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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bored Asks about Creeds

bored has left a new comment on your post "The Feast of Holy Trinity":

Hi Dr. Jackson,

I asked my pastor a question about the Athanasian Creed and I didn't get a good answer. I'm curious to know how you'd respond.

In order for a person to be saved, the Creed states, the Creed must be believed. That is to say, the writers of the creed say a belief in their definition of the Trinity is a condition for salvation. How is this assertion, not ignoring Rev 22:19, by adding to Scripture? (the Nicene and the Apostles Creeds do not do this.) And, regarding what the Creed says, where does Scripture so specifically detail how the persons of the Trinity are related to each other?

It is impossible that a person can be saved while doubting or denying the divinity of Christ--or denying that he was and is simultaneously God and perfect man. Likewise, it's impossible to be saved while doubting or denying the Godship of any of the members of the Trinity. Scripture is explicit about these things. But yet I don't find in Scripture a promise of hell to those who don't believe the mathematically finite definition of the Trinity described in the Creed.

One example is when the Creed says that the Holy Spirit "proceeds" . It's imaginable that there are faithful Christians who disagree with this description, but who ascribe to everything Scripture says about the Holy Spirit. Another example is calling each member of the Trinity "unlimited". While God is certainly unlimited, I think each member of the Trinity could be described as limited, if only because God limits his distinct persons to specific roles. The Holy Spirit didn't die on the cross, and that in itself could be described a limit. So is it entirely accurate to say that all three persons of the Trinity are individually unlimited?

Of course, that answer depends on how you look at it; but that's the problem with threatening hell to those who fail to believe a man-made document. And beyond that, isn't it possible for a person to be mistaken about a doctrine and yet be saved? The Athanasian Creed does a good job of describing the Holy Trinity per Scripture, and I think the more doctrines a man is mistaken about, the more his faith is at risk; but it is beyond the scope of human discernment to state that a man must ascribe to this or that particular way of describing God or face damnation.

I may currently misunderstand a hundred things about Bible or about God. I've found myself to be wrong before and I expect I will in the future. One thing I am certain of is that Jesus' life, death and resurrection are the full and perfect substitution and exchange for my own sinful life. My faith makes me certain --and by this faith I'm declared holy in God's sight. I am justified by Faith worked in me by the Holy Spirit. But the threats of damnation found in the Anthansian Creed, it is reasonable to suggest, lead a Christian to doubt his salvation. You can imagine the questions: "What if I don't believe the exact right thing about creation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the Office of the Keys? What if I've been deceived? What if I'm wrong about what is (or what isn't) adiaphora? Will this damn me?"

It is wise and good to believe the right things (I don't suggest that it's unimportant), but where do we draw the line about what is necessary for Salvation? The Athanasian Creed certainly draws the line, and I'm not too comfortable with where it draws it. I may not have "asked" anything in question form here, but I am still asking a question. I'm very curious to see what you have to say.


GJ - A creed is man's response to the Word of God. The first is man's understanding of the Word while the second is the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

The first three confessions in the Book of Concord are the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. By placing those Ecumenical Creeds first, the Book of Concord is placing the Lutherans within the universal tradition of Christian orthodoxy rather than creating a brand. Statements from the early church fathers, within the documents in the Book of Concord and appended to the work, also anchor the Lutheran Church within this catholic (world-wide) church.

The trouble with more elaborate and philosophical expressions, like the Athanasian Creed, is the use of terms foreign to our thinking. There may be arguments against something we do not recognize as an issue. Those early authors would be appalled at the things beyond debate today, such as promoting rock music, dumping the liturgy and creeds, and offering New Age Nappy Hill philosophies as sermon material.

Chemnitz has a fine quotation in Examination of the Council of Trent, where he cited the early councils bringing out copies of the Gospels while setting aside all creeds. When the water is muddy, one returns to the source, the Scriptures.

Lutherans devote a lot more time to blogging than to study, and they love to dance with the lesser documents of the church, the more obscure the better. The momentary statement of a Midwestern sect, a group founded on adultery and kidnapping, has become more significant than the Book of Concord and the Scriptures themselves.

I do not like creeds when they are used as a rabbit's foot, an empty declaration precluding any debate. However, I have never seen a UOJ warrior win a single point from the Book of Concord. They might as well try to prove that Mrs. Miller could sign or that Paul Kelm is a Lutheran.

We have to begin with Scriptural exegesis, not with assumptions. Walther began with his propositions, and his disciples started by assuming he was always correct. In contrast, the works of Luther consist of Scriptural explanations so insightful that a Catholic nun asked me, "How can a Medieval monk write for me, from 500 years ago?" My answer was, "Because he taught the Word of God, which is always relevant."

One should not be surprised that the stealth Lutheran congregations avoid the creeds in their services, just like the Babtists they admire and emulate - even steal from.

Bored, your question could be asked about the Scriptures too. No one knows all of the Scriptures. If we are persistent in our study of the Word, we continue to gain insight and often find that old puzzles disappear with time and experience. Saving faith is to trust in the merits of Christ alone for our salvation.

The Christian faith is attacked along three fronts - the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, and justification by faith. The Lutheran Reformation did not debate the Trinity or the Person of Christ with the Church of Rome, but justification by faith ignited the brushwood piled up in the Medieval Church.

I hope I have started an answer to your question.