world’s horizon. I seldom “get” to sing about all of these things during the holidays.

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed,
in all his power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth, and hungry flames shall ravage earth as Scripture long has warned us.

The final trumpet then shall sound and all the earth be shaken,
and all who rest beneath the ground shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour, by God’s almighty, boundless power, be changed at his commanding.

The books are opened then to all, a record truly telling 
what each has done, both great and small, when He on earth was dwelling.
And every heart be clearly seen, and all be known as they have been in thoughts and words and actions. *

Then woe to those who scorned the Lord and sought but carnal pleasures,
who here despised His precious Word and loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand and at the judge’s stern command to Satan be delivered.

My Savior paid the debt I owe, and for my sin was smitten; 
Within the Book of Life I know my name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free, and Satan cannot threaten me; There is no condemnation!

May Christ our intercessor be and through his blood and merit
read from his book that we are free with all who life inherit.
Then we shall see him face to face, with all his saints in that blest place which he has purchased for us.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay, but hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way in fear and tribulation.
Oh, hear and grant our fervent plea; Come, mighty judge, and set us free from death and every evil.

* (I wonder about this – will our sins be public domain at the judgment? Isaiah 43:25 says ““I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” If God won’t remember, why would he have us and others remember our sins? Isaiah 54:4 says ““Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  And, in Isaiah 65:17 it says ““See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”)

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Lutheran

 

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Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers! 3rd Sunday of Advent – 14.12.14

Another Lutheran hymn for you on this Advent Sunday. It was our “hymn of the day” this morning. The text was written by Laurentias Laurenti in 1700, and was translated from German into English in 1854 for the hymn compilation Hymns from the Land of Luther. Laurenti was the music director at the cathedral in Bremen.

A true Advent text! I love the acknowledgement of the tough, dark side of waiting for Christ’s coming.

Rejoice, rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear.
The evening is advancing, and darker night is near.
The Bridegroom is arising, and soon He draweth nigh.
Up, pray, and watch, and wrestle: At midnight comes the cry.

See that your lamps are burning; replenish them with oil.
And wait for your salvation, the end of earthly toil.
The watchers on the mountain proclaim the Bridegroom near.
Go meet Him as He cometh, with alleluias clear.

O wise and holy virgins, now raise your voices higher,
Until in songs of triumph ye meet the angel choir.
The marriage feast is waiting, the gates wide open stand;
Rise up, ye heirs of glory, the Bridegroom is at hand.

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear!
Arise, Thou sun so longed for, over this benighted sphere!
With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption that brings us unto Thee.

Ye saints, who here in patience your cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever, when sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory the Lamb ye shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him your diadems of gold!

 

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Home for Christmas? 2nd Friday of Advent – 14.12.12

BingHome. It’s all the more important during Christmastime. We hear it in those familiar songs, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”, and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

I’m trying to synthesize this warm notion of these holiday favorites with the words of Peter, who instructs us that, when we are born again in Christ, our definition of “home” changes. “Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims…” (1 Pet. 2:11).

ComoAs Christians, we’re not at home here. Home is somewhere else. During Advent, we long for the home – that final resting place we will experience when Jesus returns. So, it’s true – there’s no place like home for the holidays, and we really wish we could be there! In fact, the words from “I’ll Be Home” actually have a strikingly Adventy feel to them: “I am dreaming tonight of a place I love even more than I usually do … home … where the love light gleams.” Might those become words about our true home, the coming Kingdom?

Martin Luther picks up this notion, and drives it home with force: “You are to conduct yourselves as those who are no longer citizens of the world … since you are not of this world, act as a stranger in an inn – one who has not his possessions with him but procures food and gives his gold for it … we should use worldly blessings no more than is needful for health and appetite, and then leave them and go to another land. We are citizens of heaven; on earth we are pilgrims and guests.”

christmas pictures 005Joseph, Mary and Jesus were strangers at an inn. I’m sure they carried with them very little. They present a great Advent image of following the will of God even though it takes them away from their true home, with few possessions, all for the sake of fulfilling the divine plan of God. What happens to them in that obedience? They are blessed by a malleable innkeeper, stray shepherds, senior saints on the temple mount, and eventually by foreign astrologers who bring them amazing treasures, and divine direction to temporarily move to Egypt (which would have been harder to do with all of their possessions!). Stripped of their things and their relationships, they remain faithful, and God provides for them on their extraordinary journey.

Cozy Christmas ideals urge us to burrow into our houses all the more, and heap possessions on ourselves that often we don’t even need. We really do turn our houses into little slices of heaven. Ironically, the season which is designed to focus our hope on our real home can functionally turn our temporal prosperity into the idol of our worship.

new jerusalemWhat if, as an Advent exercise, we chose to purge instead of horde? To give instead of accumulate? To focus on the alien and stranger instead of isolate ourselves with our favorites?

Really, I’m not trying to be a downer! I just truly believe that there is something WAY better to be longing for than the best this world, and even this season, has to offer. When our hearts are gripped by that “home” the way our hearts can be gripped by the coziness of our Christmas celebrations, perhaps our spirits will be appropriately revitalized … the goal of Advent.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2014 in Advent 2014, Eschatology

 

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Second Sunday of Advent – 14.12.07

St.-Ambrose (1)I have personally celebrated the seasons of the church calendar for decades. I have always been saddened by the lack of Advent-themed worship music in the contemporary Evangelical church world. But I have recently become a part of the Lutheran tradition, which has a wealth of Advent hymns! On the remaining Advent Sundays, I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Savior of the Nations, Come is a hymn text written by St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the great Doctors of the early church. It was written in the 4th century – and era when the church was crystalizing its theological understanding about the person and nature of Jesus in the incarnation (e.g., The Council of Nicaea in 325, which produced the Nicene Creed, which we read together today in church). This hymn reflects those theological themes, which Ambrose championed strongly.

Savior of the nations, come! Virgin’s son, make here Your home!

Marvel now, O heaven and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.

 

nativity-icon-1Not by human flesh and blood, by the Spirit of our God,

was the Word of God made flesh – woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

 

Here a maid was found with child, yet remained a virgin mild.

In her womb this truth was sown: God was there upon His throne.

 

Then stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure and kingly hall;

God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.

 

250px-Nicaea_iconGod the Father was His source; Back to God He ran His course.

Into hell His road went down, back then to His throne and crown.

 

For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the victory won.

By Your mighty power make whole all our ills of flesh and soul.

 

From the manger newborn light shines in glory through the night.

Darkness there no more resides; In this light faith now abides.

 

Glory to the Father sing,

Glory to the Son our king.

Glory to the Spirit be now, and through eternity.

 
 

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