Archives For Doctrine

Jamie and I didn’t formally catechize our children. Though we did spend a great deal of time with them in theological instruction and dialogue. But I agree with Tim Keller’s points and if we had it to do over again, I think we would. 

Should We Forgive God?

Chris —  August 16, 2016

Following my appearance on the national Moody radio program, Up for Debate, hostess Julie Roys asked me to write a guest post for her blog addressing the question, “Should We Forgive God?”

Here is how Julie introduced the post:

Today, people commonly talk about forgiving God. But, is this idea biblical? This question surfaced last Saturday on my radio show, Up For Debate, and sparked passionate dialogue. Interestingly, my guest, who maintained that forgiveness is unconditional, argued that we can forgive God. But, author and Pastor Chris Brauns, who believes forgiveness is conditional, argued emphatically that we cannot. He further asserted that the notion of forgiving God is inextricably linked with the notion that forgiveness is unconditional — something he defined as “therapeutic forgiveness.” Intrigued, I asked Pastor Brauns to follow up by writing a guest post for my blog on the topic. Graciously, he agreed —and I am so glad he did because I think his reflections are extremely helpful. Enjoy! —Julie

Read the rest here.

Baptism at the Red Brick Church in Stillman ValleySee if you can prayerfully fill in the blanks before Sunday’s sermon (6/19/16) at the Red Brick Church. For more on Sunday’s excitement, see this announcement

Update: Your can now listen to this sermon here.

The people at our church know that I am not generally a fan of “fill in the blank” sermon notes. However, given our baptism service on Sunday — and a crunch for time — I am providing more information than normal on our sermon notes including blanks to complete.

Here’s the challenge:

  1. Printout  (see below) or download the sermon notes.
  2. Study the text and collateral texts and see if you can anticipate where the sermon is going. Can you fill in the blanks?
  3. If you’re feeling really good – – send your notes to Chris is advance or bring them to church.
  4. Above all, pray! It’s going to be a great Sunday.

SERMON TITLE: The Story We are Living

Given the baptism service, our time is limited this morning. We will spend less time in pastoral prayer. Be sure and review the prayer requests on the back of the bulletin and be in an attitude of prayer for one another and throughout the service and week.

Our sermon text (Acts 8:26-40) makes each of the supporting points for the sermon. Notice I have also provided cross references which likewise teach these same truths. If you take the time this week to review these truths your faith will be strengthened as you are increasingly rooted in biblical thinking (Colossians 2:6-7).

Big Idea / Central Thought: As a local church, we are witnessing, l__________ & experiencing the s____________ of Acts 8:26-40.   

  1. Look up: a merciful God is s____________ s___________ (Acts 16:31, Ephesians 1:4-5)– [26] Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. [27] And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.
  1. Bow to the the e_______________ of Christ (Isaiah 45:22, John 4:22, Acts 4:12)- He had come to Jerusalem to worship (27b)
  1. Focus on the s_____________ of the W______________ of Christ (Romans 10:17)– [28] and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
  1. Humbly recognize the n____________ of pastors / evangelists (Luke 24:27, Ephesians 4:11-13, Romans 10:14-15) – [31] And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” . . . [35] Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
  1. Understand the a_______________ work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:21-25) (Hint: study “terms to know”) –

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5

  1. Picture the p___________ p______________of baptism (Matt 28:18-20, John 3:23, Acts 16:33, Romans 6:1-7) – (Hint: Nestea)

TERMS TO KNOW

Acts (The book of) – A New Testament book of the Bible written A.D. 70 by Dr. Luke. Luke also wrote the Gospel of Luke. The title of “Acts” references the “acts” or “deeds” of the Apostles of Christ. Acts begins with the resurrected Christ ascending to heaven having instructed his followers to wait for Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on the Church) and to go into all the world making the disciples. After Acts 2 and Pentecost, Acts tells the story of the Spirit empowered Word of Christ igniting the early Church as people believed from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, 28:30-31).

*Atonement – Broadly, the word “atonement” refers to reparation for an offense. In the context of the Christian faith the wrong in view is the rebellion of all image bearers against our Creator and the reparation is the reconciling of God and humanity through the work of God’s only unique Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus atoned for the sins of Christians.

But how did Jesus atone for the sins of his people? The Bible teaches that the atoning work of Christ involves both substitution and satisfaction. Christ was the substitute for his people and he satisfied the demands of God’s justice (1 John 4:10, Isaiah 53:4-5, 2 Cor 5:21).[1]

Said another way, the central aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that that he paid the penalty for his people on the cross. Theologians refer to this truth as penal substitutionary atonement. Michael Horton summarizes, “Christ died in our place, bearing God’s wrath, satisfying his justice, and reconciling us to the Father.”[2]

In order that we might grasp both the problem sin creates, and the solution for how sinners can be right with God, the Bible describes sin using different pictures including debt, enmity, and crime. R.C. Sproul helps us understand how Christ atones for our sin with the following table.[3]

Sin as . . . Man God Christ
Debt Debtor Creditor Surety
Enmity Enemy Violated One Mediator
Crime Criminal Judge Substitute

For more, see Kevin DeYoung’s important post, Substitution is Not a “Theory of the Atonement”[4]

Baptism – Along with the Lord’s Supper/Communion, one of two ordinances/sacraments given to believers. Christ commanded both. Baptism pictures death and resurrection in Christ and the cleansing of sins. Baptism is passive for the person being baptized. We do not baptize ourselves. This pictures the truth that God is the one who graciously saves.

Gospel – The word “gospel” means “good news” and the good news is that God offers salvation for those who turn in repentance from their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12, Acts 20:21, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5).[5]

Isaiah the Prophet  – Eighth century prophet (circa 700 B.C.) whose massive book supplies central prophecies of Christ. His prophecies include the virgin birth (7:14), the promise of a wonderful counselor, everlasting God, the prince of peace (9:6-7), and the Servant Songs that include Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is the passage the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in Acts 8.

Preacher / proclamation – The Holy Spirit empowers people to proclaim the good news / gospel so that people can understand salvation and believe in Jesus. Pastors are special gifts from Christ to his people given to equip God’s people (Ephesians 4:11).

Propitiation – The turning away of wrath or anger usually by an offering.[6] Propitiation appeases the wrath of God rightly brought about by our sin.[7] So 1 John 4:10 summarizes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10 ESV).”

Similarly, in arguably the most important paragraph ever written,[8] Paul wrote that Christ was “put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25a)

So, on the Cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying in the place of Christians.

Hence, the Gettys were right to refuse to remove from their song, “In Christ Alone,” the words, “till on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” See here.[9]

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God, see Can a God Without Wrath Be Good?[10]

Wrath of God –  The settled indignation of God against sin. God will punish those who sin with eternal condemnation (hell) unless there is atonement for their sins.

*******

[1] R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992), 172–73.

[2] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 208.

[3] R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 42.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, “Substitution Is Not a ‘Theory of the Atonement,’” The Gospel Coalition, March 22, 2016, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/03/22/substitution-is-not-a-theory-of-the-atonement/.

[5] See also Chris Brauns, “What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News?,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, June 13, 2013, http://chrisbrauns.com/2013/06/what-do-christians-mean-when-they-reference-the-gospel-or-good-news/.

[6] Leon Morris, The Cross of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 6.

[7] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 809.

[8] Chris Brauns, “The Most Important Paragraph Ever Written!,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, March 19, 2010, http://chrisbrauns.com/2010/03/the-most-important-paragraph-ever-written/.

[9] Collin Hansen, “Keith Getty on What Makes ‘In Christ Alone’ Accepted and Contested,” TGC – The Gospel Coalition, December 9, 2013, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/keith-getty-on-what-makes-in-christ-alone-beloved-and-contested.

[10] Sam Storms, “Can a God without Wrath Be Good?,” Enjoying God, February 14, 2014, http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/can-a-god-without-wrath-be-good.

D.A. CarsonCollin Hansen hosts one of my favorite podcasts. In this episode he interviews D.A. Carson and probes the accuracy of the aphorism, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” Carson shows why the saying “is close but finally wrong.” His answer is careful and nuanced.

Carson makes important summary comments at both the beginning and the end.

Listen here.

Previously, I answered questions several question from Elaine about heaven. Yesterday, Elaine let me know that she is wondering how we know the Bible and God is real and not just realistic fiction.

Dear Elaine,

The question you discussed with your dad – –  regarding how we know the Bible is God’s Word – – is a beautiful question. It is such an excellent question that in the Westminster Confession of Faith (approved in 1647) your question is answered in the fifth statement.

By the way, don’t ever let anyone tell you that every question is a good question. There are many terrible questions. I have asked some of them myself! One of these days, you will ask me a bad question, and I will say, “What an awful question!”

But this time you have not just asked a good question. You have asked one of the great questions the Church of Jesus Christ has ever considered. I am so proud of you and thankful for you.

Now you need to think really hard about the answer. It’s a grownup question and it deserves a grownup answer. So get rid of your cat for a few moments and think.

The answer given in the Westminster standards as to how we know the Bible is God’s Word is a “wordy” answer – – MAYBE JUST SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH AND LET ME BREAK IT DOWN INTO 6 REASONS — or, if your dad reads the paragraph aloud to you, plug your ears until he is done and wait for my explanation. It will make sense when you hear how I break it up into bite size pieces. Here is what they said in 1647:

  1. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

As I said, this answer is much easier to understand if we just break it up into parts. The confession says that we know the Bible is God’s Word because:

(1) the testimony of the church  – Men and women for 2,000 years in the church have agreed that this is God’s special message to us. This is not the most important reason we believe the Bible is God’s Word. But it is a great help! Maybe watch this video about how excited people are to get Bibles.

(2) And the heavenliness of the matter – The Bible speaks directly to some of the most important questions we can ever consider. If you read other ancient books they do not deal with life’s big questions with anything close to the wisdom of the Bible. Scripture answers our questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens after we die? (And we have way more copies of the Bible than of any other ancient document!) By the way,  the Bible answers other questions that aren’t so tremendously important, but still they  mean a lot to you. For instance, “Where do cats come from?”

(3) the majesty of the style – The style of the Bible is so beautiful. Have your mom or dad read John 14:1-6 from the King James version. Or read Hebrews 1:1-4 from the King James. You will need helping understanding those passages, but just in hearing the beauty of the style one begins to understand this is no ordinary book. I know your grandfather well Elaine. And if you read John 14:1-6 to him right now, he would get tears in his eyes. And the reason he would be emotional is because the Bible speaks so majestically to the questions that are so important. Or try this. Read Isaiah 9:6-7. This passage was written 700 years before Jesus. And the passage is so completely beautiful that it inspired one of the greatest works of music ever! When Handel’s Messiah was performed in front of Queen Victoria she was supposed to remain seated while everyone else stood. Queens didn’t have to stand up. But when this great work of music was performed – – and the reason it was written is because the Bible is so majestic – – she stood up. Today people all over the world stand when Handel’s Messiah is performed. And they stand up because they agree with Queen Victoria that the music and message are unspeakably beautiful.

(4) the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole – Even though the Bible was written across 1,500 years, it all is woven together into one beautiful message: From Moses (whose sister hid him in a basket, just like you would hide your little brother James) to the Apostle John who was so very close to the Lord Jesus. You know the story of the book of Ruth. By itself, Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories that was ever written. But then we see that Ruth’s baby Obed was the grandfather of King David – – and from the grandchildren of David (who was 1,000 years before Jesus!) we have Jesus. No one could make that up! (Tell your mom to read this post. She will like it).  Some day you and I will meet Ruth – – we really will – – and we will be able to talk to her about her baby –which will seem a little silly because Obed is all grown up. I suspect you and I will agree that Ruth is even more beautiful than we expected. But we will all be worshiping Jesus. (Your mom will also like this post).

(5) the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvationThe Bible tells us how we can be sure that we have eternal life and that we will be together with God’s people on the new earth for all of eternity. Don’t forget that the Red Brick’s are meeting at the 5th Tree on the Right side. If you read this post, you will be reminded about what we mean by the gospel and you will also see a picture of another little girl from church standing next to you dressed like a cat!

(6) our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts – BUT MOST OF ALL – – when we read the Bible the Holy Spirit assures our hearts that the Bible is God’s Word. Said another way, the Bible is self-authenticating – – Scripture shows us that it is God’s Word. This is important because if you believed in the Bible solely based on what your pastor or parents said, then they would be the authority.  The Bible is final authority. And we have assurance this is so because the Holy Spirit works in our hearts so that we are persuaded.

Some day, rather soon, I suspect, you will meet someone who will tell you that he does not believe the Bible is really God’s Word. Ask him, “Well, have your read the Bible?” Then say, “Why don’t you pray Psalm 119:18 and then read the Gospel of John? After reading it, tell me what you think.”  If the person who says he doesn’t believe the Bible is God’s Word refuses to prayerfully read the Bible, then you know they don’t want to believe it is God’s Word. (See also: Because the Bible is what it is, it can do what it does!)

You and I can be sure – – along with other Christians for 2,000 years – – that the Bible is God’s word to us. We have a message not from outer space, but from “beyond space!”

One of the greatest privileges of my life is to be your pastor!

 

 

 

 

Sproul_1And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? Mark 4:41

C.S. Lewis said that one of the reasons he believes Christianity is that it is not the sort of religion anyone would have made up. In his book, The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul makes this same point in interacting with Jesus’s calming of the storm:

It was the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, who once espoused the theory that people invent religion out of of a fear of nature. We feel helpless before an earthquake, a flood, or a ravaging disease. So, said Freud, we invent a God who has power over the earthquake, flood, and disease. God is personal. We can talk to Him. We can try to bargain with Him. We can plead with Him to save us from the destructive forces of nature. We are not able to plead with earthquakes, negotiate with floods, or bargain with cancer. So, the theory goes, we invent God to help us deal with these scary things.

What is significant about this scriptural story (Mark 4:35-41) is that the disciples’ fear increased after the threat of the storm was removed. The storm had made them afraid. Jesus’ action to still the tempest made them more afraid. In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. We wonder what Freud would have said about that. Why would the disciples invent a God whose holiness was more terrifying than the forces of nature that provoked them to invent a god in the first place? We can understand if people invented an unholy god, a god who brought only comfort. But why a god more scary than the earthquake, flood, or disease? It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

A failure to unify around sound doctrine has devastating consequences. North Africa church’s rejection of the Definition of Chalcedon sowed the seeds for the beginning of the Coptic church and the eventual loss of region to Islam. The beheading of Coptic Christians by Islamic forces can be traced to horrible decisions made over 1,500 years ago.

On May 23, 451 a council began to meet in Chalcedon. They would eventually issue the Definition of Chalcedon in November of that same year. The Definition of Chalcedon clarified the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ’s divinity and humanity.

For the most part, there was widespread acceptance of the conclusions of Chalcedon. Christians accept the Chalcedonian Definition to this day. However, in Africa, there was not acceptance. In his wonderful book,Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll writes:

In Egypt . . . determined opposition arose to the [definition of Chalcedon]. An Egyptian bishop, Proterius, said at Chalcedon that if he signed the statement he would be signing his death warrant. Six years later he was indeed killed by a mob because of that very act. So strong was Alexandrian, Word-flesh Christology in Egypt that, in opposition to almost the rest of the church, the Nestotorian “Monophysite” position (that Jesus only had one [Greek monos] nature [physis] became official dogma in the Egyptian church. (To this day the Coptic Church o Egypt retains a Monophysite Christology.) Rancorous intramural theological quarreling that continued with great intensity after Chalcedon in North Africa constituted one of the factors that weakened Christianity in that region and so prepared the way for the triumph of Islam, sweeping out of Arabia in the mid-seventh century.

In February of 2015, we learned that the Islamic State beheaded 21 Coptic Christians.

In his short essay, “Christian Doctrine and Life,” The theologian John Murray stressed that the great doctrines of the Christian life have implications for everyday life.

Consider these texts:

[43] But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [44] and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. [45] For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45

[21] For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

Elsewhere, I have given a brief overview of systematic theology for our church family. But one thing that we must never lose sight of is that even though doctrine may stretch our intellect and vocabularies, it is not in any sense removed from every day life. John Murray beautifully explains this point. Here are a few excerpts he makes relative to the above Bible texts and others as well:

“It is worthy of note that some of the most characteristic definitions of Christ’s atoning accomplishment are given in appeals to believers to practise the most elementary duties of their heavenly vocation.” cf. (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:43-45).

“And the great lesson for our present interest is that there is a direct connection between the most sacred truths of our faith and the most elementary duties of our Christian calling. The great truth of the atonement, than which nothing is more central, is the incentive to humble, devoted, self-sacrificing service in the kingdom of God.”

“There is a straight line of connection between the death of Christ and elementary virtues of the Christian life.”

 

The Apostles’ Creed is the most well-known summary statement of what orthodox Christians hold to be true.[1] It reminds of us central points about which all Christians must agree, serves as a defense against heresies or false teachings which deny any element, summarizes the faith, and provides an important resource for either private or corporate worship.[2]

The Apostles Creed reflects that the historical church saw the need from very early times to confess important doctrines in creedal or doctrinal statements. This is not surprising because the New Testament explicitly references the importance of sound doctrine. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul stresses that Timothy should counter the false teachers in Ephesus by means of sound doctrine. Likewise, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders who could encourage God’s people by means of sound doctrine. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul refers to sound doctrine with various labels:[3]

the faith: 1 Tim 1:3, 19; 3:9; 4:1, 6:10, 12, 21; 2 Tim 3:8; 4:7; Titus 3:15[4]

the truth: 1 Tim 2:4, 7; 3:15; 4:3; 6:3, 5; 2 Tim 2:18, 25; 3:7-8; 4:4; Tit 1:1, 14

the sound doctrine: 1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1

the teaching: Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 6:1

the good deposit: 1 Tim 6:20, 1 Tim 1:4 (literally)

Stott points out that, “In nearly every one of these expressions, the noun is preceded by the definite article, indicating that already a body of doctrine existed which was an agreed standard by which all teaching could be tested and judged. It was the teaching of Christ and his apostles.”[5]

The Apostles’ Creed dates back to 700. But far earlier fragments exist. The most well known influence would be what is known as the “Old Roman Creed” which comes from the second half of the second century.[6]

Every phrase of the Apostles’ Creed is important and worth studying. We should notice:

  • The Trinitarian organization of the Creed.
  • The affirmation that our heavenly Father created all things and is all-powerful (omnipotent).
  • The miraculous conception of Christ that was denied by liberal theology in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • The reference to Pontius Pilate that insists on the historicity of the death, burial, and resurrection of our King.
  • The certainty of the impending resurrection and final judgment.

The Heidleberg Catechism acknowledges the central importance of the Apostles’ Creed in questions 22-23:

Question 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?

Answer: All things promised us in the gospel, (a) which the articles of our catholic undoubted christian faith briefly teach us.

(a) John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Matt.28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Mark 1:15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Question 23. What are these articles?

Answer: 1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: 3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: 4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell: 5. The third day he rose again from the dead: 6. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: 7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: 8. I believe in the Holy Ghost: 9. I believe a holy catholic church: the communion of saints: 10. The forgiveness of sins: 11. The resurrection of the body: 12. And the life everlasting.

The version of the Apostles’ Creed our church uses features three translation/interpretive decisions.

  1. First, it reads, “he descended to the dead,” rather than, “he descended into hell.” This serves to avoid confusing people by implying that Christ spent the time between his death and the resurrection in hell.[7]
  2. Second, we have substituted “living” for the word “quick.” In our use of language “quick” references physical ability to respond rather than merely the idea of being alive.
  3. Third, we prefer “the holy universal Church” rather than “the holy catholic Church” so as to not confuse people that this is a reference to the Roman Catholic religion.

To those who object that no updates should be made to the Apostles’ Creed, we would remind them that this is not Scripture nor does it date to the Apostles themselves. Like the Bereans, we eagerly receive the historic teaching of the Church. But we also examine it to for ourselves to make sure that we are being consistent with the clear and plain teaching of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Further, these decisions make no change to the consensus of understanding regarding the meaning of the creed.[8]

These considerations in mind, the version of the Apostles’ Creed we use reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended to the dead[9]

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth on the right hand of God

the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to judge the living

and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy universal Church,

the communion of the saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

*******************

[1] On the importance of confessions and creeds see Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

[2] O.G. Oliver, Jr., “The Apostles Creed,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 73.

[3] The list is based on Stott’s summary, though there are several errors in the references. John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, ed. John R.W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 42.

[4] The “faith” group of words is very important in the Pastoral Epistles and the major commentaries usually have extended sections on Paul’s varied use of faith. See especially, Jerome D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary and an Introduction to Titus, I and II Timothy, the Pastoral Epistles, vol. 1st (New York: Doubleday, 1990); I. Howard Marshall and Philip Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999); William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson, 2000).

For more on “the faith” see, Ibid., cxxxi–cxxxii. See also Mounce’s point that Paul’s emphasis is as on doctrine as a whole and not with a particular issue as in Galatians. Ibid., lxxvi.

On the theological activity of the New Testament church, see Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), xxx. On the necessity and centrality of doctrine to Christianity, see J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 18.

[5] Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, 42–43.

[6] Oliver, Jr., “The Apostles Creed,” 72.

[7] See Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 90; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 586–590.

[8] Trueman argues that we should not change the phrase, “he descended into hell.” But even he admits that it does not mean what it appears to mean. He writes, “Given the near universal presence of the Apostles’ Creed across the Christian spectrum, it is ironic that it also contains one of the most controversial and disputed statements in creedal and confessional history: the clause which states that ‘Christ descended into hell.’ This seems to be a statement with minimal biblical foundation and unfortunate soteriological implications, as if Christ’s death on the cross was somehow an insufficient act in itself to fulfill the mandate of the Suffering Servant. In fact, as is often the case in the history of theology, the creed’s offense at this point is based more on a surface reading of the words from a later context than upon their original intent. Thus, a careful exploration of the words reveals that the creed is not claiming anything particularly objectionable at this point.” Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 90. Grudem’s response is far more balanced and does not treat a creedal statement as though it is the Bible itself. After a careful consideration of the phrase, he concludes, “At this point, people on all sides of the question of whether Christ actually descended into hell should be able to agree that at least that the idea of Christ’s ‘descent into hell’ is not taught clearly or explicitly in any passage of Scripture . . . Does the phrase ‘he descended into hell’ deserve to be retained in the Apostles’ Creed alongside the great doctrines of the faith on which all can agree? The single argument in its favor seems to be the fact that it has been around so long. But an old mistake is still a mistake—and as long as it has been around there has been confusion and disagreement over its meaning.” Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 593, 594.

[9] This change suggested by Cranfield, Apostles Creed: A Faith to Live By, Grand Rapids (Eerdmans, 1993), page 3. The change was first suggested by the International Consultation on English Texts and published in 1970. C.E.B. Cranfield, The Apostles Creed: A Faith to Live By (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 1993), 3.

The Story of the Nicene Creed

Chris —  April 28, 2015

Athanasius of Alexandria

Elsewhere I have summarized the doctrine of the Trinity. Below is a synopsis of the story of the Nicene Creed: a short creedal statement that gives an overview of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The story of the Nicene Creed comes complete with a theological villain (Arius) and a hero (Athanasius). This is not just an interesting tale. You will far better appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity if you know a little of how it developed in church history.[1]

First, consider reading the Nicene Creed aloud. It has been ours since the 4th century! It gives the Church of Christ one of the most important doctrinal summaries every written. Notice how Jesus is described. Phrases like “begotten, not made” and “of one Being with the Father” are very important.

The Nicene Creed, ELLC Translation[2]

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Most who have been around the Christian faith know that the doctrine of the Trinity is a central part of our faith. Interestingly, the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible.[3] This does not mean, of course, that the doctrine of the trinity isn’t Biblical as we shall see.

The church father Tertullian (155-220) first coined the word “trinity” in the second century.[4] Tertullian used it to summarize what the Bible teaches about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[5]

Tertullian was quite a story himself.[6] He was from Carthage in North Africa and he came from a non-Christian background. Tertullian was so gifted linguistically that he went to Rome to study law and planned to use his linguistic gifts in a legal profession. But God had other plans. In Rome, Tertullian was converted and when he returned to Carthage his central goal was to passionately study and proclaim the gospel.[7]

This is not to say that Tertullian was the only one who made orthodox contributions to the doctrine of the trinity. Origen and many others contributed to the understanding of the trinity so that much of the doctrine was in place by circa 300.[8] (You can read more about Tertullian in a series of posts by Mike Wittmer).

Yet, a battle loomed. In 318 doctrinal complications arose regarding Christology when a church leader in Africa named Arius arrived on the scene. Arius was a gifted thinker and philosopher. In addition to his intellect, Arius had a great deal of charisma and was gifted musically. He sang little jingles that seemed to answer the questions of newer Christians.[9] Arius’s combination of musical gifts and charisma made him more popular than his doctrine deserved.

Arius argued that the doctrine of the trinity needed a correction. He said that Jesus was not only functionally subordinate to God the Father, but also “essentially” so. Arius insisted that Christ was less in his being than the Father. He further argued that this point was crucial to protecting the unity of God that had rightly been a great emphasis in the Church.[10]

Christianity was young and vulnerable to heresy. When Arius began to question the doctrine of the trinity, people were not used to the whole idea of the mysterious trinity like we are now. The masses wanted a doctrine they could comprehensively understand and Arius gave them answers that seemed to work.

Many were swayed by Arius and began to believe that Jesus was not fully God. Everything was at stake. If Christ is not fully God, then he cannot grant forgiveness of sins in any meaningful way.[11]

By, God’s grace orthodox theologians opposed Arius and a full-scale dispute broke forth in the Church. The relationship of God the Son to God the Father became a huge topic of discussion. Regarding how embroiled people were in the debate, Shelley writes:

One bishop described Constantinople as seething with discussion. He said, “if in this city you ask someone for change, he will discuss with you whether God the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you ask about the quality of the bread, you will receive the answer that ‘God the Father is greater, God the Son is less. . .”[12]

Eventually, on May 20, 325 A.D., Constantine called a council of the Church to meet in Nicea in what is now modern day Turkey. This calling of the council was in itself amazing. It was the first time such a council was ever convened. It would be a little like the United Nations determining that we need to work through some doctrinal issues and, not surprisingly, it was later to have negative implications.

About 230 different leaders met to agree upon a statement regarding the relationship of God the Father and God the Son. One of these came from Alexandria and he brought with him a brilliant and godly young assistant named Athanasius who was to later become the bishop of Alexandria and a great hero of the church.

Arius was his charismatic self at the Council of Nicea. At one point, he burst into a musical version of his heresy:

The uncreated God has made the Son . . .

The Son’s substance is

Removed from the substance of the Father:

The Son is not equal to the Father,

Nor does he share the same substance. . .

The members of the Holy Trinity

Share unequal glories.[13]

Arius’s jingle doesn’t flow that well in English. But it apparently it was catchy at the time. We can be thankful Arius didn’t have an electric guitar! But we are most thankful that once the Church leaders began to study the issues they determined in a relatively short period of time that Arius was teaching heresy. Today, Arianism is known as the heresy that teaches that Jesus is entirely distinct from and subordinate to God the Father.

To clarify the theological understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Nicene council formulated a summary of their position: the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed includes this statement about Jesus that today is reflected in nearly all doctrinal statements.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

Regarding the Nicene Creed, Mark Noll wrote:

Not only does it succinctly summarize the facts of biblical revelation, but it also stands as a bulwark against the persistent human tendency to prefer logical deductions concerning what God must be like and how he must act to the lived realities of God’s self-disclosure.[14]

The debate over the relationship of God the Father to God the Son was far from over. It continued over many years and at times it looked as though Arius would prevail. At some points there seemed so little support for Athanasius, the champion of orthodox doctrine, that he entitled one defense, “Athanasius against the World.”[15]

Athanasius was a true theological hero. Five times Athanasius (by this time Bishop of Alexandria) was exiled. But, he stood firm and would not waver.[16] He wrote a famous statement in which he said, my paraphrase, “If Jesus is less than God we have no true hope of salvation.”[17]

C.S. Lewis said of Athanasius. “He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled,’ when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius – – into one of those ‘sensible’ synthetic religions.[18]

So you see that the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the trinity rose out of necessity. Herman Bavinck, in his magisterial book on the doctrine of God wrote, “The development of the truth of the trinity. . . arose from . . . practical and religious need. The church was not interested in a mere philosophical speculation or in metaphysical problem, but it was concerned about the very core and essence of the Christian religion.[19]

An overview of the story of the Nicene Creed should motivate us to endure even when there are conflicts. This is God that we are reading about. What we believe about this relates directly to our salvation and how we believe that we can spend eternity in the presence of the King. It’s worth stretching our minds to consider. This doctrine wasn’t ironed out by stuffy professors who had no clue about life. It was achieved by men of courage and resolve who risked everything to achieve it.

God promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16). Leaders like Athanasius were God’s gift to the Church to protect her from heresy. Five times Athanasius was exiled. Five times it looked to be the end for him. Yet, God used him that we might be here today. Let us sing with the reverence and passion of Athanasius, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

**********

[1] My source for much of this information is chapter 2 of Mark A. Noll , Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Wheaton: InterVarsity, 1997), 47–64. It is an excellent introductory book. A much more thorough and technical discussion is found in J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960).

[2] This reflects the expanded version from 381.

[3] R.C. Sproul responds to objections that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Scriptures in his book on the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 37–46.

[4] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 49.

[5] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 113.

[6] R.C. Kroeger and C.C. Kroeger, “Tertullian,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 1078–1079.

[7] Ibid., 1079.

[8] For a fascinating series of posts on Tertullian’s apologetics, see Mike Wittmer, “Tertullian for Today,” Don’t Stop Believing, April 6, 2015, https://mikewittmer.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/tertullian-for-today/.

[9] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Dallas: Word, 1982), 115.

[10] Prior to the third century there was a great emphasis on maintaining the unity of God. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 109.

[11] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 55.

[12] Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 113.

[13] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 53.

[14] Ibid., 59.

[15] Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 118.

[16] J.F. Johnson and C.C. Kroeger, “Athanasius,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 95.

[17] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 49.

[18] Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God with Introduction by C.S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1947), 7.

[19] Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 333.