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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Our Creed and Our Triune God
Text:LD 8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Trinity
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-06-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4
Hymn 1A
Psalm 33:1,2,5,6
Hymn 3
Psalm 149

Readings: Matthew 28:16-20, 2 Corinthians 13
Text:  Lord's Day 8
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

 

Of all our creeds and confessions, the Apostles’ Creed is probably the one with which we’re all the most familiar.  Even the youngest members of our congregation know how to belt out Hymn 1A.  Many of us can recall stories of our younger selves or others singing the Creed at, let’s say “interesting,” times.  For instance, I vividly recall one of my younger sisters driving around our crescent on her bike, loudly singing Hymn 1A over and over again for the whole world to hear.  I guess that was her idea of evangelism or neighbourhood outreach.  There’s little question that the Apostles’ Creed connects with many of us at some level, especially when we’re young.  Perhaps that has to do with the tune of Hymn 1A, or maybe it has to do with the actual content of the creed.  I don’t know.

 

We are familiar with the Creed, but that doesn’t always mean that we sing it or confess it thoughtfully.  The danger is there that familiarity makes autopilot our default mode, especially as we get older and have sung it hundreds or thousands of times.  Think about it, if you’re about 50 years old, and let’s say you’ve been going to church for 45 years or so and if you’ve been to every afternoon service, you will have sung the Apostles’ Creed over 2300 times.  Whether it was Hymn 45 (as it used to be in the old blue Book of Praise) or Hymn 1A, that’s a lot of times.

 

So, it’s good for us to periodically step back and revisit the basics of the Apostles’ Creed.  For instance, what do we know about the history of this document?  What is its basic structure?  Why do we have creeds and confessions anyway?  Those are the questions we’re going to look at first of all this afternoon.

 

Tradition has it that the Apostles’ Creed was written by the twelve apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Tradition also has it that each of the twelve apostles contributed an article to this creed.  So it was believed, for instance, that Peter contributed the first article, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Andrew or perhaps John came next with “I believe in Jesus Christ his only begotten-Son our Lord.”  James said, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  And on it goes.  But the tradition is wrong.  The apostles did not write the Apostles’ Creed.  The earliest we find the full form of the Creed is in the eighth century.  However, there were precursors to the Apostles’ Creed.

 

For instance, there was what was called the Roman Creed.  It resembles the Apostles’ Creed in many ways and dates back to the closing decades of the second century, so let’s say somewhere between 170 and 200.  This Roman Creed appears to have developed in connection with the baptism of new converts.  It was probably at one time like a form for profession of faith, which is why it used the first person singular, and that’s also part of the reason why the Apostles’ Creed still uses the first person singular, “I believe...”  So, the minister would ask, “Do you believe in God the Father almighty?”  The person professing their faith and about to be baptized would respond, “I believe in God the Father almighty.”  Down the line it would go.  Eventually, it appears that this baptismal creed became a creed for the whole church.

 

Now as the Catechism points out, the Apostles’ Creed has a Trinitarian structure.  There are three parts.  The first is short, only one article, and deals with God the Father and our creation.  The second is the heart of the creed, consisting of six articles and dealing with God the Son and our redemption.  Then third, we have an article about the Holy Spirit and our sanctification and four other articles that are usually connected with that.

 

Beloved, from this Creed, it’s right away clear that we have a Trinitarian faith.  I’m going to say more about the doctrine of the Trinity in a few moments, but for now just notice the connection here with what our Lord Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20.  He sends out his church into the world and tells them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It’s because of what Christ says here that baptism and the doctrine of the Trinity have always been closely related.  It’s because of what Christ says here that the early baptismal creeds, like the Roman Creed, required new converts to confess faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  From a historical perspective then, the Apostles’ Creed owes its very structure to what the Lord Jesus says in that important passage. 

 

Following the words of Christ, we are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.  As we grow up in the faith, we are taught to confess our faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  When we make public profession of our faith, we acknowledge the covenant promises of our Triune God which were signed and sealed to us in our baptism.  We take ownership of what the Father, the Son and the Spirit have promised us.  We confess our faith in the Triune God. 

 

That brings us to think for a few moments about the reasons we have creeds and confessions.  First of all, is there a biblical basis for having confessions?  Yes, there is.  There are confessions of faith found in the Bible itself.  The great example from the Old Testament is the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  It’s called the Shema because that’s the first word in Hebrew.  This has long been a confession of faith and is still today both for Jews and Christians.  We find confessional statements in the New Testament as well.  For example, we have Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all....”  In Matthew 10, the Lord Jesus encourages us to confess him before men.  That requires words and the church has taken the words of Scripture and summarized them into its own words.

 

There are those who say that they have “no creed but Christ.”  Or that they only believe the Bible.  At first those words sound quite impressive.  But the reality is that everyone has a system of belief behind what they say, whether they write it down or not.  So, for instance, if I were to go to one of these churches where they say they have no creed but Christ and ask them to baptize my infant child, they would likely say, “No, we don’t believe that infant baptism is valid.”  By saying that, they show that they do in fact have a system of beliefs which they believe has developed from the teachings of the Bible.  Everyone has a system of beliefs, it’s inevitable;  the difference is that in confessional churches like ours, we write them down and can hold them out for the whole world to see and to know what we believe. 

 

That brings us to the first use of creeds and confessions.  We have creeds and confessions so that people can know where we stand.  There doesn’t have to be any guess work as to where this church stands.  So, for instance, you can go to our church website and you’ll find the links to our creeds and confessions.  They’re not hidden away somewhere and you don’t have to dig to find them.  What we believe is no secret.  So, that’s the first use of creeds and confessions – giving outsiders a helpful summary of what we believe are the important teachings of the Bible.

 

Second, we have creeds and confessions as teaching tools.  We use them to instruct our children and ourselves in the basics of what the Bible teaches.  We have catechism classes where the confessions are used as guidelines for unpacking important scriptural teachings.  We have catechism preaching where the same things happens, but for the entire congregation.  Note that it’s not that the creeds and confessions take the place of Scripture, but that they’re used as maps or guides to what the Bible says.  After all, the Bible is a big book and it would be easy to get lost in the details.  Creeds and confessions are helpful in leading the way and giving us direction. 

 

Third, our creeds and confessions are also helpful to keep false teachings at bay.  The Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, for instance, were developed in response to false teachings about the doctrines of the Trinity and of the person of Christ.  Those false teachings are still around and churches that don’t have the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds fall more easily to those false teachings.  The Canons of Dort were developed in response to false teachings about God’s sovereignty in our salvation.  Here too, those false teachings are still around and having the Canons of Dort is an important part of keeping us from swallowing them.  This too is why our ministers, elders and deacons subscribe the creeds and confessions and make special promises that go far beyond what the regular members promise when they make profession of faith.  In our subscription form, ministers, elders and deacons, not only promise that they believe wholeheartedly everything in the confessions, but also that they will do everything in their power to reject, refute, and contradict everything that conflicts with what’s in the confessions.  That’s a huge responsibility and it shows how seriously we take this.  Loved ones, we can be thankful that we have creeds and confessions to help protect us against false teachings.

 

Of course, there’s a lot more that could be said about our creeds and confessions, but I want to move on and now consider what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of the Trinity.

 

There are many people around us who say that they believe in God and even worship him.  Mormons will say that they believe in God, so will Jehovah’s Witnesses.  You could turn on your TV at certain times and see a popular figure like Benny Hinn and he too claims to worship God and believe in him.  However, we always need to ask the question:  who is this God that you believe in?  The Bible leads us to ask that question.  You need to believe in the God of Scripture to be saved.  The Bible makes it clear that God is a Trinity, three persons in one being.  That’s why the Athanasian Creed says, “Whoever wants to be saved must hold the catholic faith...now this is the catholic faith, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity.”  One has to believe in the Trinity to be saved.  That’s a biblical teaching that comes from places like 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father...”

 

The sad truth is that a great many around us don’t believe in the Trinity.  The Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most common examples that spring to mind.  But there are also others who claim to be Christians, whose books are sold in Christian bookstores, whose programs are broadcast on radio and TV as Christian programs.  I mentioned Benny Hinn.  He’s an extreme example.  I watched a video of him recently where he claims that God is actually nine persons.  The Father is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Son is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And the Spirit is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Similarly, a recent popular novel stated that God the Father also suffered on the cross when Jesus was crucified.  Unfortunately, all this confusion about the Trinity is only too common and it again demonstrates what happens when creeds and confessions are thrown out the window.  Then you fall prey to every wind of false doctrine and quickly make shipwreck of the Christian faith. 

 

Because there is so much confusion out there today, it’s important that we’re well-grounded in this basic biblical teaching.  It’s important that we can recognize false teaching when we see it.

 

The Bible teaches that there are three persons in the Trinity:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  When we say persons here, we don’t mean human beings, but beings to whom you can relate, beings who can communicate and so on.  The Bible teaches that these three persons are God.

 

Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to look very far to see that the Father is God.  In the Old Testament, God is said to be the Father of his people a number of times.  The Old Testament also teaches that we are only supposed to pray to God.  The second commandment instructs us not to bow down to anyone other than God.  Then in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.  From this we can conclude that Christ Jesus teaches us that the Father is God.  And that’s not at all a controversial conclusion.  

 

What has been controversial is the question of the divinity of Jesus.  Some have said, for instance, that he wasn’t God when he was born, but that he became God.  However, the Bible teaches that he is God, always has been God, and always will be God.  The most clear teaching of that is in the first two verses of John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  Jesus Christ is called the “Word” here.  “The Word was God.”  The Bible is clear that Christ has always been divine. 

 

Now I should say that if you were to take that passage and show it to a Jehovah’s Witness, they wouldn’t be convinced.  That’s because the Jehovah’s Witness translation of the Bible gives a wrong translation of those words so as to support their doctrine that Jesus is not God.  The New World Translation says, “the Word was a god,” and that’s god with a small ‘g.’  Now the arguments against their translation are quite technical and have to do with Greek grammar and so we’re not going to go into them here.  But you should know that outside of JW circles, it’s almost universally recognized that their “translation” is not correct here. 

 

So, the Bible is clear about the divinity of the Father and the Son.  Also about the Holy Spirit.  One of the most clear examples of that is in Acts 5.  You remember the story of the man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  They were members of the church in Jerusalem and they had a plot of land and sold it.  They brought the money to Peter and the other apostles.  But they kept part of the money back at home.  They made it appear as if they were giving all the money.  They were motivated by the idols of pride and greed, and wanted people to notice them and applaud their actions.  Peter knew that Ananias and Sapphira were lying.  He asked Ananias, “Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit?”  Then he said a bit later, “You have not lied to men, but to God.”  From Peter’s words, we learn that the Holy Spirit is God.          

         

We can see from Scripture that that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God.  But that doesn’t mean that we have three gods.  They are three persons in the one true God.  How that is possible and how that works exactly is a mystery.  There is no illustration capable of explaining it.  In fact, one of my seminary professors once said that anytime you try to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity you end up in heresy – and he was right.  We can’t explain it or understand how it’s possible for there to be three persons in one God.  All we know is what the Bible says.  And we know that the Bible is true and we should accept it, even if we cannot understand it.  We trust God and we take him at his word. 

 

Loved ones, the Bible teaches that God is three, but also one.  One of the classic texts there is Matthew 28:18-20.  When Jesus says, “baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he mentions one name.  He doesn’t say baptizing in the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but in the name, singular.  But then he mentions three persons.  He puts all three together as God.

 

Similarly when Paul gives his benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians, he sends them away with a blessing from God:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  That blessing comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, from God (the Father), and also from the Holy Spirit.  All three are mentioned here as together blessing the believers in Corinth, and by extension all believers today.  There is one God who blesses and that one God blesses his people in his three persons.    

  

Is the Bible’s teaching about the Trinity important?  Absolutely!  It’s important because of what God teaches us in the second commandment.  We can’t have our own version of God.  The God we worship must be the God who has revealed himself in his Word.  He has revealed himself there to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God eternally existing in three persons.

 

In Hebrews 10:26-31, the author of Hebrews says that if we trample all over the Son of God, we will be destroyed by God.  A denial of Jesus’ divinity is an example of trampling over the Son.  A person who does that has serious trouble in his future unless he repents and has a change of mind and heart.  However, believing the biblical truth that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are three persons in one God, we are richly blessed.  There’s good news and comfort in this belief.  The biblical teaching of the Trinity tells us that we are safe in the Father’s hands, because we are his children through our Lord Jesus Christ through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.  These three together are our God, whom we worship and praise, now and forever.  AMEN.

 

Prayer:

 

O God in heaven,

 

We worship and adore you as the Three-in-One. 

 

We praise you God our Father, for creating us and for sustaining us.


We praise you God the Son, for redeeming us, for saving us from the wrath to come.

 

We praise you God the Holy Spirit, for your work of sanctification in our lives.

 

O God, our Triune God, we pray that you would keep us close to yourself and to the revelation of who you are in your Holy Word.  We pray that you would guard us in the holy catholic Christian faith. We pray that the faith found in the Apostles’ Creed would be ours until our dying day and beyond.  Please continue to shower your grace and mercy upon us your people and bless us in every way.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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