Walker, MN

TRINITY  SUNDAY                     “Athanasius”       (part 1 of 2)  

June 4, 2023                                 The Athanasian Creed 


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It’s a tradition to confess the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday,  since it makes a particular emphasis that God is Triune  = 3 persons, but 1 God.  This creed a bit long,  & different,  and people wonder why we use it at all.   Well,  in 2,000 years of NT Christianity,  it’s one of only 3 Ecumenical or ‘universal’ Christians creeds. To have survived this long

-without being discarded or forgotten-  means it’s still needed.   In a future sermon,  we’ll learn about the man named Athanasius.   But this morning,  let’s consider why this creed is still necessary for God’s Church;  and the Church is you.

The Creeds are a written summary of the Christian Faith as revealed in God’s Bible.    The creeds serve 2 purposes:  #1- to confess the TRUTH;  and  #2-  to reject ERRORs.

As Christianity began to spread throughout the world,   it was necessary that there be  ‘standards’  by which to measure & preserve  the correct understanding of the Gospel & the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Why ‘standards’?   Because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation,  says Rom.1.

To water it down,  or to mix it with error,  confuses the gospel.   Then,  at some point says Paul,  in Gal., it will become changed into a different Gospel,  which will have no power to save the soul.  For without true faith in Jesus Christ,  there is no salvation.  In our day, the 3 Creeds still expose the errors & dangers of the  Jew, Muslim, Mormon, & Jehovah Witness = as well as many other religions.

So,  without strict, clear standards,   it would be easy for a crafty or ignorant teacher  to lead people astray.   The 3 Creeds (the Apostles, Nicene & Athanasian)  are remarkably clear & precise,   so as to be faithful confessions of God’s Word,   and  to expose the errors of false teachers.  The Creeds are one way God is preserving the truth of who He is,  and of His merciful work of Salvation in Jesus Christ alone,  for all generations.

One thing the Athanasian Creed does  is to remind us that there were actual,  faithful individuals behind these creeds,  who were upholding the high standards of Bible doctrine,  as passed on thru the Apostles.   In this case,  a man named Athanasius.   There have been many such people of God,  who by the testimony of their lives of faithfulness to Christ,  have become one source of our encouragement  to remain firm in the faith  for the good of Christ’s Church,  and for the good of those who will come after us.

As Hebrews 12 says:   “Therefore,  since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of (past) witnesses,   let US  throw off everything that hinders,  and the sin that so easily entangles ,  and let US run with perseverance  the race marked out for us.”    There are many of these faithful witnesses in history  for our encouragement & learning.   So, one way for us to be encouraged  is to examine church history.

History is a very important part of human wisdom & motivation.  By comparison, history & motivation is why we celebrate Memorial Day,  and why we have statues & memorial walls for WWII,  the Vietnam & Korean wars,  with the names of those who fought & died,  or are missing in action.  We also memorialize those who died on 9-ll & in the ‘war on terrorism.’

Why must we remember our history?   Because our history is made up of individuals who sacrificed their own future desires  in order to preserve freedom & safety for others = including us.  Those were real people, with real families.  They could have ignored the enemy of their day,  and focused only on their own lives of work & home.  But they recognized a larger picture of this life,  and a wider responsibility to others.

That bigger picture is THIS:  Maybe they would get a chance to pursue their dreams one day,  but only IF  the enemy was defeated,  and freedom & safety survived.  Some think that Memorial Day weekend just marks the start of summer recreation.  But history teaches us that we can celebrate a long weekend as free people  because of the many who fought & died for freedom on our behalf.

They gave up their lives against an enemy  who could’ve taken away our freedoms.    That history becomes an important motivation for us. The courage & sacrifice of our veterans  encourages US  to face our present-day problems & enemies  in order to ensure freedom for ourselves, our children, & neighbors.

This wisdom & motivation from history  has also been true within God’s Church,  and with the spread of His Kingdom in an ‘enemy’ world.   Each generation has had their faithful warriors & leaders;   who,  for the sake of God’s Saving Truth,  gave up everything they had in their life  so that the undiluted Faith would endure.  Because of their firm stand,  many have been blessed by the saving Gospel of Jesus & His cross.

And just as important as the leaders,  there have been many faithful, ordinary Christians,  who recognized truth over error,  and stood firm with those leaders who were committed to Christ’s pure Word & practices.   In knowing our history,  we will know better how to stand firm  when faced with the enemies of God’s Truth today.


Now,  most of us could name an Apostle & an event or two in their lives;  those are the favorite Bible stories.   We might even be able to name a few of the early-church disciples == like Stephan (the 1st martyr),  or Barnabas (Paul’s mission partner),  or Pricilla & Aquilla (who taught Apollos)

But what about after they died –WHO carried on the faith?  Without reading church history,  we might not recognize a name until the year 1517 & Martin Luther.   After that,  we might jump up to the 1800s in American Christianity to find a familiar name like CFW.Walther  to encourage us to contend for the solid Biblical faith.  But there had to be others,  many others, who battled in their day for the true Christian faith  to pass it on to us.

There were;  & that’s one of my points this morning.  Every generation in God’s Church had faithful individuals  who gave of themselves to preserve the Gospel of forgiveness, freedom, & safety in Jesus.   And every part of history has had people just like you & me;  individuals with family’s,  /& jobs,  /& struggles;  /and with future dreams & goals.

They’ve all come & gone;   but they have also passed on to us  the one true faith in the Triune God = our Maker, Redeemer, & Sanctifier.    Hearing of their lives encourages us to know that God has made our little lives  part of His big & important Church,  which alone has forgiveness & salvation for a dying world.

Why do we need to be encouraged?  Well, each period in Church history is marked by troubles, hardships, & false teachings.   And each generation had a few leaders,  and many regular believers,  who worked together  to preserve God’s truth,  & to carry out His salvation mission to the world.    And now it’s OUR turn!   Some errors we face today  have to do with:   /what it means to be male & female;  /what marriage & family means;  /and how God’s ethics guides our use of medicine & technology.        There are still many false religions who do not recognize that Jesus IS GOD in the flesh,  & is mankind’s only Savior;  who was crucified,  was raised,  & is reigning over all.  Even too many Christians do not believe the whole Bible.  We need to be encouraged  so as to preserve God’s truth & faith for those who come after us.


Have you ever wondered this:   How is it that Christianity did not fizzle out & die  after the Apostles were put to death?   How could it be  that the original true faith has survived for 20 centuries?

There is a 2 part answer to the question:  a Divine part,  & a human part.   FIRST & foremost,  God & His Word of Truth will not fizzle out or die.  In Matthew 16, Jesus declared,  I will build my Church  and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. ‘  God’s mission of saving souls will be accomplished;   and He does it thru His pure Gospel message of forgiveness from the cross of His Son, Jesus.   The Holy Spirit is working thru the Word & Sacraments in every time in history,  and His Church goes on.   That’s the Divine part.  God’s Will will be done, & He will succeed = because He is God.

And yet,  there is a SECOND part,  which includes US  as part of His winning mission.    We are not useless bystanders to history;  we are part of it!  God has graciously called us up,   and thru the Water & Word of Baptism,  He’s enlisted us into that victorious Kingdom of … Jesus Christ = who is the once-sacrificed-Lamb,  and is now the living & reigning Lord & God  over all people and all creation.

So,  God expects His people to work with Him  thru history in His salvation mission.   We‘ve been assigned the role of being visible disciples & messengers for our day.   As it’s said in Romans 10:  How can anyone believe without having heard the message of Christ Jesus?   And how can they hear it without someone telling them?   And How can there be telling the news  without those being sent out?  

From the fall into sin,  Isaiah’s words have been true:  How beautiful are the feet of those that bring the Good News!”   That’s because faith comes by hearing The Word of the gospel:  that God has worked salvation in Jesus Christ for ALL people.   By that message,  the Spirit converts hearts to trust in Christ.  By our lives, we are to help preserve all the teachings of Scripture,  and to deliver it -unchanged- to others.

And that is our connection to history;  we are part of it.  God’s Church is depending on us,  just as we have been dependent on those before us  to deliver His pure faith & the right practice of it.   And we know it’s pure & right,  because we can verify it by God’s written Scriptures == which is the Word of Life for what is right & wrong,  for every generation.

Those courageous Apostles,  and other faithful men & women who helped preserve  the pure Christian faith,  cannot come back to fight today’s spiritual battles for us.  They once did their part,  and now they rest from their labors.  Encouraged by their loyalty to Christ & their willing sacrifice,  now WE are the ones who must remain true to God,  and to do whatever it takes  to hand over to the next generation  the One True Apostolic Faith.   History shows us that this has always been a struggle;  but it’s a necessary battle that preserves the Kingdom of God,  & the saving Gospel of Eternal Life in Christ.


Incidentally,  this is why {as a national church body  or ‘synod’ }  we gather in convention every 3 years,   and as a state–district of churches  we also gather every 3rd year.  This is done so that we can re-measure ourselves by God‘s standards,  and to take our stand against today’s errors;   to correct our own thinking,  and give a new faithful witness to the true teaching & practice of God’s Word for our day.    We also have this responsibility as a local congregation,  and as individuals;   being faithful to God on all levels.


This is all part of being the Church of Christ today;  and being individual working-parts of His Body.   God reminds us  that when our earthly time is done,  we will each give account of all the things we have done while in this world.   We want to hear our Lord say,  ‘Well done,  thou good and faithful servant;  come, inherit the Kingdom.’  And we don’t want to hear the words,  You wicked and lazy servant – depart from Me.’


So, ‘history’ is bothback then’  and is happening now.   In the gospel sense,  there are just 2 main parts of history after the time of Jesus.  The 1st part was the time of the Apostles,  until about 100 AD.    The 2nd part is from 100 AD to the present = the last 1900 years.

In the beginning of the Christian Church,  the Apostles were unique in that they were hand-picked by Jesus to lead His Church.   They were the eye-witnesses,  and God confirmed their teaching to be His Eternal Word,  verified by special signs & miracles they did.   This happened so that,  as they wrote their Gospel’s & letters,   their writings would be recognized as God’s own Words of Truth for all time.   So much so,  that we are told in Eph.2  that the very Foundation of the Church IS  ‘the Apostles & Prophets.’   God spoke thru them;   and on those written Scripture,  His Church stands forever.

So now,  in this 2nd part of history,   the true Christian faith is marked & measured by the faithful adherence to what has been written by those Apostles & Prophets.   They are called the foundation of the Church,  and we are called the ‘living stones’ – says Peter.

We are built on the foundation which God has historically laid.     And so,  for every time in history,  the one true Christian Church is found wherever the Holy Scripture is purely taught,  & truly practiced.

The Christian Church is still around  because God has been working thru those who were willing to suffer all things,  even death,  rather than give up even one word of Scripture’s teaching.

SO,  there was once a man named Athanasius  who was one of those faithful people, about 200 yrs after the Apostles.   To him,  and to many unknown ‘soldiers of the cross,’     we owe a deep debt of gratitude.   The best way we can show proper thanks to them  is by continuing their uncompromising service to God,  and giving our life’s attention & praise to the same Jesus Christ – who has called us into the same service in His Church,  so that it will be found faithful when He returns in His glory.

Athanasius has an interesting life-story,  living in the 300’s AD.   Because he stood firm & uncompromising against a dangerous error in his day,   so his name is attached to one of the 3 ecumenical or ‘universal’ Christian Creeds.   Athanasius & this creed preserves for us God’s own doctrine about the Trinity,  and the two natures of Jesus Christ.

On another Sunday soon we’ll hear about His life,  and why this creed ended up with his name on it.    But for now,  it is enough to be reminded that the history of God’s Church is OUR history;   and we are part of the current history of the Church,   and God is calling us to be faithful to Him  & to all of His teachings  in everything that we say & do.

It is both a privilege  and a responsibility to be God’s people,  and to be part of His Kingdom’s mission,  which delivers His unchanging Truth & saving Gospel to the world.     The Athanasian Creed helps us do that;   to reject the errors of our day,  and to firmly confess the Triune God,   and our forgiveness in the world’s Savior,  Jesus Christ.