Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 10: The Heidelberg Catechism

Shortly after the Protestant Reformation shook Europe and the religious world, both Protestants and Catholics vigorously engaged in an educational project, the chosen means of which was the catechism. Many Protestants mistakenly think that the catechism originated in the Roman Catholic Church. I have head such claims with my own ears. But that is not the case. As far as we can tell Martin Luther was the first to use this type of back and forth style for teaching when he wrote his first catechism in 1528 and then his larger one in 1529. After that the gates were open and catechisms began to appear in all corners of the church.

One early catechism that has become a staple even to this day was the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). It is the standard—along with the Cannons of Dort and the Belgic Confession—of … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions and Catechisms Part 9: Council of Trent

We have been surveying a number of important Christian Creeds, Confessions, Councils, and Catechisms with the goal of understanding what we believe and why we believe it and also so that we might understand the way our doctrine has developed over the centuries. This week is a slight deviation of that, in so far as this Council—the Council of Trent—is not a universally received council. In fact, as we will see, this is a response to the challenges from the Protestant reformers and reformation.

Shortly after the Protestant Reformation erupted (ca. 1517) the Roman Catholic Church launched its Counter-Reformation (sometimes called the Catholic Reformation). It had to. The Roman Catholic Church was feeling the heat of the Protestant full court press and it needed to clarify its teaching and respond to concerns raised about and accusations against it. The Counter-Reformation was … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 8: Councils of Carthage and Orange

The councils of Carthage (419) and Orange (529) lack the ecumenical pedigree of Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon and Constantinople—neither of them being recognized as an ecumenical council—but they are, nevertheless, noteworthy, especially to reformed and Calvinist Christians.

Like the other councils, there were personalities and important historical figures lurking behind the scenes and at play. For the councils of Carthage and Orange those personalities are none other than the North-African bishop Augustine and the British monk Pelagius.

The back story is this. Pelagius was a really devout and pious guy—which is interesting at a number of levels, not the least of which is in church history how many errors and heresies come from well-meaning and pious individuals. In fact, much of his theology arose from a concern of a lack of holiness which he witnessed among many Italian Christians. He was a monk … Read More »

Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 7: Athanasian Creed

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, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 6: Second Ecumenical Council

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, Councils, Confessions and Catechisms Part 5: Council of Chalcedon

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, Councils, Confessions, and Catechisms Part 4: Council of Ephesus

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, Councils, Confessions and Catechisms Part 3: Nicene Creed

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 »


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 »