You Say WHAT? – 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 – Athanasian Creed
Trinity Sunday – June 10-11, 2017
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:13-14
The family had been home from church and Sunday School, dad was reading the paper and little Johnny asked: “Dad, who is God? My Sunday School teacher said that God is like water because it can be liquid, steam or ice, but it’s still water. But then Pastor Davis said that God is like a pie that can be cut into three equal pieces – but it’s still a pie. Peter said that his Sunday School teacher told them that God is like an egg – with a shell, a yoke and some white stuff, but it’s still an egg. So, Dad, which is it?” (The dad thought for a moment and then replied: “Go ask your mother…”)
The answer to this question is certainly not a simple answer! We take it for granted that people know “who God is?” We teach our children to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven…” We teach them to sing: “Jesus loves me this I know.” And then on Pentecost we talk about the Holy Spirit. In church, at baptisms, we confess that we believe in God the Father almighty; in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life… We confess we believe in the Triune God; we don’t try to define Him. Because He is God, He is far beyond our reason, sense and experience. He created us – we didn’t create Him. Three in One – One in Three – Trinity – this is beyond our experience; contrary to our human reason. It must simply be confessed with child-like faith.
And we confess this because this is how Jesus has revealed God to us.
In spite of all psychology, psychiatry, therapy groups and counselors, we cannot even under-stand the nature of our fellow man; and yet there are those who expect that we should understand God! The Apostle Paul writes: “For who among men knows the thoughts of man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned…” (1 Corinthians 2:11-16)
Because the answer to “Who is God?” is so very important, and because of false teachings that continue to plague the truth, the Church confesses Creeds, concise statements of what God’s Word teaches, as an aid and means by which to teach the important truths of God’s Word. We confess 3 “ecumenical” or universally confessed Creeds: the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are both familiar because we regularly use these in worship; but the Athanasian Creed is seldom used, and is virtually unknown because of its length and seldom use. However, on this Trinity weekend, we again publicly confess this wonderful creed.
The Athanasian creed is very different from the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which devote one article to the Father, another to the Son and a third to the Holy Spirit. The Athanasian Creed “draws the line” between the true teachings and the false teachings from God’s Word. This Creed has “very exclusive clauses.” Many in the church, both pastors and laymen have taken offense at these “exclusive clauses” wanting rather to teach a type of “watered-down doctrine” that won’t exclude or offend anyone from salvation.
This is not faithful to God’s Word – therefore in the Athanasian Creed we confess: (1,2) “whoever will be saved shall, above all else, hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone keeps whole and undefiled, without doubt will perish eternally.” (40) “This is the catholic faith which, except a person believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” We boldly confess this because God’s Word clearly states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 – Peter) This is no wishy-washy statement! And neither is our confession! Unless a person “believes faithfully and firmly” (40) in the true teachings of the Bible (“the catholic faith”), he (she) cannot be saved!
But, wait a minute – do we believe in “the catholic faith?” Many (most) people today probably think of (capital C) the Roman Catholic Church. But the word “catholic” (small “c”) simply means “universal” or “of use to all people.” The “faith” or “teachings from God’s Word” are readily available to all people – since they are written clearly in God’s Word, the Bible. In this creed we confess that the “catholic” or “Universal” teaching is that God is “One God in Three Persons and Three Persons in One God.” This is a great mystery and beyond human reason and understanding.
Can you imagine being born blind and someone trying to describe the colors of a sunset or a rainbow? That is a good comparison of our struggle with human words to describe God!
For lack of a better way and in order to make our confession, we speak of God as “Three Persons, yet one God.” And we speak of the relationship between the Three Persons: (21) “the Son is begotten of the Father, and (22) the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” We use the term “begotten” to mean “the one and only”, “one of a kind;” NOT that Jesus was “born” of the Father. God’s Word tells us: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten (one and only) Son…” (John 3:16) Because we lack a better term, we use “begotten” / “one of a kind” – “truly unique!”
And we confess: the Holy Spirit’s relationship is that of “proceeding from the Father and the Son.” Jesus tells us, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26) This is NOT rank (of importance) but ORDER – (like the order in our calendar – Christmas/Father; Easter/Son, Pentecost/Holy Spirit.)
In the same way, although we don’t understand it, we know that we are “body and soul;” / we bring our children and others to be baptized, knowing that the water of Baptism (not simple water, but included with God’s command and connected with God’s Word – joins us in Christ’s death and resurrection) / we confess because we also know from God’s revealing to us, the mystery of Jesus’ true body and blood (in, with and under) bread and wine / and we know and believe that mystery of God hearing and answering our prayers. God’s Word changing our lives.
Again, on this Trinity weekend, we are humbled and awed at the great mystery and majesty of God, and we are extremely thankful that He has revealed Himself to us through His Word, otherwise we would know NOTHING about Him! Therefore, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, and faithful to the privilege of serving as fathers and mothers – we want to “impress these commandments (truths from God’s Word) on our children. Talking about (God – including the tough questions like “Who is God?”) when we sit at home… walk along the road… lie down and… get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
May God help us to “believe faithfully and firmly” the catholic (Universal) truth from God’s Word, so we may “believe it and teach it faithfully and firmly” to our children so that we, with our children and others, “without doubt” know that we are saved!
Would you like to talk more about this Creed? Both Pastor Snow and myself would welcome a chance to visit more about what we confess in these words. Please give us a call or e-mail us.
We looking forward to seeing you at worship this next weekend!