We need to decide some things about our understanding of God, so let’s call a council and decide these issues.
Since humans are finite and God is infinite we just cannot understand all there is to know about God. We also cannot have a complete understanding about what we do know concerning God. For instance, we know God is eternal, but what exactly does it mean for a being to exist and have no beginning or ending. All we humans have ever dealt with are things having a beginning and an ending. There are all kinds of ideas about God that throughout history have needed to be wrestled with in order to be as biblical as possible.
2 rules concerning understanding and expressing a difficult theological issue.
When I was attending seminary way back in the dark ages (the 1990’s), I was given many words of advice when it came to wresting with, understanding, and expressing ideas about God. 2 of these were rules by which I filter all my contemplation: 1. say what the Bible says as clearly as possible, 2. say no more and no less than what the Bible says. It is imperative that one states the issue and the answer clearly and precisely. It is equally important to not say anything the Bible does not say.
How does this advice play into the Council of Nicaea?
Honestly I believe that since the beginning (yes, even with the Apostles) the followers of Jesus did not fully understand who he was and were really lost for precise expressions of his uniqueness. So after the apostles died (the last one was John the Apostle who died around AD 100) the followers of Jesus thought about, debated, and argued about the person of Jesus. One of the most important issues is: is Jesus fully God or just the highest of all created beings? Around the year AD 300 a man named Arius had decided he had the answer to the above stated question. Arius was so tenacious about the biblical teaching that THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD that he was convinced (and convinced a lot of others) that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, yet created nonetheless and therefore not eternal. Arius made this statement about Jesus: ‘The Son of God was a created being, made from nothing; there was a time when he had no existence and he was capable of change and of altering between good and evil’. Arius emphasized the oneness of God to the detriment of the threeness of God. He was not comfortable with the idea that ‘the Father was God, the Son was God, and the Spirit was God, yet there was only one God’.
Emperor Constantine assists in the debate
In AD 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine (no not John Constantine, that’s a TOTALLY different guy) called a council of pastors to meet in the city of Nicaea (in modern day Turkey) to debate the issue of the relationship between the Father and the Son and come to the precise biblical statement.
There is so much that could be said (and probably should be said) about the Council of Nicaea who were the main participants, what they discussed, and the conclusions they came to. But for our purposes let me just state it as simply as I can, the council’s statement which was put into the Nicene Creed: We believe . . .
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
(this is just a portion of the creed, but the portion that is pertinent to our discussion here).
The conclusion from the majority of the pastors is that Jesus is fully God and not a created being.
Here are the 3 bullets for the Council of Nicaea:
The council was called by Emperor Constantine to produce a definitive statement about the eternality of Jesus.
A man named Arius was condemned by the council to be a heretic because of his unwavering denial of Jesus being of the same essence as the Father
The council’s conclusion is that Jesus was begotten not made and of the same essence as the Father.
Please tell me a story of how you wrestled with this issue and what helps you in understanding the person of Jesus.
I said it would be difficult to post every Thursday
As I wrote in a previous post, I knew it would be difficult to keep up even a short blog post once a week. This is one of the things that I am trying to stay consistent with, but you all know that life gets busy. So bear with me while I struggle through this. So today’s post is late but I will also try to post another one on Thursday.
Augustine of Hippo (bio):
Born in AD 354 in North Africa (modern day Algeria) his father was a pagan member of the Roman government, and mother was a devout Christian. He was a brilliant child so his parents sent him to get a good education to a modern city (Carthage) out of his small town with its limited opportunities. He soon became a teacher of rhetoric (debating) and later one of the lead rhetoricians in the Roman Empire. He had no need of the Bible (it was to pedestrian) but was insatiable in his quest for truth. He also struggled personally with his own sin, evil, and rebellion. He began following Jesus Christ while living in Milan, Italy and listening to a charismatic preacher named Ambrose. After Augustine moved back to his home town to spend the remainder of his life as a monk in contemplation of the things of God, he was coerced into becoming the pastor of a church in Hippo Regius (modern day Annaba, Algeria). He spent the rest of his life pastoring and writing (in his native Latin) and thinking about theology. He wrote about many, many topics, among them: salvation, the church, baptism, sin, the Trinity, the Christian state, sex, time, the sovereignty of God. He debated against many bad philosophies of the day, such as Pelagianism, Manicheism, and the Donatists.
Augustine’s 3 bullet points:
Battled Pelagius whose preached the idea that man has the ability to work toward his own salvation (idea summary is “man is a sinner because he sins”). Augustine fought this preaching by believing, “man sins because he is a sinner”.
Wrote On The Trinity which expressed God as an eternal transcendent, infinite, and perfect triune God.
Wrote The City of God responding to the destruction of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, emphasizing God’s sovereignty and providence.
Polycarp (AD 69-155) was the bishop/pastor of the church in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey). According to Eusebius of Caesarea (who wrote the first history of the Christian church around AD 300) he was a disciple of the Apostle John. Polycarp was well know to have called Marcion, a leader in Gnosticism, ‘the firstborn of Satan’ because of his gnostic theology. Polycarp was martyred (burned at the stake which did not consume him so he was stabbed with a sword) for his faith in Jesus before a crowd of onlookers in a stadium.
Disciple of the Apostle John
Wrote against Marcion a well known leader of Gnosticism
Martyred for his refusal to deny Jesus
Let me know if this is at all beneficial to your understanding of church history.
I have thought long and hard about writing blog posts. I understand that I have been inconsistent with my postings and am attempting to be more consistent. But in order to write weekly it will probably end up a bit shorter of a post. As I am writing I strive to write a minimum of one thousand words (which is not really that much). This many words does require quite a bit of research and note taking. I am not against researching (in fact I enjoy it) but often I lack time to do it sufficiently. I think that when doing the research I want to get the correct information and would not want the posts to be inadequate. Therefore to deal with this problem I have decided that many of these new posts will be shorter in length.
I am going to call these new posts “3 Bullet Thursday”
As I think about the topic of Church History and the people who are interested in studying it I imagine those people do not necessarily want to read thousands of words about a person or a topic or an event. So in order to adapt to this audience I want to make things a little more palatable and easier to remember.
There are thousands of facts and pieces of information about people, places, and events in the annuls of history. To be honest there is just too much for most people to even want to attempt to learn. So I am going to give 3 bullets to summarize the important or significant topics of that day.
It seems to me that one would need a bit of a background (dates a person lived, geographic area they ministered in, short biography) in order to better understand the person. For instance, I were writing on C.S. Lewis and posted he wrote: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity without informing you he was a teacher of literature in England in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s then the information would be almost useless. So I will include in the 3 Bullet Thursdays a brief biography to set the stage for the person or event.
I would also like to iterate that I am well of the woeful inadequacy of summing up significant people or events in 3 bullet points. But I am convinced it will be beneficial to readers if I sum up theologian’s accomplishments in 3 short phrases. I know ‘real’ church historians will not approve of this ‘boiling down’ of the significant issues but OH WELL it is going to be the way I will approach it.
I Wonder Who Is First (although this would be a great place to say Who’s On First but I will restrain myself)
I guess the first and most important person should be Jesus of Nazareth.
OK here we go:
Jesus was born in Israel around 3 B.C. He lived as fully sinless life in order to fulfill the requirement God had for the remission of sin. He died around AD 30 of crucifixion by the Romans and his followers claimed to see him resurrected 3 days after his death.
He was the anointed one of Israel sent by God to deliver humankind from their sins.
The only way to please God and be accepted by him and go to heaven when you die is to believe that Jesus died for your sins and you need to do nothing to receive forgiveness other than believe through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
He promised to return to gather his people some day and those who accepted his sacrifice for their sins would spend eternity with him.
What information do you think I should have included in this 3 bullet Thursday about Jesus of Nazareth???
Please leave me a comment, I would love to discuss issues with you.