Walker, MN

PENTECOST  2                “Athanasius   part 2”

June 18, 2023                       John 6:67-68 


Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ

Two Sundays ago was Trinity Sunday;  we confessed the Athanasian Creed,  & I talked about the Creeds & Church history.   The Creeds are important because they confess the truth  and they reject errors  by summarizing some basic Bible doctrine.   A Creed & its teaching is something we can learn & take with us  wherever we go  so that we can remain faithful  when we’re confronted with opposing views & false teachers.

Church history is important for 2 reasons:   1= because history shows us individual people who did faithful things,  & that gives us courage for faithful living.  2= Church history is the record of God-at-work.   Would it change your attitude toward ‘the past’  if you looked at world history as GOD’S history?   Our Triune God started by creating all there is,  & our Creator gave us His holy standards for living in His universe;  He also set punishment for all who rebelled & broke His laws = the wages of sin is death to all sinners.

However,  God is best known because of His history of MERCY  to a fallen creation = to bring us back to Him.  He has shown His absolute control over kings & nations & world events  all for the sake of bringing to mankind salvation thru His forgiveness.  After Adam & Eve were expelled from Eden,  for about 4,000 years  -until that Christmas night in Bethlehem,  God was making all things work together to reveal His promised Savior,  Jesus == who IS the absolute center of world history.       And now in the last 2,000 years,  God has directed nations & world events  so that the gospel message of Jesus is being proclaimed to all corners of His creation.  Gov’ts & nations & peoples have come & gone;  and all of it under God’s ultimate plan & control,   at His direct & indirect Will.

I used to think world history was ’boring’,  until I learned that world history is really God’s history.  When we study the past,  we get to know Him, & see Him at work.  But let’s remember that God’s attention is always centered  on His Church,  and on the soul–saving message in His Savior.   So, God’s focus is not on ‘politics’,  but on how His Church handles the politics that affects His Kingdom.  God’s focus is not on hurricanes & tornadoes,  but His is very interested in how His people handle all troubles with faith,  and how we help our … … neighbors  in Jesus’ name.   Reviewing history motivates us  to face today & tomorrow with confidence,  and keeps us trusting God,  no matter what happens.

In looking back at the past,  we learn of certain believers who were faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ & of God’s one true religion.  God used them  so that the next generation  would know exactly WHO God is,  and HOW He has redeemed us,  and WHAT He expects of US in our living.

So,  there were Prophets, Apostles, & Church Fathers;   but we also know there were plenty of faithful laymen & pastors,   along with faithful fathers & mothers  to teach their children.    And now,  WE are His people, & the current part of His history = which is a privilege with responsibilities.  We serve the God of history by being obedient to Him,  loyal to His Word, & standing firm against any opposition.   But here’s a Q:  Why would any Christian hesitate to be loyal & stand firm?   Well,  because history has shown us  how much that loyalty might cost us == like it did for Athanasius  in the 300’s A.D.


Here’s a little history lesson:  For the first years after Jesus ascended,  the ruling gov’t of Rome tolerated Christianity,  like it did the Jewish religion,  because many of the first Christians were Jews.   But as more gentiles became Christian,  the more it was clear to Rome that there was a difference between Judaism and Christianity.   As such,  Rome refused Christians any special exemptions that the Jews had;  Jews had not been required to worship the Emperor as ‘a god‘,  or to make sacrifices to the pagan gods of Rome.

You see,  the Romans believed that their god’s kept the peace,  and gave them prosperity & world power.  So, when people refused to worship & sacrifice to the Roman gods,  it wasn’t just unpatriotic,  it was considered treason;  it might make the gods angry,  and the nation might be punished with famine or disease.   So, to not worship the Roman gods was a crime punishable by prison or death.

Yet,  even when the apostles & first leaders were martyred,  Christianity survived.  This frustrated both the Gov’t and the Jews.   In 64 AD,  a fire destroyed much of Rome and Emperor Nero blamed the Christians.   Any who confessed to be Christian were arrested;   and in Nero’s arena,  they were thrown to the lions or crucified or burned.   Being a Christian back then was a  serious commitment.

One early Church Father,  Tertullian, wrote  ‘The blood of the martyrs  is the seed of the Church.’    And so it was.  Persecution purified the faith;  those who didn’t really believe would not risk their lives;  so those who stuck with the church were sincere,  and Christianity became stronger.     Of course,  no emperor,  and no amount of suffering  could stop God‘s Kingdom from proclaiming Christ & saving souls.  The world and history belongs to God;

and God sustained His people.

In the year 305,  Emperor Constantine came to the throne.   He was a great military leader who made Rome the world power.   This was a turning point in Christian history,  because up to this time,  the Christians had been either ignored or persecuted.   But in 312,  Rome won the battle of ‘the Milvian Bridge,’  and Constantine attributed that victory as God’s answer to his prayer for help.  He claimed to have seen a vision of a cross in the sky,  and the words  ‘conquer by this,’  & so he began his allegiance to the Christian faith.

This conversion of a Roman Emperor to Christianity  meant that Christians were now favored by the Gov’t = which was both good and bad.   Christians were no longer persecuted & they were free gather & worship,  & build churches & schools.  The gospel was now reaching the ears of the whole empire.    Constantine-the-Great  wanted a Christian empire.   But at the same time,  this began hundreds of years of gov’t interference in Christ’s Church.

We can see the downside of having Christianity as the popular & state-sanctioned religion.   People would join the church,  not because of faith;   but because of wanting to be on the good side of the Emperor.   Christianity would just be seen as the religion-of-the-day,  and not as the only true faith,  worth suffering for.   Freedom & acceptance is sometimes a deceptive blessing.  Everyone likes peaceful times,  but  it can lead to apathy & spiritual weakness.

A bigger problem,  the one that involved Athanasius,  was that for the first time the Emperor saw himself as the ‘protector & authority’  in Christ’s Church;  so a politician was in charge of the Church!   Constantine’s main goal was to unite the church,  which was split in two between East & West leaders, {in Rome & Constantinople};  and it was troubled by splinter groups with false teachings.    The Emperor wanted unity,  not for the sake of God’s truth,  but to have a united front against outside enemies.

So,  he imagined that if everyone would just compromise,   the nation would be strong,  and there would be peace.   God likes peace too,   but not at the expense of His Truth.

Constantine organized ‘church councils’ with the leaders of the various groups,  & hoped to end controversies;  but he was no theologian.   So he was not concerned about preserving the truth of Jesus’ teaching – as taught by the Apostle’s.   He wanted unity & peace even if it meant ignoring parts of God’s Word.   At the same time,  he mixed in some of his own ideas & practices from his pagan background;  & as emperor, his opinions carried a lot of weight.


Athanasius was the current Bishop {or head-pastor} of Alexandria in Egypt;  he & others realized the problems of the emperor’s ideas,  & they opposed his efforts.  Athanasius was particularly bold & willing to suffer anything for the Lord Jesus,  & for the purity of the Gospel,  which alone has the power to save == which is what God’s kingdom is all about.

We, too,  remember that Jesus said:  ‘My kingdom is not of this world’,  and   ‘I have not come to bring peace,  but a sword.   (Jn.18,Mt.10)

Since the Emperor had 2 kinds of power,  both of the church and the state,  Athanasius & others were exiled;  that is = physically removed from their churches & towns,  to (basically) live in the wilderness.  They were considered both heretics & traitors  because they opposed the Christian Emperor!   Five times Athanasius was exiled thru the reign of the next 4 emperors.   But each time  his congregation waited for him to return,  and welcomed him back as their faithful shepherd.

The Apostle’s Creed had already been written & widely used  as the baptismal creed,  since shortly after the time of the Apostles.   The Nicene Creed was formed at the council of Nicea in 325AD;  Athanasius was there.   This had been the first & most productive of Emperor Constantine’s councils.   This creedal confession of the faith helped unite & defend the Church against the Arian heresy.    When the false teachings of Arius didn’t go away,  the Emperor was ready to give-in & to tolerate those wrong views  for the sake of political peace;  but that would’ve been a disaster for the Church.


You see,  the priest Arius was teaching that there was ‘one God,’  but God was much too holy to bother with man.   So, God created a lesser god,  named Jesus,  who then created this universe,  and came to earth.

But Arius was mixing up previous errors  and pagan ideas  as he falsely taught that Jesus was a created being  and not thee Almighty God in the flesh, sinless & eternal.    Arius had a false Gospel  with no power to save == this is the same false teachings of the Mormons,  & similar to Jehovah Witnesses,  and Muslims.

What the Nicene Creed confessed in a simple way  was made even more clear when the Athanasian Creed was written.    It was a strong affirmation of the true nature of God as Triune:  3 persons in one Godhead;  none were created;   all three are co-eternal & co-equal.

The new creed clearly confesses Jesus Christ as True God,  and also true man.   Any who denied this creed,  denied God’s own revelation & truth,  & was not Christian,  and therefore not saved by a true faith.

The Church holds this Trinitarian teaching as absolutely essential:  for Jesus himself confessed that,  even in human flesh,  He is the great “I Am” = ‘Yahweh’,  and is ONE with the Father & Spirit.    He confessed that there is only One God,  and there are no others.     And thru the Apostles,  Jesus taught that He could not have saved the world,  or rise from the dead,  IF he was not fully God;   AND  He could not substitute for humans & die in our place,  if not fully human.

Therefore,   Athanasius confessed & summarized the Scriptures that Jesus Christ was  of the same substance  as God the Father and the Holy Spirit;   all equal in glory,  majesty,  power & worship.   It could be said that Athanasius suffered persecution & exile  all for just one Greek word:  homoousius  == that Jesus is of  the same substance as the Father.  This little detail  pulled Christianity thru a mighty dangerous time,  and preserved the pure Christian faith for many generations.

Now,  let’s draw a couple of conclusions.   We have said before that God’s Church of today  is depending upon US  in the same way WE have been dependent on those before us.  They  were mocked or persecuted,   but they delivered to us God’s pure teaching,  and the right practice of the faith.   At the beginning & at the end of the Athanasian Creed  we confess this:  that without believing {this creed’s teaching}  faithfully & firmly,  one cannot be saved.

Now,  that grates on our sinful natures.   That is,  we have a natural tendency to want to let people believe ‘various’ things;   and just hope that God is satisfied with some ‘basics.’

Like Constantine,  we don’t want to think God is so picky about all the little Bible details.  Can’t we just generally ‘believe in Jesus’  and all get along  with our differences?   Our old nature is bothered that Christ’s Church would take such a bull-headed stand to defend one little Greek word,  or those ‘tiny’ details of God’s Scriptures;   do we really have to oppose those who don’t confess ALL the Bible’s teaching?  Getting along by compromising feels good to sinful man.   But God has always expected more from His people;  God’s saving truth cannot just ‘get along’ with Satan’s falsehoods  or man’s confused errors.

So,  even tho we’re tempted to give-in,  our faith is inspired by those who have understood what’s at stake,  & stood firm in the Truth,  and have not given-in – in the face of  ridicule, /poverty, /danger,  /or sword.   They are the heroes of the faith,  who put Christ Jesus & His saving truth first in their lives;  knowing that error & falsehood can only lead people away from Christ & eternal life.   They were willing to suffer  so that the Lord Jesus would keep ALL of His glory as True God,  & the only Savior & Teacher for mankind.


Today,  WE are being tempted, too;   by Gov’t pressure,  /by our culture, /by political groups, /and by weak Church groups & leaders;  they want us to compromise Jesus’ words  for so-called ‘peace’,   or ‘unity’ in our nation & worldwide.   We are made to feel guilty for strongly confessing & living by the plain words & meaning of Holy Scriptures.  We can even see how some cong’s grow in size & popularity  by changing with the culture,  & by tolerating sinful ways:  such as the acceptance of homosexuality & by changing the definition of marriage or gender.  But those cong’s are not God’s faithful Churches,  & they endanger people’s souls.

Our history has taught us to see those dangers;   if we lose God’s Words – we lose God, & His blessings & salvation.   God’s history is there to encourage us to stand firm for Him  for the sake of those who will come after us.   He has given His one solid foundation for us = His written inerrant Word,  and Jesus as that Word-made-flesh.   It saddens us to see people & groups walk away from Christ & His truths of life;   we seek to turn people back when they have fallen into errors;   and we rejoice with all who will stand in the pure confession of the Christian faith.

We remember in John 6,  when Jesus’ teaching got hard to understand,   many simply turned away & left him.   Sadly,  Jesus turned to the Twelve  and asked them,

“Do you want to leave too?”     Peter confessed what we must confess  when we are faced with opposition,  & when we see Christianity split between many denominations,  and with inclomplete or  opposing teachings & practices.

Peter said,  “Lord,  to whom shall we go?  YOU have the words of eternal life.” 

Jesus’ words are Spirit,  and they are Life,  and they are the standard by which we are judged.    At the Transfiguration,  the Father commanded that we listen to His Son;  by that we show our love & trust in Him,  as we hear & keep His words.  By His Word  we are wise,  building upon the rock == like Athanasius before us.

At the end of the Athanasian Creed  it talks about living by ‘good works’.   A clear,  strong confession of the faith  is the very best of the good works God expects of us.  Because it is only Christ’s Words  which will keep His Church alive in the years to come.   God has made US His people,  by grace & thru faith,  and called US to take up our cross,  and follow Christ.    We follow by keeping His words of eternal life.

So,  let us continue to ‘make history,’  to be God’s faithful Church,  and deliver Christ & all His teachings  to the next generation.        Amen