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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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Ancient Paths: Apostles’ Creed

Just a few thoughts today about the content of the Ancient Path that is the Apostles’ Creed. What are the indispensable truths that all true Christians believe?

Let’s try this: Let’s look at the creed as a set of replies to a some of the beliefs held by many in our world today…

Apostles' CreedThere is no God. No, there is one. And only one.

“God” is just a universal force. No, He is personal.

God is not ultimately powerful. No, He is almighty.

There may be a God, but our world is the product of a cosmic accident. No, God made everything.

Jesus was just a good man. No, He is divine.

Jesus is one of many really good, spiritual men. No, He is qualitatively different … the only Son of God.

Jesus is just a good example for us. No, He intends and expects to be our ruler and master.

Jesus was born like any other man. No, He was conceived miraculously, as is befitting, even necessary, for an incarnation of God on the planet.

Jesus didn’t really exist in history. No, He did – in a real family, in a real place, in real political life.

Jesus’ “death on the cross” was a sham. No, He was really crucified, really died, and was really buried.

Since Jesus lived at a certain time in history, he is irrelevant to those who lived before his time. No, the truth of His life and message has been made known to all who have died in the past.

Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Oh, but He did.

Jesus is dead and gone, and his remains are somewhere here on earth. No, He went to heaven directly after being resurrected.

Jesus led a nice life, but can’t be active in our lives now. No, He remains alive, in the presence of God His Father, hears our prayers, and acts on our behalf.

Jesus’ time in history is over.  No, He is involved now, and has promised to return.

Because of Jesus, everyone goes to heaven. No, Jesus is going to come and judge us, and not all will be found innocent.

When we die, we just vanish into nothing. No, both the believing and the unbelieving dead are going to be raised, and judged. Life is everlasting, with or without God.

The presence of God cannot be found or experienced on earth. No, God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is living and active through His people, the church.

I believe in God, but don’t think the church is important. No, the church is God’s idea, Jesus is it’s head, and every believer is a part of it.

Christianity is just for westerners – leave other cultures alone! No, Christianity is “catholic”,* meaning it’s for everybody in history, in every place, for every nation, and for every ethnicity.

Christians aren’t any different than anybody else. No, we have been “sanctified”, made holy, made “saints” – both those who have died as Christians, and those who live as Christians.

I don’t believe I’m a sinner. No, you are. All are. All need to be forgiven by God for our violations of His laws. And that forgiveness is made available by God, through Christ, by the Spirit, as proclaimed by the church.

That is a lot of truth in a concise creed! It truly is good news. So good to believe, so good to know, so good to use.

– EO

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod substitutes the word “Christian” for “catholic” in the Apostles’ Creed. Since the Roman Catholic Church uses the term “catholic” in its branding, using it in the creed led to confusion, and ultimately to the change. But, the word “Christian” simply isn’t the same as “catholic”. Some have encouraged the word “universal” as a synonym, but this limits the idea to geography. This Lutheran would be pleased to see our denomination reclaim the word “catholic” for our usage, because there’s nothing wrong with it, and there is no word like it – it’s the right word that our ancient forefathers selected and codified.

 

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Ancient Paths: The Creeds

I became a Christian in a church that didn’t make use of ancient creeds, and then I didn’t recite a creed in worship for the first 25 years of my faith. I was led to understand that the Bible, not creeds, is what we should know and recite (though we didn’t really do either). The old creeds, I was told, are like everything else from the historical tradition of Christianity: extra-Biblical formalism that breeds hypocrisy, mindlessness and boring worship programming.

apostles-creed-session-two-i-believe-in-4-728(Meanwhile, I was encouraged to write acrostic missions statements, paste them on banners, etch them into glass windows, and have my congregations commit them to memory. This wasn’t extra-Biblical, hypocritical or mindless … this was cutting edge church leadership! But I digress…)

I have “graduated” to a wholehearted embrace of creedal Christianity. Specifically, my adopted faith tradition embraces three ancient creeds: The Apostles’ Creed (c. 180 AD), the Nicene Creed (325 AD), and the Athanasian Creed (c. 440 AD). Today, a few words about the Apostles’ Creed, which is truly an “ancient path” that has been traveled by millions of believers over two millennia.

I think of the Apostles’ Creed as the swiss-army-knife of the church: A concise creed with multiple uses!

  1. Personal Faith: Like it did from its organic inception during the first two centuries AD, it provides a means by which we determine who is and isn’t a Christian. It’s a great litmus test for every individual to see if her beliefs line up with classical Christianity.
  2. Teaching: It also provides an ideal outline for discipleship. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, says of the Creed, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Both at church and in the home, it functions as our syllabus for ongoing instruction.
  3. Evangelism: It is a great tool for proclaiming the gospel. It answers the question, “what must I believe to be saved?” Christians who have the points of the Apostles’ Creed memorized have at their disposal all of the necessary talking points for sharing the central tenets of the our faith.
  4. Worship: The Creed provides for a beautiful act of worship when read corporately. As the Psalmist says, “One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). When we together in an intergenerational gathering of worship proclaim the Apostles’ Creed – creation, incarnation, sacrifice, forgiveness, resurrection, ascension, judgment and heaven – our faith is refined, we transmit our beliefs to everyone in the service (believers or not), and are encouraged by the shared testimony of others.
  5. Contextualization: The Creed is brilliant for use in places where the church isn’t so literate. We can take for granted in our well-educated Western society that truth is “most true” when it’s in writing. But many through history, including many today, must understand their faith in manageable, memorable ways.

Again, I grew up without the Apostles’ Creed. So, my litmus test for belief changed with each new church community I attended (most of which felt compelled to write their own doctrinal statements). My discipleship and evangelism training regularly shifted to whatever the latest popular Christian book had to say. Most of my fellow believers in churches have felt hopelessly ill-equipped to evangelize their family and neighbors, much less their friends, and keep trying to come up with an effective resource and training program for outreach. And, because of a wholesale rejection of classical, formal worship elements (including creeds), my faith was enslaved to the always-shifting spontaneous utterings of my pastors.

Life is better with creeds. A bit on the content of the Apostles’ Creed tomorrow.

– EO

(Some good historical information about the Ecumenical Creeds can be found here.)

 

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12/4: Staying Sharp

12/4: Staying Sharp

First Monday of Advent: Amos 1,2

Christians long for the second coming of Jesus, “the day of the Lord”. It will be a time of great joy for those who believe. But it will also be a terrifying day of judgment for those who do not. Jesus said, concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:2). He calls his followers to wait and be ready for His coming. But for many, it will be a surprise, and they will be caught living godless lives — which will result in judgment. The blatantly irreligious will be found wanting, yes … but also many who believe they’re a part of God’s inner circle. 

amos-600mapIn Amos 1 and 2, the prophet foretells the judgments of eight nations. Six of them are “secular,” and two are the divided kingdoms of the people of God, Israel and Judah. In sum, they provide a litany of specific offenses that will lead to condemnation from God. Wartime tortures (1:3,13), human trafficking (1:6,9), denigrating other foreign leaders (2:1), forsaking peace accords (1:9), “forsaking pity” and staying perpetually hostile (1:11) … all for the sake of imperialistic land-grabs (1:13). All of these charges have to do with international politics.

But then, to the (supposedly) godly nations of Judah and Israel, God brings punishments for different reasons. Here are three:

“They have rejected the law of the Lord, and not kept His statutes. Their lies have led them astray” (2:4).  God had uniquely revealed Himself to the Jewish people. The words of that revelation through the law of Moses was their special gift, and also their distinctive measure. They had let this inheritance slip, and were letting the lies of their day pull them from obedience to mandates of their God. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path. 

“They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6). The people of God had grown materialistic. They cared more about what they could purchase for themselves than the welfare of their neighbors, especially their poor ones. They spent more on shoes than on the poor. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

You made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy'” (2:12). God ordained spiritual disciplines, which helped keep the peoples sharp and attentive before God, were downplayed, and even forbidden. Had they become passe? No longer appropriate for their then-contemporary world? Too legalistic for their enlightened minds? Had they grown tired of all that talk of sin, righteousness and judgement? For whatever reason, their faith-lives had gone unpracticed and unfueled. I can’t help but think that Christians today are following this same path.

Amos’ Advent challenge to the people of God: Yes, the world is full of unspeakable evils. It’s easy to say, “Hey, I’m no terrorist.”  But our plumb line is different. So, we need to let our love of God and His Word keep us from falling for the lies of our culture! We need to quit living for the promotion of our bottom lines, and be generous! We need to embrace our disciplines (e.g., be appropriately religious), and amplify Biblical truths! All the more, as we eagerly await the Lord “roaring from Zion” on that final day. May we not then be found to have lost our edge, and unconsciously drifted from God.

Stay sharp! “Prepare your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He Who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:12-14).

– EO

 

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A Needed Insight For Our Time

Beating up others – in violent riots, or violent social media posts, all because others believe differently than you … well, this is the height of social immaturity. May those who call themselves by the name of Christ be grown-ups, so the world can know what a grown-up looks like, and where to turn to find them.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I saw a disturbing video, and could hardly believe it. A group of “Antifa” protesters beating up on a “Say No to Hate” rally. Beneath the Facebook post of the video were a number of comments about the rightness and (mostly) wrongness of these kinds of actions.

 

It dawned on me: As a populace, we are very weak and immature. Which is why we fight so much.

This according to the Apostle Paul. One of Paul’s major themes in the New Testament is how we should handle our deepest convictions. Paul acknowledges that we all have them, and they are often different.

Example: “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge (1 Cor. 8:6-7).

The Bible says that knowledge about God and the spiritual world is God-given. Not all have it, therefore not all believe the basics. So, how do we handle having this knowledge when other’s don’t?

“We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-3). ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:23).

We can have what we think is a better grip on reality, the truer facts of the situation, and a better idea about the next best course of actions. But this isn’t helpful just because it’s “right”. If we’re “puffed up”, we’re not helpful, and do our neighbor no good. Instead…

“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them … to those outside the law I became as one outside the law that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

When it comes to the believer’s relationship with the world, it’s not about loving how right we think we are, then insisting that the world become like us. Rather, we become like them in order to love them, honor them, serve them. And hopefully during that interaction God gives them ears to hear and eyes to see … and are saved.

 

“As for the one who is weak, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes [one thing] while the weak person [another].  Let not the one despise the one … and let not the one … pass judgment on the [other]. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls … Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind  … For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give an account of himself to God” (sel. fr. Rom. 14). 

Welcome them. Be fully convinced, that’s fine … but don’t quarrel over opinions. Just don’t! And certainly don’t despise or pass judgment.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:23-33).

Give no offense! Try to please everyone. Because the issue isn’t who’s right. The issue is what will helps promote the truth, and salvation.

CONCLUSION: When we have sharp disagreements, mature people have the capacity to love their neighbor rather than insist on their own correctness. Mature people keep the bigger picture in view, not the heat of the momentary issue. Mature people humble themselves by crawling into the existence of the other — doing all they can to understand their hearts and minds — so that love will prevail over our contention.

* EO

 

 

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False Teaching – God’s Truth Isn’t Relative

There are so many warnings against false teaching in the scriptures.

false_360_189_90“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt. 7:15).

“At [the end times] many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:10-13)

“False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard” (Mark 13:22-23).

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom. 16:17-18).

“Such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth (2 Tim. 2:15-18)

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

ear tickleIn the presence of God and of Christ Jesus … I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:1-4)

“There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3). 

This is “a thing”. A big thing! We can tell, because it’s repeated over and over in scripture. It’s like the incessant nature of gravitational pull – for some reason (I would say the fall), we have this inclination to drift from the pure truths laid out by Christ. And the consequences are fatal.

Pillar and FoundationOur cities, littered with denominational church institutions of numerous stripes, stands as a testimony to this reality in our day. Clearly, all “truths” are not created equal. In a culture where truth is relative, and everyone’s truth “ought to be honored”, it may be politically incorrect to insist on doctrinal purity … but it is no less important, and perhaps never more urgent. Churches need to be more effective at being the “pillar and foundation of the truth” in our world (1 Tim. 3:15). But individual believers also need to be relentlessly thorough in their knowledge about God. 

(To be continued…)

-EO

 

 

 

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1st Day of Christmastide

advent1“How can you believe in Jesus when there’s so much hatred in the world?”

Today’s Christmastide text is 1 John 4:7-16. All of these truths come from this passage:

  • if-god-exists-then-why-is-there-so-much-evil-in-the-world-todayThe Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Merry Christmas!
  • God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. The coming of Jesus is more than a sentimental idea … it’s a revelation of divine love, and is meant to change the way we live our lives.
  • Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. Right. 
  • In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son. If we want more love in the world, we need to realize it’s found in God, not in ourselves without God.
  • Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. An un-loving world is a godless world. Knowing God is the only genuine antidote for loveless living. Trying hard to be more loving, without God … well, it’s a cul-de-sac.
  • We have known and believe the love that God has for us. This is what’s critically missing in our world. Many don’t know about what Jesus means, and many who have heard don’t believe.
  • By this we know that we abide in him and he in us – he has given us of his Spirit … God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. God visited us in the person of Jesus that first Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us. Ever since, He has come to open hearts and minds by His Holy Spirit – the very presence of God, abiding in us.

love-is-possibleStrange that the world blames God for its lack of love. In Christ He came to show how we should live — and by our experiencing His Spirit, He empowers us to make it happen. In short – God has offered the solution to the hatred in our world.

So, who’s really to blame for our lack of love? To a degree, Christians … who have defaulted in our call to share the truths of Christmas, and encourage knowledge of and belief in God. But mostly, it’s our collective penchant for godlessness, which seems to be growing more every day in the Western world.

Lord, you have gifted the world with an amazing capacity to be loving and compassionate. Thank you that millions are receiving this truth around the world. I pray for our country, which seems bent on detaching from You, and trying to do our best without you. Please help your people to effectively live out Spirit-inspired love, and share the truths of Jesus boldly. Amen. 

– EO

 

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