But Everyone Knows That Doctrine Divides!

Text: John 3:1-15

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Today is Trinity Sunday, and with it being Trinity Sunday, we confess the words of the Athanasian Creed.  More specifically, we confess that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.  We confess that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things that we might worship our Triune God in unity. 

Yes, today is the day that we dust off the Athanasian Creed, stand, and confess with boldness our belief that our Triune God is uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and almighty. 

But why bother confessing such a complex and seemingly confusing Creed?  Why bother confessing such a wordy and apparently messy sounding creed like the Athanasian Creed?  Why not just say that we believe in God and leave it at that?  Everybody knows that details and doctrine divide – right?  So, why sweat the small stuff – right?

Well... no.  That is not right.  You see, throughout the history of the church, thousands upon thousands of Christians would disagree.  Yes, there are thousands of Christian martyrs that would have severely disagreed with the sentiments that were previously mentioned, so much that they staked their life on the doctrines of the Christian faith. 

You see, if we look throughout history and spot solid doctrine, we will most likely find a trail of martyr’s blood attached to it.  The Christians of our past were unwilling to compromise the doctrines of God’s Word, and they were unwilling to settle for vague and imprecise statements about the faith.  Those who came before us, such as our Lutheran forefathers, were quite willing to be burned at the stake for a right confession – for solid doctrine. 

But it seems that this way of thinking about the Christian faith has come to an end.  Today more and more people in the church cry out,  

“Oh, why do we have to be so bull-headed about silly doctrine?  Doctrine doesn’t matter; just stick with Jesus.  He saves, not doctrine.  Just stick with the basics; yes, the basics.  We are Christians after all, and we all worship the same God.”

Now, while this sounds fairly reasonable, there are many hidden problems with saying that we should just stick to the basics.  For example, what are the basics of the Christian faith?  Who decides what the basics will be?  You?  Me?  Will someone else decide for us?  Maybe the world will decide what the basics will be?  Will the basics of the Christian faith be reduced to simple children’s stories that make Jesus into a moral teacher?  If so, we really don’t need the Christian faith but can instead watch reruns of Mr. Rogers.  Will the basics be reduced to simple coffee mug slogans: keep the faith, believe in God, be still, just keep praying, and so forth?  If so, we really don’t need the Christian faith but maybe a Starbucks Coffee membership.  Will the basics be simply sticking with Jesus?  If so, should we be concerned with how Jesus gives Himself to us through His inerrant Word and His Sacraments of Baptism and Communion?  If the Word, Baptism, and Communion are too much to fuss about – beyond the basics – well, I guess we are essentially saying that we don’t need the church and should toss our Bibles in the trash, and call it good.      

Remember dear Baptized Saints that Jesus ‘is’ the way.  Jesus did not come to teach you the way or to show you the way or to be an example of how you can find the way to heaven.  No!  That is nonsense! Jesus came to suffer and to die for your sins and rise again for your justification.  On the cross, your Lord Jesus gave His life for you so that He might give Himself to you and with Himself, He gives you and your children, His grace, His forgiveness, His eternal life.  He is your way. 

What does all of this mean, though?  It means that we cannot talk about Jesus without talking about doctrine.  We can’t talk about Jesus without talking about how He gives Himself and His gifts of life and salvation to us.  In other words, doctrine is far from unimportant in the Christian faith.  In fact, without Christian doctrine, we can’t have the Christian faith.  Why?  Because doctrine is just another word for the teachings that our Lord has given us in the Word. 

So, if we let go of Christian doctrine, we are letting go of the Bible.  If we let go of the Bible, we are left with ourselves and our ideas about God, which are more often than not idolatrous – fake.  Furthermore, if we attempt to reduce and diminish doctrine for the sake of embracing an easier life, then in time we will lose the clear confession of who our Lord Jesus Christ is.  And if not careful, we will eventually lose the Christian faith altogether, making us poor souls damned for hell, while thinking that we are fine and dandy. 

Tragically, I hear the sad regret from pastors and parents over how the children and the young people of our churches are falling away from the Christian faith after High School.  And everybody wants to know why.  Why are they leaving!?  Well, it isn’t the fault of the Holy Spirit.  But rather, statistics show us two things.  First, if parents are not bringing their children to church consistently in the first place and teaching them at home about the Christian faith, there is a 1% chance that they will continue in the church after high school.[1]  Secondly, a recent survey of 3,000 Christians conducted by LifeWay Research found that over half of Christians in America subscribe to ancient heresies.  We are not talking about minor doctrinal errors, but major ancient heresies that are condemned by all major Christian denominations.[2]  Bluntly stated, Christians in America do not even know the basics of Christianity and are often embarrassed to admit it.  The average Christian in America has no doctrinal understanding and is often opposed to learning. 

So, if our children and youth are not going to church and not learning at home about the Christian faith, and if the average parent does not even know the basics of the Christian faith, it should not be a surprise to us at all why so many youths are falling away from the church. 

Tragically when the world is teaching our youth about things such as photosynthesis of plants, but the church scorns the idea of teaching our children the doctrine of propitiation, well, it is no wonder why we have the problems that we do. 

O Lord have mercy on us.  God forgive us.  Yes, God forgive every one of us. 

So, where do we go from here? 

Dear Baptized Saints, before we can begin to teach our children, we must know what we believe and why we believe it.  We must learn the doctrines of the faith, the teachings given to us in things such as the Athanasian Creed.  We must treasure and take up the teachings of God’s Word and the Small Catechism, and never settle for the blandness of the basics.  We must know what we believe and why we believe it. 

Yes, if we are to be faithful as a Church and if we desire to have this Christian faith passed down to our children and grandchildren, then we must be prepared to believe, teach, and confess the doctrines of the faith handed down to us from our Lutheran forefathers – from the Christians who have gone before us. 

But we must also be prepared to stand steadfast as a church, to reject and condemn, all errors and false teachings.  But be warned, we will not be liked for being faithful to God’s Word.  The devil hates those who refuse to compromise.

Dear Baptized Saints, doctrine divides, there is no way around it.  We cannot have it both ways.  Either it will be the Holy Christian faith drawn from God’s Word, or it will be a generic-meaningless-empty faith of somebody else’s basics.

Now, if you think this all sounds too harsh, listen to our Lord Jesus and the way He speaks to Nicodemus in the Gospel lesson.  Jesus does not give a watered down generic answer to Nicodemus’ questions.  But instead, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Jesus goes on to say, “We speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.”  Our Lord is clear here.  He is specific.  There is one doctrine, one teaching, one way – His way. There is no compromising.  Jesus does not water down His teaching or bend it towards mankind.  The doctrine and teaching of Jesus will not compromise and accommodate to our ideas of easier paths.

So, today we confessed the Athanasian Creed, today we confessed the doctrine of who God is in great detail.  We confessed it not as some dry religious exercise, but we confessed it so that we might continue to stand on what we believe and know in whom we believe.

Yes, we confess the Creeds and we learn doctrine because in so doing, we not only learn about our sin but also hear about our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Indeed, Christian doctrine points us away from ourselves to Jesus and what He has done for us.  And when we hear and learn about Jesus, we are given faith and assurance and confidence that we are Jesus’ now and forever.

May God grant us the steadfastness of faith to cling to Jesus and to His Word.  May God grant us a hunger for His doctrine – His Word.  May God Grant us boldness to confess Him – today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

[1] Matt Richard, “A New Discovery on how to Keep Youth in the Church,” PM Notes, http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2015/02/a-new-discovery-on-how-to-keep-youth-in.html (accessed May 26, 2018).
[2] LifeWay Research, “Americans Love God and the Bible, Are Fuzzy on the Details,” https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/ (accessed May 26, 2018). 

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean