Text: John 3:1-17, Athanasian Creed
Full Draft of Sermon
This was Trinity Sunday which is the traditional day for the Athanasian Creed to be recited. (I’m not sure how old the tradition is actually, but I remember it as a little kid.) Within the Lutheran Book of Concord there are the three historic creeds of the Western Church – Nicene, Apostle’s and Athanasian. The Athanasian is the longest and in many ways strongest in its wording.
The gauge of its strength might be in the last line which it leaves ringing in your ears: “This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
You don’t get much more dogmatic than that. But in this case that dogmatism is a very good thing. And you are fooling yourself if you think Jesus wasn’t at times dogmatic. The text is Nicodemus coming to talk with Jesus. And while John 3:16 gets all the press, there are three elements that help us with our unease at clear doctrine. First, and for me the most memorable of Jesus’ lines, is his replay to Nicodemus – “You are the teacher of Israel?” (John 3:10) Its a sarcastic lament at the lack of spiritual understanding. Within the same text Jesus says three times, “truly, truly, I say to you”. In other word, pay attention to this, its important. And that phrase tells us what the third point of dogmatism is, Jesus was dogmatic about one very specific thing, himself. Even in John 3:16. God loved the word and sent his son so that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. John 3:15-17 repeats the “in him” three times. Not that the rest is unimportant, but salvation is in Jesus.
The doctrines of the church are there for a reason. They point to Christ. The are mileposts or guide markers on the narrow way. Is it possible that we turn them into a law that steals life? Yes. But that is not their intention. Clear doctrine helps us to stop lying to ourselves, repent and believe in Christ. Stuff as central as the Athanasian Creed should be strident.