For any visitors this morning can I say we are in the middle of a series of sermons on the Nicene Creed (we say at Communion Services). And this Sunday we are to consider the phrase in the Creed He [Jesus] Was Crucified. This is providential. For we need the message both of the Creed and of the Cross for a truly Christian liberal education – that is, Western education as we have known it until recent years and that has been the envy of much of the rest of the world.
You see, those 18th century liberal ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity” really do need the Christian faith if they are not to become demonic.
In the 20th century Fraternity pursued in defiance of God in Nazism produced a murderous, racist blood-brotherhood. For if you lose the Fatherhood of God, you soon lose the brotherhood of man.
In the 20th century Equality pursued in defiance of God in Stalinism produced a murderous, Marxist mission for the proletariat, but benefiting only the new political class. For unless you believe men and women are made in the image of God, without that basis equality cannot survive.
And now in the 21st century Liberty pursued in defiance of God by the West is producing economic and moral collapse.
Most of you know the economics of the economic collapse. But do you know the economics of the moral collapse? The costs of new sexual freedoms and the consequential marital breakdown to the taxpayer and the wider economy are complex and difficult to calculate. But in his recent Jubilee Paper, “Free Sex: Who pays?” Guy Brandon of the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge has estimated (I quote): “£100 billion [not £100 million but £100 billion] annually is probably a reasonable starting point” (as the paper goes on to explain).
Now compare that with the annual Education budget. For it is £10 billion more than the £90 billion we are spending on Education in this country! So new sexual and marital mores, leading to decadence, disease and disorder is costing us more than the entire Education budget. And doctors and other health professionals here this morning might like to know that it is costing us only a little less than the entire NHS budget of around £120 billion! And the Government is wanting further to destabilize our sexual culture by introducing gay marriage.
Such is the price of the loss of true liberalism, which requires Christian assumptions, as we shall see, and with the Creed and the Cross in its philosophical grounding. For this grounding gives you ordered liberty, which requires some restraints. Like a bicycle, there can only be free-wheeling freely with the restraints of its hub nuts being fully tightened. Free the hub nuts and the wheels falls off! So much by way of introduction.
For my sermon this morning I have just two very simple headings - first, WHY THE CREED? and secondly, WHY THE CROSS?
So, first, WHY THE CREED?
Now-a-days when traveling by road you can look up Google maps on your computer or smart phone. You can then have a simple “map”, or a “satellite” photograph that gives you all the details. Well, if you want guidance for life’s journey, then the million word Bible provides a “zoomed in” satellite picture while the 200 word Nicene Creed is like a “zoomed out” Google map. Both are important and needed. But the Creed helps you see at a glance the fundamentals. It summarizes key truths of the Bible. As the Anglican Catechism says (referring to the similar but even shorter Apostles’ Creed we’ve just said), in the Creed you learn “first, … to believe in God the Father, who has made me and all the world; secondly, in God the Son who has redeemed me and all mankind; [and] thirdly, in God the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies me and all the elect people of God.” So the Creed states the fact that the true God is one God in three persons. But it also gives you a “world view”.
Now you all have a “world view”. Even if you are simply going with the current politically correct flow, it means you are endorsing the world-view of others and their decisions on fundamental issues of life and morals. In education today that means, more and more, endorsing secular world-views that are anti-Christian. But that is positively to deny the Creed’s world-view and all that it means for the philosophy of education and for ensuring a “truly liberal education.”
The Creed points to a world-view of four fundamentals: the Creation, the Fall of man, Redemption in Jesus Christ, and the Final Judgement. Let me go through those.
First, Creation. Essential to academic liberalism is the aim of “pursuing truth” and since the 17th century in a way related to the scientific method. But there is nothing automatic about the pursuit of truth. The claim of the philosopher, Michel Foucault, the French high-priest of the sexual revolution, before he died of AIDS, asserted there is (I quote) “no truly universal truth”. One important study of the role of the university said (not so long ago) that “liberal higher education has rested on the assumption that objective knowledge and truth are attainable [but] this assumption has recently been put in doubt with modern developments in philosophy.”
You will only get an honest search for truth and with agreed methods of testing hypotheses when you have a prior belief that there is an objective reality, that calls for exploration, that invites investigation (without bias and as disinterestedly as possible), and that there is both the predictable and the unpredictable in nature. But this is just what the Christian doctrine of Creation gives you. For it starts by differentiating God, man and the world.
So God, the Creator, is real and not just a figment of man’s imagination. Then man is seen as a creature and not the Creator. His own ideas and activities do not give rise to the world. The world is given, real and not all in flux. For the world behaves in a reasonably predictable way; yet the testing of theories about it is required. For there is the miraculous or the contingent. But lose that belief in the true and living creator God of the Creed and you will soon cease to believe in the world as a knowable reality. The Christian doctrine of Creation is vital as an educational assumption – not arguments over when it happened, but that it happened.
Secondly, the Christian doctrine of the Fall is vital for education. It is behind those words in the Creed that say Christ came “for our salvation”. The Fall says that humankind - men and women - as they are, are not as they ought to be. But that diseased condition goes back to the first defiance of God that has then characterized everyone since, to a smaller or greater degree. So there is a real difference between right and wrong. For there are objective standards in terms of God’s revealed word and law. And they are revealed to all through nature and the human conscience, as Psalm 19 and Romans 1 and 2 teach. This is God’s “General revelation”, as the theologians call it. But God’s word and law are more fully revealed in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ to whom the Bible witnesses. This is God’s “Special revelation”, as the theologians call it. And all this needs to be taught – the difference between right and wrong – before you can teach the good news of Redemption in Christ.
But the doctrine of the Fall itself is important educationally, as it tells you that no one is born perfect. So you can’t assume all life’s problems are due to the environment of the home, the school or the wider world (essential as those environments are). You must, therefore, educate accordingly. But some still have this false assumption that the problems are essentially external. In the modern period this false assumption goes back to the 18th century Frenchman, Rousseau and his educational theories – Rousseau, a man personally incapable of bringing up his own children that he fathered on his mistress and ruthlessly put into a foundling hospital. However, his ideas have been greatly discredited by the wars and brutality of the 20th century. So more are realizing that the Fall is real.
Thirdly, there is the Redemption, supremely through the Cross, which we will consider in a moment.
And fourthly, there is the Final Judgment. This teaches that history will not go on for ever. There will come a time when, as the Creed puts it, Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead”, and his “kingdom [then] will have no end.” Yes, the Bible uses imagery to talk about this event and glorious imagery to talk about the wonderful subsequent state of heaven. But it also uses the imagery of outer darkness and fire for the fate for those whose desire to be separated from God in this life, will then be confirmed for eternity. It teaches the dreadful reality of hell. However, in teaching that, it underlines that God respects human freedom. He will not force anyone to trust him, love him or be with him. That is what this fearful doctrine teaches.
Any philosophy of education, therefore, must never seek to force belief on a child. That is why, as parents, you must fight any current secular indoctrination in schools that seeks to undermine Christian belief and ethics by imposing the doctrine of secular nihilism. So the Final Judgment says to Christian teachers, yes, propose the truth, try to persuade people rationally and pray above all for them; but never wrongly impose the truth. That, however, is true not only for schools but for all our evangelism.
So much for, “Why the Creed?” and its relevance to education. It is a map that gives you a world-view that faces reality. That brings us …
Secondly, to WHY THE CROSS?
The Creed says it was “For our sake he [Jesus] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” The Cross of Jesus is the great Good News. In that sense it is the high-point (or the beginning of the high-point) of the Creed. The facts were spelt out by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. You have them in Acts 2v22-24:
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men [literally ‘lawless men’ i.e. men outside the Jewish law – Romans], put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2v22-24)
The Cross of Christ is so final and unique. There is nothing like it in all the world religions or philosophical systems. What it achieved was unrepeatable and what it teaches is incomparable. But before we think about all that, let me say one thing about the amazing mystery of God’s providence.
This wicked and dreadful act of killing, by one of the cruelest methods ever invented, was at one and the same time an act of God’s goodness and love for the saving of the world. Peter said it all happened “by God's set purpose and foreknowledge.” It is a mystery; but even the worst that men can do, God can weave into a pattern for good. From our side it looks like a cloth with a tangle of threads. From God’s side it is a beautiful tapestry.
Are you going through some terrible situation? Well, trust God and commit yourself to the redeeming and risen Jesus Christ who died for your sins. And remember anything you may have contributed to your current situation can be forgiven, and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8v28).
So back to the uniqueness of the Cross - how was it unique in what it achieved? In two ways, at least.
One, it meant that human sinners could be free from God’s judgment on human sin. Christ suffered not only human pain on the Cross but also the divine wrath and rejection that our sins deserve: Isaiah 53v6 says it all:
”We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 5v6)
So there can now be peace with God as people trust Christ for forgiveness.
But, two, the death of Christ on the Cross not only frees you from the guilt but also from the power of sin. The Cross is the empty Cross of Jesus. The emptiness reminds us of his burial and of his Resurrection - that cosmic event, when time and eternity met. The Resurrection not only validated the truth of the Gospel. It also meant that the risen Christ is now reigning and gives new life and power by his Holy Spirit. So there can be reconciliation now, not only with God, but also in human relationships, through Christ’s power.
But the Cross was unique in what it taught, as well as in what it achieved. Here, again, are two ways.
One, the Cross, John tells us in his First letter, defines the love of God. 1 John 4v8 tells us that “God is love”. Then a couple of verses later he explains that love:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4v10)
So the Cross teaches that God’s love is an utterly sacrificial love.
Then, two, the wrath of God against sin, requiring the Cross, teaches how utterly serious sin is, in God’s sight.
Now these facts and truths need to be taught in our schools. Of course, that is not to say that everything taught in other religions and philosophies is wrong. Truths from God’s general revelation undoubtedly are reflected in other religions and philosophies. And God’s common grace is experienced by all. Jesus says, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Mt 5v45). But God’s saving grace for forgiveness and new life, is through Christ alone and his Cross and Resurrection. The Bible teaches in Acts 4v12 (and the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles specifically quote that verse, underlining its message):
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4v12)
And the facts prove such teaching is unique. Other religions and philosophies reject the Cross. Here are just four examples.
In the 1st century, Greek philosophy rejected the Cross as foolishness. Also in the 1st century Jewish religion rejected the Cross as a “stumbling block”. That is what Paul tells us he discovered first hand.
In the 7th century Islam rejected the Cross by denying the fact. The Quran says the Jews “uttered a monstrous falsehood” when they declared: “we have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah … [for] they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.”
And in the modern age Hindus, while accepting the fact of Jesus’ death, reject its saving significance. Ghandi could write of Jesus: “His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that here was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.”
There is no rational reason for rejecting the Bible’s teaching on the Cross of Christ – its fact, its achievement and its teaching. So why is there such disbelief today in the UK today? A fundamental issue is “pluralism”.
The social sciences have correctly taught us about the relativity of our world views – how they are significantly shaped by the cultures and religions we are born into. But the distinguished social scientist Peter Berger, writing about this obvious fact about various world-views, says:
“The historians and social scientists (and throw in the philosophers and psychologists, if you will) can exhaustively explain why this is so, and how it came about. The question still remains, however: Who is right, as between … these ways of ‘being in the world’? What is the truth?”
But if truth questions are never asked, and all views are smiled on, you will find certainty on any view hard. And there will be an undermining of belief, even when you are intellectually convinced. That is why secularism and pluralism are closely related. For social science is now correctly telling us that personal certainty – feeling certain in religion as in other matters - depends upon strong (I quote):
“Social support for whatever it is that the individual wants to be certain about. Conversely, the absence … of social support undermines subjective certainty – and that is precisely what happens when the individual is confronted with a plurality of competing world-views, norms or definitions of reality” (Peter Berger).
The Asch Conformity Experiment shows that happening.
I conclude, therefore, with this comment.
The evidence for the truth of the Creed and the achievement and the message of the Cross is convincing. Life lived on the basis of the Creed and the Cross confirms that conviction.
But with one study showing that church-going children between the ages of 6 and 18 were averaging 400 hours in church or Sunday School, 11,000 hours in Day Schools and 15,000 hours watching television, how we need a return to that great tradition of Christian education and to provide the social support the next generation of children desperately needs for a reasonable faith and a truly liberal world view, with ordered liberty.