Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of May 27, 2018

The length of the Creed alone and its tongue twisting turns of phrase could be why historically the Athanasian has not been worked into the “regular rotation” with the Apostles and Nicene in worship.  However, it has traditionally been used on Trinity Sunday. 

Athanasius, from Alexandria Egypt, has been called the champion of “Nicene Orthodoxy.”  While a deacon, he was present at the council of Nicea and along with the church father Eusebius defended the Biblical teaching of the nature of God against the Arian heresy.   A church leader named Arius taught that Jesus was not the eternal second person of the Godhead but a created being.  Modern day ‘political’ sloganeering might have had its beginning in 325 AD Nicea with the Arian movement.  Arius and his followers declared, “There was when he was not.”  In other words, they said that Jesus had not always existed and that He was not begotten of the Father but God’s first created work.  Athanasius, and the champions of Nicene (Biblical) Orthodoxy repeated returned to the texts of the Bible, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  (John 1)

Eventually the Council of Nicea would affirm the Biblical truth of the nature of our Triune God in the creed named after the council; but that was not the end of the story.  In fact, it wasn’t long after that a new Roman Emperor would assume power.  Emperor Constantius was a convinced Arian.  Under Constantius’ rule the Arian heresy became the de facto official position of the church as Bishops and theologians who held to Nicene orthodoxy were sent into exile or driven into hiding; including Athanasius.  In what can only be called Divine irony, the death of the churched emperor Constantius and subsequent rule of his pagan cousin Julian ‘saved’ orthodoxy.  Whereas Julian had no interest in which theological position held sway within the church those living Bishops in hiding were able to return and take up the Biblical cause again.  Athanasius led the way.  Finally, after his death, at the Second Church Council in Constantinople the Biblical position as taught in the Nicene Creed was again affirmed, Arianism was defeated, and another Creed was authored; the one we call the Athanasian Creed.

As technical and deeply theological as the Creed may be, it is its last simple line that might be most confounding, “Those who do good will go to eternal life and those who do evil will go eternal fire/death.”  At first glance it could seem that these words oppose the Biblical teachings of grace and faith alone.  Yet, upon a deeper read we notice “good” and “evil” are complete terms.  The Creed does not say those who do “MORE good THAN evil” and those who do “MORE evil THAN good” go to their eternal destination.  Rather, good and evil are total and complete terms. 

These words, much like the end of Jesus parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, understand that the “good” are those who have been declared to be such through faith in Christ and thus they are seen by God as “good, holy and pure” on account of Jesus; while the “evil” are those who because they have no faith, have nothing but their own nature and work to offer.  Thus the Creed isn’t teaching salvation by works but rather the reality that those who trust in Christ, and are thus saved by His Grace through faith, are seen by God as totally and perfectly holy and “good” on account of being covered in Christ’s own holiness and “goodness.”        
-Pastor Kevin Kritzer


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