Why Are Our Three Creeds Built Around the Trinity?
A quick glance at our familiar Apostles’ Creed reveals that it contains three paragraphs. Looking closer, we find the three paragraphs describe the person and work of the three persons of the God-head: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Examining the less-familiar Nicene Creed, often confessed in many congregations during Communion Services, we see the same thing—three paragraphs describing the Trinity.
The Athanasian Creed, traditionally confessed but once a year on Trinity Sunday, is a much longer statement of faith, containing many paragraphs. It describes the Trinity in clear and unmistakable Scriptural terms, even at times appearing to be repetitive.
The Athanasian Creed boldly states, “And the true Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” and “Whoever will be saved is compelled thus to think of the Holy Trinity.”
Often when using this creed, questions are asked: “Isn’t this going too far when there are so many other saving teachings in the Bible? Why do all three of our Christian Creeds focus so exclusively on the doctrine of the Trinity?”
The formulators of all three Creeds found it necessary to stress the doctrine of the Trinity because this most basic truth about God was a foreign idea in their world and society. This concept, impossible even for Christians to fully comprehend, was under constant and vicious attack, making it necessary to simply state the facts from Scripture. We find this reaction just as true today as it was in the first five centuries of the Christian Church.
Note, however, that other doctrines are not slighted in the Creeds. All of Scripture’s saving doctrines are encompassed in the Trinity. For the Triune God alone is the God of our salvation. He alone, without any help from us or anyone else, has single-handedly brought about forgiveness and eternal life for helpless, hell-bound sinners.
In eternity, our Triune God planned our redemption and in time by His almighty power, He has controlled all history to carry out the sinner’s justification through Christ’s death, thus reconciling him with God. By His boundless grace, He has entered into our individual lives to make us partakers of his mercy by His message of forgiveness in Jesus.
God the Father created us along with all things. But an even greater creative act is that the Father sent His own Son into a lowly womb and world to take unto Himself our human flesh and blood, becoming one of us, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man in one Person.
God the Son lived a perfect life in the stead of sinners, earning for us God’s own righteousness, which alone avails before God. On His cross, Jesus suffered our punishment, paying the full price for every sin. He rose from the dead, triumphant over our sin, death, and hell, opening heaven to sinners redeemed.
We sinners, who are dead to God, enemies of God, and unable to accept or believe the truth, could never apprehend this great salvation by our own reason.
God the Holy Spirit, using Word and Sacrament, worked the miracle of saving faith in our hearts, sustains that faith to this day, and will keep us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith to eternal life in heaven.
This is our one true God, the God of our salvation. Each of the three persons works individually, yet they are united as one Lord and one God. Within this Holy Trinity is comprehended every doctrine of our salvation, which God has accomplished for us. What an eternal privilege and blessing to confess the one, true faith in this one, true God in our three creeds!Joel Willitz is co-pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth, Michigan.