Trinity Sunday— Athanasian Creed

Trinity Sunday and Athanasian Creed

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday in the liturgical calendar. For most Christians who follow such a calendar, it means that we speak together the Athanasian Creed. For some that might conjure images of drudgery, reciting words, upon words, upon words. Some would like to sit down, and snooze while the rest drone on.

But it need not be that way. In our congregation, we use the responsive reading form that CPH put out a few years ago. It breaks the creed into sections that become antiphonal (you can look up that word), and the responsive sections break into male and female responses. Excellent resource, CPH Athanasian Creed

Not again!?!

Over the past six decades I have heard sermons preached on Trinity Sunday that try to “explain” the Trinity, without much success. The apple (core, meat, skin), the three-leaf clover, and especially H2O (water, steam, ice), and the list goes on. Long ago I gave up on this approach. Each one might offer a glimpse into one small aspect of the Trinity. But most people walk away with a modalist view of the Trinity (one God taking three forms) rather than the Biblical view of the Trinity.

So a sermon on the Trinity? Obviously any of the texts chosen for the day can be used. If we preach one of those texts, let’s be honest and preach the text, not trying to force it into a doctrinal presentation of the Trinity. Likewise if we preach on the Trinity, let’s be honest and do so as a doctrinal confessing point, rather than trying to maneuver a Biblical text to fit what we want to preach. I think as we keep these two approaches in mind, we can avoid the “not again” problems of Trinity Sunday. Rather we can faithfully peach the Trinity without trying to explain the unexplainable.

Breath of Fresh Air

What makes the Athanasian Creed refreshing? It is not meant as a common sense explanation or science explanation of the Trinity. Rather the creed is conprehensive, but is confessed, not explained. Sometimes the speaking of the creed is far better than trying to explain something that is unexplainable. In the Church today I think we need more confessing of the faith in the creeds than explanations or dissections and arguing over the creeds. Note: there is a place to hold such doctrinal discussion. But worship is not the place for such discussions.

I think in the grander scheme of history of the Christian Church symbols of the Trinity have served the Church well rather than explanations. Thus, the designs used on the paraments, stoles, etc. function as visual reminders of the truth of the Trinity and what is confessed, not explanations.

Let’s believe, teach, and confess this wonderful creed, not only on Trinity Sunday but whenever necessary and helpful.

You can find the three ecumenical creeds here: Ecumenical Creeds

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“Incomplete” Lutherans

The book, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith, reflects Sasse’s battle against the Protestant attempt to present a unified statement of faith against the Nazi movement in Germany in the 1930’s. From the Protestant view, all movements coming out of the Reformation would be best combined, even if there was no acknowledgement of the theological/doctrinal differences. Karl Barth was the major proponent of such a declaration (eventually the Barmen Declaration). 51ljQIsee0L._SL500_SL160_

One area of interest was (and is) how the Reformation is viewed historically and theologically. For many, the Reformation includes many strands of equal importance: Lutheran, Reformed, Calvinism, etc. And yet is that how we as Lutherans understand the Reformation?

The Accusation against Lutherans

Sasse presents the general Protestant view of the Reformation, which is a skewed view as if the “Lutheran Reformation” was incomplete, didn’t go far enough. That still is a problem today, perceiving the Reformation through the lens of the general Protestant perspective. Sasse lays out the accusation against Lutherans this way.

This is the accusation that we Lutherans overestimate our reformation by thinking of it as the Reformation of the church, and by thinking of our church as the church of the Reformation. In truth, however, the Lutheran Reformation is only the beginning, and only a part, of the Reformation as such. There were other Reformers in addition to Luther, and besides the Wittenberg Reformation there were, of course, others—such as the Zürich and the Geneva Reformation. The Reformation is made up of all these reformations put together. Luther’s new insight of faith is not the “Reformation faith” until it is supplemented by the insights of faith which the other Reformers contributed. Inasmuch as the Lutheran Church has overlooked or forgotten this, and has isolated itself from the other churches of the Reformation, it has slipped into a false relationship both to the Roman Church and to those other Reformation churches. It has not remained sufficiently apart from the Roman Church, and it has not realized that, for better or worse, its fate is intimately bound up with that of the other churches of the Reformation. Thus the Lutheran Church has taken its stand in an uncertain middle position between the other two. It has not found its way entirely out of Catholicism. It still needs to be drawn from the limitations of its narrow horizon to an experience of the whole Reformation—the whole Reformation in the double sense of a complete and radical reform which has its roots in obdeience to God’s commands and consequently triumphs over Catholicism, and of an inclusive reform which does not limit itself to Luther’s teaching alone.

This is the accusation which is lodged against our church by all the other Protestant churches—the charge which has been made incessantly for the last four hundred years, especially by our sister church, the Reformed. (Sasse, Here We Stand, pp. 85-86)

Yes, I still hear and read of such charges against Lutherans. Yet as Sasse begins to deal with this accusation, he rightly addresses the problem from the perspective of “The Reformation and the Confessional Problem” (pp. 86-96). And from there he addresses “the Lutheran and Reformed churches” (pp. 97-109).

Sadly even some Lutherans do not want to address the issue of what it means to confess the faith. In today’s world, such a stance is critical. To take a confessional stance does not mean that we follow Martin Luther himself (as often assumed). Rather, we confess the faith as Luther did and as the Christian church has from the very beginning. “Justification by grace through faith in Christ” (or expanded: “justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone”), is not one of many doctrines, but rather the chief article of faith, the center of all else. The other “alone” statement is “Scripture alone.” (I will post more on these topics in a future post).

Note, too, that taking a confessional stand does not mean arrogance, pride, haughtiness, verbal attacks, personal insults. None of those are from the fruit of the Spirit and do not reflect what our confessional documents desire. Rather, it means that we take seriously what it means to “believe, teach, and confess” the faith. And we take seriously the confessional documents (the Book of Concord) which repeatedly claim, “The Church has always taught.” There is for us as Christians who confess the faith as Lutherans the continuity with the Christian church through the ages, not an independent movement disentangled from anything prior to 1517.