The Ecumenical Creeds

The Lutheran Confessions  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Brief overview and teaching on the Ecumenical Creeds

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Introduction: Why do we need creeds?

Creeds are necessary and inevitable. Any time you make a statement about what you believe, you are stating a “creed.”
Some Christians will claim that they don’t need any creeds or have any creeds– “No creed but the Bible” they say. Well, this simply isn’t true. In the first place, the word “creed” comes from the Latin word “credo,” which means, “I believe.” Any statement regarding a belief that you hold is, therefore, a “creed.” And so, “No creed but the Bible” is a creed. It is a confession of what the one saying it believes. They believe that the Bible is all that they need to believe. This is a statement of belief. A creed. And so the argument falls on its own sword.
Secondly, this statement is patently false. What is it they believe about Holy Scripture and what it says? How do they determine what it means? They seem to be claiming that all they need is their Bible and they don’t need what anyone else has said or how they have understood the Scriptures in order to know what they should believe. But none of us exists in a vacuum. We are dependent, whether we recognize it or not, on how those in the faith who have come before us have understood the Scriptures. Though it seems so pious to say that one only believes what the Bible says, the truth is that they are borrowing and making use of how those in the Church have understood the Scriptures. And without knowing how conclusions regarding the meaning of Scripture have been arrived at is dangerous and it hinders one’s ability to discern which interpretations are correct and which are not. And so the final arbiter or judge of what the Scriptures teach is themselves and their own subjective evaluation. This is no firm ground to stand on.
Creeds help us to summarize and memorize the content of Holy Scripture.
What we find in our creeds and confessions are summaries of what the Scripture teaches. Putting them into succinct statements helps us to distill the core message and teachings of the Scriptures in a way that we can help explain what the Scriptures are teaching and we can commit these statements to memory and this aids our own faith, our teaching of the Scriptures and the Christian faith, and thus, also, our ability to pass on the faith from generation to generation.
Creeds, in summarizing the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, can help to place boundaries for us as to what is orthodox, and what is heterodox, and what is heretical.
By focusing in on the core teachings of the Scriptures and summarizing them, the ecumenical creeds help to place boundaries for the Christian Church so that we can know what is within the realm of Christianity and what is not. These boundaries help to guide us in our understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures. They also then focus a lot like a litmus test for who is within the Christian faith and who is not. This helps us to discern the genuine article, as it were, from those who would put on a good appearance of being Christian but actually teach doctrines contrary to the Scriptures and, therefore, Christianity.
Orthodox: teaching that is in conformity with the Holy Scriptures
Affirmation of the Holy Scriptures as authoritative and inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Also confesses that the Scriptures are not only doctrinally accurate but also accurate historically and in whatever they say and claim.
Affirmation of the Holy Trinity–one God and three distinct persons
Affirmation of the exclusivity of Jesus–that he is the only way of salvation
Affirmation of the deity and humanity of Jesus
Confessing that Christ’s suffering and death made atonement for sinners
Confesses that God alone saves the sinner
Confesses the Biblical teaching concerning the Sacraments as God’s means of delivering the Gospel and faith to sinners
Heterodox: teaching that is contrary to the Scriptures, and so in error, but not to such a degree that it destroys or prevents saving faith
Errors regarding the Sacraments
Errors regarding the inspiration, accuracy, and authority of Scripture
Most American Christian churches
Evangelical Free Churches (E. Free or Ev. Free): depends on the congregation
Errors regarding Christian sanctification (the Christian life)
Rejection of baptismal regeneration
Errors regarding the degree to which and the ability of human beings to contribute to their salvation (make a decision, exercise their will, etc.) Move too much in the direction of human beings acting in their salvation and you can jump ship to the heresy section.
Most American Christian churches
Calvinists: depends on who you talk to and their definition of baptismal regeneration
Evangelical Free Churches (E. Free or Ev. Free)
Covenant Churches
Errors regarding “End Times” (Dispensationalism, Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialism, Rapture, Tribulation, etc.)
Most American Churches
Calvinist/Reformed Churches
Baptist Churches
Evangelical Free Churches (E. Free or Ev. Free)
Heresy: teaching that is contrary to to what the Scriptures teach to such a degree or extent that it destroys or prevents saving faith
Arminian Churches
Methodist Churches
Nazarene Churches
Wesleyan Churches
Heresy: teaching that is contrary to to what the Scriptures teach to such a degree or extent that it destroys or prevents saving faith
Rejection of the Trinity.
Oneness Pentecostalism (people like Bishop T.D. Jakes, the band Philipps, Craig, and Dean)
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Rejection of the humanity or deity of Jesus.
Docetism: taught that Jesus only appeared to be a man
Islam: rejects the deity of Christ; only accepts him as a human prophet of Allah.
Judaism: rejects the deity of Christ; sees him only as a human being who falsely claimed to be God’s Messiah.
Rejection of the death of Christ as making atonement for sins.
Denying the exclusivity of Christ–that he is the only way of salvation
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Teaching that the Christian can earn their salvation by doing enough good works (Pelagianism).
Creeds aid our faith in that they help us to memorize what God has done for us in Christ, and they give us something to confess when we are unsure of what we believe.
This is an important function of the creeds. There are times in our lives when we go through some form of testing and trial. This can occur through physical, mental, emotional, spiritual struggle. It can come through experiencing the attacks of others–both from within and from without the Church. This can also occur through mental illness or disability. At times like these, it can be difficult to keep clear in our minds what we believe and what is true. The creeds assist us in this because they are succinct summaries of the faith contained in the Scriptures and especially when we confess them on a regular basis, they become so ingrained into our memories and minds that even the withering assault on our mind that comes with various forms of dementia have a hard time driving from our memories. This is a great comfort to us.

The Apostles’ Creed

It’s earliest forms came into use probably before AD 150.
It was most likely used as a baptismal creed that was confessed by candidates of baptism before they were baptized.
It is the shortest of the 3 ecumenical creeds and the easiest to be memorized.
The creed confess the Triune God in its 3 articles.
Accepted by both the Western and Eastern Church.
Point of controversy in recent years: the descent of Christ into hell.

The Nicene Creed

This creed is confessed against the Arian heresy.
Confesses that Christ is of the same substance, or essence, as the Father, affirming his full divinity, which Arianism denied.
Confesses the eternality of Christ. Arius denied that Christ was eternal. He taught that Jesus was the first person created by God and so is the highest creation, but not eternal and uncreated. Taught that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Arianism was rejected as heretical at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
Confesses the Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.
The Council of Nicaea (modern-day Iznik, Turkey (just southeast of Istanbul)) was called in AD 325 to deal with the Arians.
“Nicene Orthodoxy” won the day (thankfully), but the struggle against the Arians would continue for almost 60 years. Arianism would almost win the day during this time.
Key figure: Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt.
The form as we know it today was the result of a second council, the Council of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, Turkey) in AD 381. The result was an expansion of the Nicene version of AD 325. For this reason, the Nicene Creed is also called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.
The creed in its Niceno-Constantinopolitan form is accepted by both East and West.
Controversial point: The addition of the filioque clause at the Third Council of Toledo in Toledo, Spain in AD 589.
A phrase was added concerning the Holy Spirit that he proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is called the “Filioque”, which is Latin for “and the Son.”
The Eastern Church does not accept this addition to the Nicene Creed. The reason largely seems to be because they were not invited to the Council to discuss the addition and work together with the Western Church on this issue.
The Lutheran Confessions accept the addition of the filioque because there is good Biblical support for understanding that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

The Athanasian Creed

Longest of the ecumenical creeds and most rarely used. If it is used at all, it is generally confessed only on Trinity Sunday.
Bears the name of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt. Though he didn’t write it, it reflects his theology and his fight against Arianism for the good confession that Christ is God eternal and not a created being. The Latin name for it is Quicunque Vult, which means, “whosoever wishes”–the first two words of the creed in Latin.
Probably assembled sometime between AD 450-AD 600.
Strongest and most succinct statement concerning the Holy Trinity.
Sometimes overlooked because of its fame as the best confession concerning the Holy Trinity, the Athanasian Creed also clearly and strongly confesses the humanity of Jesus through the Incarnation and his work of redemption on behalf of sinners.
Is not used commonly in the liturgical worship of the Eastern Church. Considered by them to be a Western creed rather than an ecumenical one.
The Lutheran Confessions accept the Athanasian Creed because of the Biblical truth it confesses concerning the Holy Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Point of interest: The phrase, “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed has become controversial among American Christians, at least. It is therefore interesting that the Athanasian Creed also confesses this truth and declares that one must believe it in order to be saved. But no comments that I am aware of in this controversy ever reference this fact.
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