The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2017
The Epistle – Galatians 6:11-18
The Gospel – Matthew 6:24-34
Article 8 – Of The Creeds
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
In this 8th Article that we are addressing today, we are told about three Creeds; The Nicene, The Apostles’ and the Athanasian.
These three ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.
The Nicene Creed is what we almost always, without fail confess each Sunday or any time the Holy Eucharist is celebrated.
The Apostles’ Creed is the standard creed that is confessed at Morning and Evening Prayer. The Nicene is optional for both offices.
The Athanasian Creed, which is not in our Prayer Book, is nevertheless an important and indispensible Creed of the Church…. developed (not by Athanasius by the way but in the early half of the 6th century) and used as a teaching tool as well as a confession.
Its structure is quite different from the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.
The inclusion of this Article in the 39 Articles is to cement the fact that Anglicanism was, in the 16th century, despite reforms made in the Church, still firmly grounded in the Catholic Tradition.
Anglicanism confesses the same Creeds as the Ancient Church and remains firmly Catholic, yet Reformed at the same time.
This was no new Church being formed…but the ancient catholic Church being re-formed away from the errors the Roman Church had slowly, gradually piled up.
The Anglican Church was reclaiming her rightful place as a purified catholic Church and the Articles explain how and why.
The latter half of the Article notes that these three creeds ought to be thoroughly believed and received.
This means that any Confessing Anglican Christian is to acknowledge these three Creeds as authoritative.
They are authoritative, because as the Article goes on to say, “…they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy scripture.”
In other words, the Creeds are a summary of Bible teaching…condensed down into major points that are most significant and important for any and all Christians to know to his soul’s health.
Every point in each of the three Creeds is found in the Bible.
Each concept is pulled from the teaching of the Bible.
Though not all words in the Creeds are found in the Bible….like Trinity, the concept of the Trinity is clearly set down in the Bible and can be drawn from it by careful reading.
Another point is also implied here in this article…and that is: The Bible has the greater authority.
We do accept the Creeds as they are in agreement with what the Scriptures teach. The Church has deemed the Creeds to be Biblical, therefore we accept and confess the creeds as statements of Biblical Truth.
But the Bible remains the final authority on Christian doctrine. This is what is meant by sola scriptura…scripture alone.
The Scriptures are the final authority over all creeds, councils, bishops, Church Fathers, etc.
We need not trace the history of each of the Creeds here, however it might be of some use to mention briefly some of the highlights of the Athanasian Creed, since it is the least known of the three by American Christians in particular.
The Athanasian Creed is, again, a 6th century creation. Not that of Athanasius. But it clearly reflects what he believed and defended.
Its form and layout differ somewhat from the other two.
It begins, “Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.
So very firm words here to its value.
Then it begins, “Now this is the catholic faith.”
It then proceeds to speak in a very ordered and clear and systematic way about the Christian faith and all that it entails.
“The Father is uncreated,
The Son is uncreated,
The Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable,
The Son is immeasurable,
The Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal,
The Son is eternal,
The Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet there are not three eternal beings.
Nor are there three uncreated or immeasurable beings.
There is but one uncreated immeasurable being.”
It even closes with familiar words about Christ’s passion, death, descent, resurrection and ascension….His sitting at the right hand of God and of His coming judgment.
Then it has these last lines.
“At his coming all people will arise bodily and give an accounting of their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life. Those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.”
Anyone who tells you that doctrine does not matter…and that it only matters that you do good, or that you love Jesus or that you believe… has no idea what they are talking about.
Doctrine matters absolutely.
If we don't know who Jesus is or what he came to do or why he was crucified or why he died or why the resurrection is so central and important, then why do good, why love Jesus or why have faith and believe?
We must know the person we are to love and follow and imitate and rely on. And the Creeds do just that.
They fill in the blanks. They inform us as to who Christ is…who the Father and the Holy Ghost are.
They tell us the vital important points of the faith that we must hold to and must believe to our soul’s health and so we don't fall into error.
To worship Christ incorrectly is sin. To misrepresent him is sin. To teach that he is something else like created, or he is the spirit brother of satan as the Mormons teach…is sin.
Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.
Right knowledge leads to right practice.
Rightly knowing God and the Christian faith leads to rightly living in the presence of God and loving and following and desiring Him.
How many people do we know who have the wrong understanding of Christ? They think he is a wise teacher…and he is in one sense…but he is much more than that.
How many people have strange notions of Jesus or the Holy Spirit? …or where we go when we die or heaven or judgment?
These are all important things to know and to know rightly to find salvation.
People can dream about a nice forgiving god who brings everyone to heaven, but this is not what the Bible teaches, nor the Creeds, nor the ancient Church or the Fathers confessed or taught.
And believing the wrong things about God and Christ is, as the Athanasian Creed states, not the catholic faith and one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.
To believe wrongly is to believe unfaithfully.
What has been handed down to us and preserved in the Creeds is what God wants us to believe faithfully…not things we imagine that are more palatable.
The Creeds are safeguards against heresy.
They guide us in the truths of the faith.
They set limits on speculations and ideas.
They keep us focused on the essentials of the faith.
The Creeds shape our understanding of the wider Christian faith. They inform us by small pictures of the bigger picture.
In today’s Epistle section from Galatians 6 Paul is closing his letter, so he is summarizing what he has said up to that point.
All of the doctrine and teaching of this letter is wrapped up in his final remarks where he says,
“And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16, ESV)
He speaks here of a rule… a rule whereby all should walk.
Rule here is regula, a straight edge. Or to keep straight …or to guide.
Do not our Creeds do this very thing? They keep us straight.
They provide a rule.
The Creeds provide a straightedge by which we can keep the catholic faith ordered rightly. A regular habitual course which all Christians are to adhere to.
Even in our Collect for today. We ask God for Him to keep us. Keep thy Church O Lord with thy perpetual mercy…and because man is so very frail, and without God cannot but fall…keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful…and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation.
God is our keeper.
Into things profitable.
Out of things hurtful.
There is this ongoing perpetual theme in the Church that her members have a great tendency to stray…to wander…to slip…to fall.
Men invent doctrines. They stray from the truth of the faith.
They wander into heresy and harm….they slip into error…they fall into temptation.
It is certain that the Creeds were crafted for these very reasons….Because of the frailty of man.
In fact we know this is true especially of the Nicene Creed. We have gone over this many times.
The Nicene Creed was the product of a couple of Church councils that were called because the Church was under attack from within.
Strange teachings which did not line up with Scripture…did not conform to Apostolic teaching were beginning to infiltrate the Church.
Straightforward, clear, concise doctrinal statements had to be made about…in this case… Christ.
He was not created as Arius taught.
He did not have a beginning.
He was not the first thing the Father created.
He was (and is) the eternal God.
He is a member of the Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Creeds are all clear on this.
Believe anything other than this and you are outside the catholic faith.
So our Creeds are a great blessing to us. They have their origin in the larger teachings we find in the Bible.
They are all carefully crafted to uphold pure Christian doctrine…and they keep the Church on the right path.
And they set forth the truths of the Christian faith so that the message of the Gospel can be kept pure and undefiled.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.