Even if you don’t know the word – and it’s definitely a ‘church word’ – you’re surely familiar with the concept. The topic has appeared on these pages quite a few times, penned by authors of nearly every denominational stripe.
The basic concept is that Christians ought to work together, ought to agree on doctrine (or at least, agree on a “few core doctrines”). At the very least, it’s proposed that Christians focus on what they have in common – rather than focusing on their differences.
Modern ecumenical thought sets aside doctrine in favor of an outward display of unity & cooperation. And as doctrine is downgraded, any denominational differences are dismissed with a flippant judgment that the Bible is vague enough to allow for nearly any belief.
Frankly, the problem isn’t with the clarity of the Bible - but rather with the human heart, which rejects all that God has said…but we’ve had that discussion already.
What I want to talk about today is a treasure of ‘ecumenical’ efforts – something which every Christian can agree on, something which the Christian church has always agreed about: the three ecumenical creeds. (Again with the churchy language!)
I’m talking about the three concise statements that declare what the Christian church has always believed; and if you’re a Christian, these three creeds are also your beliefs.
You might be familiar with these statements from your time in worship, or perhaps your time in Bible class.
But it’s equally possible that you are unfamiliar with these three creeds. Maybe your church took a poll and decided that these statements were too dry, dusty, and boring for a worship service that tries to be real, relevant, and relational…or perhaps these statements have been set aside as part of the “Don’t go to church - be the church!” mentality. Or maybe, horror of horrors, you’ve fallen prey to the false idea that using creeds means downplaying Christian action (usually promoted as “Deeds, not creeds!”).
Perhaps the three ecumenical creeds seem more like relics of a bygone era, dusty artifacts in the museum of Christian thought – and we are far too loving, far too welcoming to use these creeds regularly.
If that’s the case, I encourage you to read these three ecumenical creeds - the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. You can find them at our website, along with an abbreviated history. These statements have defined Christianity since the third century, mirroring several creed-like statements from the Bible (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:16). All three were written to clarify what Christians teach (and don’t teach) about the Trinity and the person of Christ. And for almost 1800 years, these creeds have summarized Christian belief; they have given a quick summary of the true Christian doctrine.
(Talk about an offensive statement! Who could claim to proclaim true Christian doctrine?! But I digress.)
These statements of belief are not Scripture - but they are a clear reflection of what Scripture teaches. These three ecumenical creeds have served the Church well for almost two millennia, and have proven helpful for Christians who try to proclaim the truth.
Dry and dusty? Hardly. Ecumenical? Definitely!
These creeds help proclaim the proper teaching about the Trinity and the person of Jesus. Regular repetition in worship solidifies these teachings in the hearts & minds of the hearers, while helping to keep the focus of worship where it belongs – Christ crucified.
But perhaps their greatest contribution is for the individual Christian, outside of Sunday worship. When you want to check out a new or different church, ask if they believe the three ecumenical creeds. When a visitor knocks on your door, invite them in and discuss the Athanasian creed. (It’s easy, really; print it out & read it together.)
Because it’s unloving to hide the truth. And? False teachers appear as wonderful, genuine, loving people. They use Christian books. They have Christian terms in their worship services and congregational names.
But if they teach a god who is only one, and not three-in-one/one-in-three, they are not Christian. Their teaching – adorned with all the appearances of Christianity – will leave you broken, helpless, and hopeless at the Last Day.
How can I say that?
That’s what the Bible says. And that’s what the Christian church has always taught.