Know the Creeds, Confession, and Catechism, Part 7

Greetings to you from Greensboro, North Carolina.  Travel to this week’s General Assembly means that I can’t be with you today; and for that I am unusually bummed because this is a Sunday I look forward to every year.  On Trinity Sunday the church confesses her faith using the Athanasian Creed. Okay, some churches do. Full disclosure: not many churches use the Athanasian Creed anymore. In fact, some Christians have never heard of nor read the Athanasian Creed (which is, by the way, like an American never reading or hearing of the Constitution, but I digress). The reason? If you are reading this before worship, you will see in just a minute; if reading this after worship, you now know why. The Athanasian Creed is bulkier and more cumbersome than its ecumenical counterparts. In a word, it takes more effort … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Confession, and Catechisms, Part 6

By the time of the fourth century the city of Constantinople was a major player within Christendom. When Donald Trump builds hotels he puts his name — in all caps — on the front of them. Trump’s got nothing on Constantine. He named a city after himself, one that would become the heart of the empire for the next thousand years and would be universally recognized as a “symbol of imperial Christianity” (Holcomb). As such it was a place that was filled with massive Christian symbols—such as cathedrals—and a place that spawned many of the leading theologians of the church.

It’s not surprising, then, that this city would become the place where the second (381), fifth (553), and sixth (681) ecumenical councils of the church would be held. At the first meeting (381)—which was the Second Ecumenical Council and will be … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Confession and Catechisms, Part 5

In 431 the church met in Ephesus to take up Nestorius’s explanation of the union between Christ’s humanity and his deity. As history teaches us, this is a complex topic, one which took years—hundreds and thousands of them—for the church to work through. Nesotorius’s Christology was eventually rejected because of his emphasis on the distinction between Christ’s two natures and because of his emphasis on the humanity of Christ.

Between 431 and 451 in the person of Eutyches, the head of a monastery outside of Constantinople, there arose another attempt to reconcile the complexity of Christ as the God-man. If Cyril of Alexandria emphasized the deity of Christ and if Nestorius emphasized the humanity of Christ, Eutyches merged them together, emphasizing the union of the two natures to the point that there was only one new nature after the incarnation. This … Read More »

Knw the Creeds, Confession, and Catechisms, Part 4

The Council of Ephesus (AD 431) is recognized as the third of the seven ecumenical councils of the church. That’s the easy part. Equally easy is understanding what the council took up and concluded. The Nicene Creed was reaffirmed and Mary was declared to be theotokos, that is, the “bearer of God” or the “mother of God.” Getting underneath and behind this latter declaration is a bit trickier.

Two religious and equally political figures of the fifth century are at center stage: Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria. Depending on one’s sensibilities and one’s reading of history Cyril and Nestorius where either astute and thoughtful theologians or political thugs…or both. For example, on one occasion Nestorius burned down a chapel that belonged to the Arians—those who denied the deity of Christ. Only problem was the local fireman of the day … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Confession and Catechisms, Part 3

The Nicene Creed is arguably the most famous and important creed in all of Christendom. The fourth century was a tumultuous one, both politically and religiously. At the center of the religious upheaval was a man named Arius, a Presbyter from Alexandria, who taught that Jesus was something less than divine, something different than the Father who alone was God. There was also another religious man who needs mention: Athanasius. Also from Alexandria, Athanasius would later become Bishop of Alexandria and chief defender of the Holy Trinity.

The importance of the Nicene Creed simply cannot be overstated.

Politically the man that stood at the center was Constantine. After his dramatic victory at the Melvian bridge (312 AD) and his subsequent conversion to Christianity, Constantine became the chief promoter and defender of all things Christianity, demonstrated in acts like the Edict of Milan … Read More »

Eastertide

By those within and outside the church, this Sunday is commonly designated Easter Sunday. While that designation is most certainly true it can also lead to an unfortunate reduction in the historic observance and celebration of Easter. Contemporary observances of Easter–both within and outside the church–often reductionistically focus on just one Sunday designated Easter. Like with

Easter is the fifty-day period of feasting

many Christmas celebrations, it’s here today and gone tomorrow. But this is not the way the vast majority of Christians have and will celebrate Easter. Historically and traditionally Easter–similar to Christmas–is an extensive celebration lasting fifty days and has come to be known as the time of Eastertide. This Sunday is actually the first Sunday of Easter and there will be seven more after it. For the next seven weeks we will sing pointed songs about the resurrection … Read More »

Sunday of the Passion

This Sunday in Lent is often referred to as Palm Sunday. More commonly, however it is referred to as “Passion Sunday.” This is interesting and we will come back to that in a moment. Palm Sunday begins the most holy week for Christians, the week that will culminate in the resurrection of Jesus which we will celebrate on Easter.  Passion Sunday recalls Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem. It is because of this that many churches will gather outside the church first and then enter together as a symbol of Christ with his people preparing for the holy week which is about to begin. In many churches, the worship on this Sunday also includes the use of palm branches which reminds us of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” on that Sunday before Easter. Hence the church prays:

It is right … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Confession, and Catechisms – Part 2

Last week we introduced creeds and confessions and catechisms generally. Today we begin to think about them more specifically. The logical place to start is, of course, the Apostles’ Creed, because of its historic pride of place. To say that the Apostles’ Creed is old is an understatement. Forms of it date back to the middle of the second century (ca AD 140)! Its age no doubt gave rise to the myth—and it is a myth—that the Creed was written by the apostles themselves. Twelve lines, each written by one of the apostles. It’s better to see the appellation “Apostles’” as a reference not to authorship but to content. That is, this Creed summarizes the Apostles’ teaching.

Back to age for a moment. To put that in perspective, those who crafted this document likely had contact with those who had direct … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Confession, and Catechisms, Part 1

This morning we use the Apostles’ Creed as a means of confessing (Creed comes from the Latin credo meaning “I believe”) our faith in Christ. Sometimes the use of creeds and confessions and catechisms gives some folks pause. Why not just use the Bible? A fair question, for sure.

Originally used as baptismal professions and as instruction for new converts, historic creeds and confessions and catechisms give us the opportunity to “…learn alongside the saints and doctors and martyrs how to give ear to the gospel” (John Webster). In other words, they allow us to attach ourselves to the church’s doctrinal development over the course of the centuries. They invite us to be Christians in the best and broadest sense. We are not alone here. We are not the creators of our dogma. Rather, we are united in the great stream … Read More »