“Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” – The Athanasian Creed
Over the summer we have been doing a brief overview of several of the Historic Creeds of the faith. We are going to be wrapping up this series with a brief look at the Athanasian Creed. We’ll take a couple weeks to get a birds eye view of what is said here.
This Creed was originally said to be the work of Athanasius, who was one of the great defenders of the faith in the early church. Athanasius spoke out vehemently against Arianism, that heresy we’ve mentioned a couple of times through the summer: where Jesus was not God per se, but was God’s highest creation.
While a lot of what is said here would no doubt have been backed by Athanasius, most scholarship today does not see this as a product of Athanasius’ pen. We still call it the Athanasian Creed though, for tradition’s sake.
What I’d like us to focus on this morning is the first line of the creed. It starts off with a wallop when it says “Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” It also ends with a similar statement: "This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved."
These are sometimes called the “damnatory clauses” of the Athanasian Creed because these statements pronounce an anathema on anyone who does not hold to the tenets of this creed.
I’d like us to think about that for a second. It might sound a little forward to you to say that if you do not hold to everything that is spelled out in this creed, you are damned. As a matter of fact, you might very well be offended that anyone would have the audacity to say such a thing. To our postmodern ears this sounds rather stringent (or even strident). The idea of making any particular document the boundary marker for one’s salvation is something we’re not used to hearing.
But you have to understand what the creed is saying. We do not mean that you have to understand every single iota of what is said here to be saved. Salvation is not by knowledge. Salvation is by grace through faith. But there is a particular God who saves, and it is important that you believe in the right God. If you do not, then you are not saved.
So you might not know exactly what is said here, but if you believe in the one true God, this is the one you’ll believe in. This is the God of the Bible.
Or, maybe a Christian is not educated well enough to speak exactly right about the trinity. Perhaps you speak of God in modalistic terms. Modalism is the belief that God existed in three forms at three different times: he was the Father at one point, then later on he turned into the Son, and now he has transformed into the Holy Spirit. That is a heresy that is corrected by this Creed.
But if you are a young Christian (or one that is not trained well) you might speak of God that way. If you do, it doesn’t means you are damned. It just means you don’t know God well enough at this point in your life.
The creed isn't talking about that kind of ignorance. It is talking about those who outright reject the truth. It condemns those who ought to know better and intentionally follow after another god.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness would be an example of who is anathematized by the Creed because they disavow any belief in the Triune God. They specifically reject Trinitarian doctrine and embrace a different god.
Another example would be TD Jakes. Jakes is a modern day preacher who has a huge following. Despite his radical popularity in the church today, TD Jakes confesses to be a modalist. I might clarify by saying he is wittingly a modalist. He does not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally existent (as the Creed defines them to be). Rather, he believes that the Father existed for a little while as the Father, then he existed as the Son for a little while, and then he turned into the Spirit. That is a specific and forthright denial of the nature of God.
Such a person stands condemned by this creed, even as the Bible itself condemns the one who would create such an idol. Paul himself said,
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:8-9 ESV
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