Matthew 16:13–17 (NKJV)
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. It is not that “rebellion” is acceptable within our cultural milieu; “rebellion” has become our cultural milieu. From “Not your father’s Buick” to “Not your father’s Root Beer,” to “Just be yourself,” our culture expects each new generation to be different, unique, revolutionary. “Out with the old, in with the new,” we are told. “This is the evolutionary process.”
Unfortunately, we evangelicals have imbibed much of this cultural food, routinely wolfing down the latest fad. However, because we have a residual loyalty to the Bible, we often try to cloak our anti-traditionalism in pious language. Consider, for example, the sentiment, “No creed but Christ.” “All we want to do is focus on Jesus. Away with these other teachings and traditions! Away with the creeds!”
Such a sentiment is nothing more than the anti-traditionalism of our culture cloaked in pious language. A moment’s thought reveals its utter inadequacy: No creed but Christ? What Christ do you mean? Who is this “Christ”? Is he…
- The literal offspring of God the Father & Mary as Mormons teach?
- The greatest of angelic beings as JWs & Arians teach?
- Simply a great moral teacher as liberalism teaches?
- A spirit being who only appeared to be human as Docetism taught?
To say, “No creed but Christ,” in other words, is vacuous. We must specify which Christ we mean. And this is the dynamic we see at work in our text today. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They respond, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But then Jesus presses, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus declares, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words, Peter got the answer correct.
Jesus’ interaction with the disciples reminds us that creeds, doctrinal summaries of the faith, are inescapable. It is not whether but which; not whether we have and embrace a creed but which creed we embrace – the true one or the false one? It was this insight that led our fathers to compose creeds in the history of the Church – summaries of biblical teaching that answer the question, “Who is this God we worship?” They composed creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon, and then handled them down to us as a sacred trust. These creeds were attempts to distinguish truth from error, to combat various false teachings that tried to infiltrate the Church – Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism, and others.
So how ought we to receive these creeds? As we shall learn in our sermon today, we ought to receive them in thankfulness and then hand them on to the next generation. Rather than scorn the creeds with our arrogant mantra, “No creed but Christ,” we ought to thank God that He poured out His Spirit upon His Church and enabled our fathers to summarize faithfully the teachings of Scripture.
So what of you? Have you given thanks to God for these creedal summaries, treasured them as gifts from God, and considered how you might hand these on to the next generation? Or have you taken them for granted, mumbling through them each Sunday and largely ignoring the blood, sweat, and tears that went into their composition and transmission?
Reminded that God has been good and kind to His Church throughout history and has given us the creeds to lead and guide us in the proper understanding of His Word, let us confess that we have often taken these creeds for granted. As we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.