As I have been teaching through the setting and struggles of early Christianity at my home church, an interesting question came up that needed to be addressed. We had been going along in our study and came upon a look at the Council of Nicaea held in AD 325. In this council the main issue (although there were many issues addressed, not however canonicity as held by Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code) was the relationship between the Father and the Son. An influential bishop named Arius was preaching and teaching that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, yet a created being nonetheless. Arius made a statement ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’. He believed Jesus to be second only to God in importance and power and authority but still created.
So as we discussed this idea I had a student ask me, ‘Well wasn’t Jesus created because His human body came into existence and did not exist in eternity past?’ This was a very interesting question that made me stop and ponder for a moment. So I thought about it and explained that we must say what the Bible says, no more and no less. Then I asked some leading questions like, ‘does the Bible teach that Jesus is eternal?’ and ‘Yes’ was the answer; ‘does the Bible teach that Jesus took on a human body or was born as a human?’ also the answer was ‘yes’. So I needed to explain the concept of Jesus being eternal (John 1:1), and that he was born a human being (Matthew 1&2). But these truths does not mean ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’. This means that He existed (evidently without His human body) until the time when God saw fit to have Jesus born of a virgin woman, taking on human form.
Now I TOTALLY understand that this is a very difficult concept (in all truthfulness I do not understand it myself). But as I said earlier I am obligated to say what the Bible says, no more and no less. So the idea that Jesus was ‘created’ in order to take on a human body is a legitimate concern, but I believe there is an answer. Jesus is eternally the second person of the Godhead, and He has certain functions different from the other 2 persons of the Trinity. He was the one designated to ‘take on flesh and dwell among us’. So He is an (the?) eternal being, yet chose to SOMEHOW limit Himself into a human body to live a perfect life and die to deal with sin. Elsewhere in many books there are lengthy discussion of the whole ’emptying himself’ concept, but that will not be addressed here and now. The point I want to get across is the Arius and his followers were attempting to explain the person of Christ in a way that made sense, and they could comprehend, yet they were wrong and expounded an idea that is not biblical. Jesus may have taken on a human body that did not exist before that body was conceived by the Holy Spirit, yet He as God has existed from all eternity and will exist into all eternity.
How exactly this works I do not know, but I do know Jesus must be divine in order to satisfy the demands of an eternal God. He was not created, even though there was a time when His human body was not.
The last of Jesus’ apostles, John, died around the year AD 100. According to many legends and much reliable materials (Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History) we know most of Jesus’ apostles (if not all but John) died martyrs. John’ brother James, for instance, was beheaded under the reign of Herod Agrippa. The death is recorded for us in Acts 12. Tradition tells us Peter was crucified upside down. Paul the Apostle was beheaded according to the right of a Roman citizen to have certain rights, including NOT crucifixion.
As these men were spreading the Gospel, many of them (along with some associates) were writing down the words of God through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were literally writing down the very words of God. These words (later called the New Testament) would become the next step on our journey of asking about theological authority.
While the apostles were living they were the instrument of God’s authority. But after John dies the question come up, ‘from where did the Christians get their authority’. I believe the Holy Scriptures fulfills this need.
The Bible is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore IS the very words of God. So once the followers of Jesus asked questions about theology they consulted the Scriptures. Almost at the same time, however, some decided the answers should come from groups of knowledgeable believers that could reason through the difficulties. They periodically called together groups of leaders into a council to discuss the major issues and heresies. Some of the Christians (later to be called the Orthodox Church) claim their authority comes from 2 places: the scriptures and the councils.
So in our study of theological authority the list so far is like this: the Old Testament, then Jesus, then the Apostles, then the Scriptures.
As we have traced some major thinking and attitudes in particular eras of the definition and subsequent actions to prove ones allegiance to Jesus, there is one other theme that I have noticed takes place throughout the history of Christianity that changes over time. That theme would be from where does ones theological authority emanate? Who is the ‘final authority’ when it comes to theological matters. Do I just answer ‘God’ questions from my own mind? Does it matter how accurate this authority is, or is it basically whatever works for me?
As in the previous posts this subject will take several postings.
First and foremost it is understood by all that when Jesus walked on the earth the theological authority came from Him, He is the God/man, the Word became flesh, ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’ (Hebrews 1:3). Everything Jesus did and said was in total sync with God (for He is God). So when the Apostles and others had questions about how to please God, they asked Jesus or one of His disciples.
I know this sounds simplistic to say that the first Christians’ religious authority came from God, but there will be a shift soon to where there is a debate between well meaning followers of Him as to who holds the final say in life and practice.
The initial followers of The Way listened to Jesus and put into practice (as best they could) what he taught.
So far and in summary we have looked at 4 ways that Christians in particular era showed the predominant expression of dedication to Jesus: Martyrdom, Monasticism, Murder (The Crusades), and Scholasticism. The final one that takes place after the Protestant Reformation and can still be seen today is what I call ‘Pietism’.
Their seems to have been a shift after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door at Wittenburg from immersing oneself in endless study of theology to a less academic emphasis to a more personal piety. Scholasticism appeared to have stressed more of the learning and writing aspect of Christianity and less of the transformation of the sinner to saint. I understand this is very much an oversimplification, but the point hear is the decrease of emphasis by the pietists of academics. They were lesson concerned with how much you know and more concerned with how much you have changed your living. It almost can be seen as more stress on orthopraxy and less stress on orthodoxy.
I will admit that this era is a lot more vague, but I still see it as a real area where followers of Jesus expressed their allegiance by ‘being holy’ instead of ‘thinking holy’.
Having a discussion with a friend about attending a ‘praise and worship’ service at a parachurch organization brought up several ideas to ponder and questions to try to answer. When is the music worship and when is it all glorifying to God??
Is it all God glorifying if the musicians are using thier gifts and talents to the best of their abilities to point people to God.
What if ‘I’ am not moved emotionally and others are?? Is it worship.
God has certain stipulations for worship of Him (see Nadab and Abihu (1 Kings 15:25ff)), is an an outpouring of emotion from me automatically necessitate an outpouring of the Holy Spirit?? How do you know??
In my Bible classes we are studying the Gospel of Matthew. In Matt. 16 Jesus asks his disciple, “who do the people say I am?” So I started wondering if Jesus was that confusing when he told us who he truly is. It seems to me he was pretty clear. Sure we need to use a little investigation to understand exactly how all the ‘person of Christ’ and the ‘trinity’ and the ‘soverereignty of God/resposibility of man’ stuff works. But I am a firm believer in the premise ‘If God wanted us to know certain things, He would be pretty clear about it’.
Yes, many things are a mystery, but we also can know many things about God. I sure think much of that which God wants us to know He made it clear enough for us to know, otherwise it confusing and somewhat unknowable, and I don’t think that’s the way God works.
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