If you've been with us here at HTG since Christmas you'll know we've been going through the 39 Articles. The statement of faith that we hold to as an Anglican church. We've looked at the nature of God, who he is and what he's like. We've look at the Trinity. We've looked at the fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and considered his life and death and resurrection. We've thought about the Holy Spirit and his work. We've looked at the Bible and why we should trust it. And we've seen that the message of the Bible is the same all the way through.
And this week we come to Article 8, and here it is:
"The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture."
The question is, why did the founding fathers of the Anglican Church think that the 8th most important thing for us to understand and believe is that there are three creeds and we should accept them?!
What are the Creeds? Why do we say the creeds week after week? Where do they come from? Why are they important? Why do we have three, and not four or lots more? That's what we're thinking about this morning.
Now before any of you are tempted to think this is a good opportunity for a 20 minute nap this morning let me encourage you why you should keep listening. We're going to take a quick look at where the 3 Creeds came from and why they are important, but then I want to give you seven reasons why I think we should love the creeds.
There are three creeds which we hold to. 1) The Nicene Creed, 2) The Apostles' Creed and 3) Athanasius' Creed. Now if you've been at HTG for a while you may be thinking, we'll I've heard of Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, but what's Athanasius' Creed, and why don't we ever say that? Well that's a good question.
Firstly we hardly ever say Athanasius' Creed because it's so long! And secondly I've printed out copies which are available at the back of Church for you to pick up at the end. But what are these creeds and where do they come from?
A creed is simply a statement of faith.
The word Creed comes from the Latin 'Credo' which means 'I believe'. The Apostles' Creed wasn't written by the Apostles, but is based upon what the Apostles taught. It's the oldest creed we have and it's been repeated by Christians since around 200 A.D. The Nicene Creed was probably written at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. And Athanasius' Creed wasn't actually written by Athanasius (who was a bishop in Alexandria in the 4th Century). Instead it's a creed based on what he taught and was probably written in the second half of the 6th Century in France.
Now what's so special about these 3 Creeds or these statements of faith? Why should we believe them and repeat them week after week at church? Well the answer is the Creeds are not special because we believe them. Rather, we believe them because they are special. That's really important. The Creeds are not special because we believe them. Rather, we believe them because they are special. In other words, the Creeds are not special because the Church endorses them, that's what the Catholic Church teaches. But that is not what we believe. Look at the article again.
"The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: (Why?...) for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture."
The Creeds are special, they are worth learning and worth repeating, only in as much as they sum up for us what the Bible has to say. Anything we believe is only worth believing if it comes from the Bible. And we believe that these three Creeds accurately teach what the Bible teaches.
Well, you might say, if the Creeds just repeat what the Bible says, then why do we need the Creeds? Why not just have the Bible? Why should we care about the Creeds? Here are my seven reasons to love the Creeds.
1) Creeds are Biblical
In 2 Timothy 1.13-14 Paul is writing to Timothy when he says this…
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Timothy was Paul's most loved disciple. He travelled with him on his missionary journeys and was sent by him to help lead various churches. Over the years Paul taught Timothy a great many things. But here we can see that at the heart of what Paul taught Timothy and what he expected Timothy to teach others was a core set of beliefs. There was an organized set of beliefs that made up Paul's "pattern of sound teaching".
Now we know, as Paul says later in that letter, that "All Scripture is God breathed." All of the Bible is important, we believe that every part of every book was given to us by God. There's nothing we need to add to it and we shouldn't take anything out of it. The whole Bible is vitally important. But that doesn't mean that all of the Bible is of equal importance. Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.1-4
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you were saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
There are some things, some beliefs that are more central than others. Some that are more important than others to accept and to agree upon. Paul calls these things the "things of first importance." And the creeds, and indeed the 39 articles, sum up what we believe are the things of first importance. So the first reason to love the Creeds is that they're Biblical.
2) Creeds make public what we believe
Look at what it says in 2 Corinthians 4
…we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
The second reason I think we should love the Creeds is that they make it absolutely plain what we believe. Just like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 we don't want to hide what we believe. If you come to HTG you're going to hear the Creed. You're going to know what we believe. And that's important because we want to be open about what we believe. If someone is thinking about joining HTG and making us their church, then we want them to know what they are getting into and what they can expect to be taught. Creeds make public what we believe.
3) Creeds guard against false teachers
In Matthew 7.15 Jesus warned his followers to,
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
How do we do that? How do we guard against false teachers? Well one of the ways is by saying the Creeds.
In 1984 the Bishop of Durham was a man called David Jenkins. And he said publically, while he was bishop, that the virgin birth wasn't necessarily true and that Jesus' resurrection from the dead was like a 'conjuring trick with bones'. Well, anyone who has ever said any one of the Creeds knows that what he said is not what the Bible says. The Creeds guard against false teachers.
Acts 17.11 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible, it says this
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thesssalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scripture every day to see if what Paul said was true."
Berea was a city in Greece. And when the Apostle Paul came and preached to the people living there they didn't believe what he told them just because he was an apostle! No, they made sure that what he said really did come from the Bible. And Paul himself says that's exactly right. In Galatians 1.8-9 he says this
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
The Creeds, and the 39 Articles, give us a standard to which we can hold people accountable. They help us guard against false teaching. Rod or Tom or I can't just stand up and say whatever we like each week. No, our job is to faithfully declare what is in the Bible. And if what we say isn't from the Bile, well then we're false teachers. And one of the best ways you can test what we say, is by using the Creeds. The fourth reason to love the Creeds is that
4) Creeds keep things in perspective
At every point in history the Church has particular battles to fight. The world around us is always pushing in on us. Teaching things that aren't Biblical and challenging things that are. And it is right for Christians to speak out on those issues. 100 years ago perhaps the issue was science and religion and whether evolution had disproved God. Today perhaps it is issues like sexual ethics, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, human rights, abortion and euthanasia. Those issues are important and we should be clear on what God says about them through the Bible. But they are not the most important issues. And the Creeds help to remind us of what is important, first and foremost.
Do you see? We should speak up about abortion, but not as much as we speak up about who God is or what he is like. People should hear us talking about Biblical sexual ethics, but much more often they should hear us talking about Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross. Creeds keep our teaching and our faith in perspective.
And Creeds also keep the message of the Bible in perspective. The Christian faith is complicated and complex. If you've been a Christian for any time at all you'll come up against questions about God's sovereignty and predestination and the problem of evil and suffering and all sorts of others with are incredibly hard for us to understand. Sometimes who God is and our relationship with him can seem very confusing. The Bible is a long and, at times, difficult book. But the creeds remind us that the heart of the Bible is pretty simple. The gospel is straightforward. We can summarize what we believe in just a few lines of a Creed. And that's important.
5) Creeds remind us that the truth isn't relative
In John 17 Jesus is praying for his disciples and he says to his Father
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
The Bible, the word of God is true, because God wrote it and God is truth. The fact that the Creeds were written and have remained unchanged for 100 of years is important. It reminds us as we say them that truth isn't relative. Truth is not relative, we don't reinvent what we believe with each new generation. The world around us does. But Christians don't. Because God is truth and God doesn't change and his word doesn't change.
The Bible isn't like school textbooks which have to be updated every few years to reflect the new things we've discovered or the old thing we've disproved. No, the Bible is true. It is the Truth. And we learn and repeat creeds based on the Bible that Christians have been saying for 100 of years, because the truth isn't relative.
Which leads onto the next reason to love the Creeds
6) Creeds unite us to other Christians
Of course Christians sadly disagree over a great many things, and not all of the Church holds to each of the three Creeds as we have them. But an amazing number of Christians all over the world and throughout the centuries do. So when we say the words of the Creeds we are joining together with literally billions of brothers and sisters who declare the same faith That is a special thing to do.
7) Creeds help up to learn and stop us forgetting
One author I read as I prepared this sermon was speaking about creeds and confessions when he said this.
"For the most part, everything we need to learn is what we've already forgotten." That's true isn't it? In general I find that I am slow to learn and quick to forget. And the Creeds help to stop that. The Creeds are designed to be short and memorable. They are designed to be easy to remember, so that we might not forget our faith.
A couple of years ago Gayles and I were camping in the wild in Canada. In the middle of the night we were woken up by the most terrifying storm I have ever been in. The thunder, lightning and rain went on for what seemed like hours. And I honestly thought we were going to die. And as we lay in our tent, unable to do anything to save ourselves, Gayles and I prayed and sang Christian songs that reminded us that God was in control! I wonder if you've ever been in a situation where you are so frightened or so confused that you have found yourself saying
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul
Has that ever happened to you?That's what the Creeds are for. When we are facing trials, or are in the middle of struggles, we can say to ourselves: "I believe in God, the father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord…" The Creeds help us to learn and stop us forgetting.
Those are my top seven reasons why we should love the Creeds, I'm sure there are many more. But as we finish I want us to consider two dangers that come with the Creeds. The First is
We think too much of the Creeds
We must always remember that they are not Scripture. They are not the Truth, they are attempts to summarise the Truth. And as Article 8 says we should hold on to them only as far as they faithfully reflect Scripture. That's the first danger, but to be honest I don't think it's a danger that most of us face. For most of us I think the danger we face is that
We think too little of the Creeds
It's easy isn't it, when we say them so often and we're so familiar with them, that we forget how special and important the Creeds are. We can stand and say them almost without thinking can't we? The words just trip off our tongue. Like food in our fridge or water in our taps, we're so familiar with them being there that we forget how privileged we are to have them, and how much poorer our lives would be without them.
And as we say it, let's remember, that the Creeds They are Biblical They make public what we believe They guard us against false teachers They keep things in perspective They remind us that the truth isn't relative They unite us with other Christians And they help us to learn and stop us forgetting