3 Bullet Saturday: The Council of Nicaea

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.

3 Bullet Thursday (or Monday): Augustine of Hippo

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.

3 Bullet Thursday: Polycarp

Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna

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 Am Starting Something New: Three Bullet Thursdays

I am going to change things a little on this blog

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.

Some caveats:

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.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

A History of Baptists part 2

A History of Baptists part 2

Landmarkism or Trail of Blood

One of the 4 theories of the history of the Baptist Church has been labeled the ‘Trail of Blood’.  It asserts that there is an unbroken succession of Baptist Churches from the time of Jesus’ apostles to the present day.  Adherents claim Baptists have existed since the time of John the Baptist.

This view was put forth in a pamphlet in 1931 entitled ‘Trail of Blood’.  It was written by J. M. Carroll.  He looked through church history and concluded that since Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “. . . I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” this meant that there would be a church holding to Baptist beliefs throughout all of history.

The Landmark Baptists claim some of the well known churches in history as their predecessors.  Of these predecessors there are:  the Montanists, the Cathari, the Albigenses, the Paulicians, the Waldensians, the Novatians, and the Anabaptists.

A summary and evaluation of the Trail of Blood

I would vehemently disagree with these conclusions for one significant  reason  ALL but one (the Waldensians) were not only labeled heresies by the church but they taught unbiblical theologies.

The Montanists believed they were direct recipients of words of faith from the Holy Spirit (when one spoke in their trance they were speaking the exact words of the Spirit);  The Albigenses were an offshoot of the Cathari and both believed in a cosmological dualism (there are 2 equal gods: one good and one evil, who continuously fight for supremacy over the world), the Paulicians also held to many Manichean theologies like the aforementioned dualism; and the Novatians believed that the lapsed (those who denied Christ under persecution, or knowingly sinned) were not allowed to reenter their church, for they wanted a pure church.

I would affirm there have been people and sometimes groups of Christ followers who believed what was understood as true biblical truth for their time, but I deny that there is an unbroken line of ‘Baptists’ throughout history.  But this is one of the theories as to the origin of the Baptist Church.

Some Resources For Studying Church History

As I speak and teach about Church History I am often asked about recommendations for people who want to study on their own. To be honest whenever I speak I recommend these books even when people do not ask about them. Some people see me as an ‘expert’ in this area and want to know some of the books and websites that I read to gain information.  My desire is to inform the listeners of some well written (and in some cases not too detailed) books or websites in this field.

What are some of the books I read?

Well, throughout the time I have spent studying and researching in the area of Church History, I have compiled quite a short list of books (my list should probably be longer and is getting longer but right now I consistently rely on a few of my standards).  There truly are a plethora of resources, so from every church historian you would probably get a totally different list.  This is my short list of just a few books that I read on a fairly regular basis.

  • Exploring Church History  by  James P. Eckman.  This book is only around 100 pages in length but it does introduce readers to major characters, movements, and events in the big story of the Church.
  • Christian History Made Easy  by Timothy Paul Jones.  I have used this as a textbook in a high school setting.  The author does a good job of relating the major people and ideas and how they relate to the big picture.  This book is only 200 pages long but includes small thought bubbles with recommendations for further study.  It even gives websites addresses with relevant information.
  • Church History in Plain Language  by Bruce Shelley.  This is probably the most thorough treatment of Church History contained in one volume.  It obviously does not cover all aspect and people but does a very good job covering the information with a ‘broad brush stroke’.

What are some of the websites?

I visit a few websites on a regular basis to acquaint myself with new topics or learn new stuff about topics which I all ready know some things.  As with the books, there are not many sites, but I do visit these regularly.

  • http://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org – This is website from people who publish Christian History Magazine .  It not only gives you information on previous issues of the magazine, but it is broken down into teaching sessions (based on time periods).  These teaching sessions have some excerpts from primary source materials with explanations and discussion questions.  I have used these in class as assignments for my students to be exposed to and interacting with original writings.
  • http://www.didymus.org/ – This is the website from Dr. Byard Bennett who teaches Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids Michigan.  The information Dr. Bennett puts in here is well thought out and intriguing to ponder.  He also quotes prayers from church fathers, which are insightful and inspirational.
  • http://www.earlychristianwritings.com – For reading a translation of original texts from the early church fathers I always go to this website.  It gives you the complete text with little commentary.  It is easy to read the writings to get the flow of the author.

As stated earlier, this is a short list and by no means an exhaustive list.  I read other writings sporadically but this is my go to list.

Last but not least my blog

I also recommend that people read my blog for information about Church History.  I attempt to write on topics in a manner that is not to academic.  I believe many people would like to know more about Church History but do not want to read thousands of pages in hundreds of books.  I see my job as breaking up large amounts of information into bite sized pieces.

Please leave me some suggestions from your reading list.

If you have any additions or recommendations of your own I would love to read about them and recommend them to others.  Please contact me in the comments section so we can communicate.  I would be happy to exchange comments.

Soli Deo Gloria

From where did the Baptists come? Part 1

There are four suggested origins of the Baptist Church

There are many different answers to the question, “where did the Baptists come from?”  It really depends on who you talk to as to which theory they agree with.  I have talked to many people throughout the years and received many answers to the question, a majority of the answers fall into one of these four theories.  Here is a brief statement summarizing the theory and later each one will be addressed in more detail.

  • Baptists descended from the Anabaptist movement

  • Baptists can trace a direct line of connection between John the Baptist (or one of the Apostles) and our time today – also called the “Trail of Blood” theory

  • Baptists descended from a group of English Reformers

  • There is not direct links or ties to anything previous, they sort of “popped up” on the landscape with no connections to another group

Baptists descended from the Anabaptists (a short history of Anabaptists)

For simplicity let’s just say the Protestant Reformation in Europe started on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Shortly after this many, many people wanted to express their discontent with the Catholic Church (this discontent had been building for decades)  at the time and, in essence, secede from the church and start a new (true) church (I know, I know many like Luther did not want to secede but reform the church).  This ‘reformation’ spread throughout Europe and changed the European culture.  Zurich, Switzerland was one of these places where the citizens wanted change from the established church.

The well known reformer Huldrich Zwingli was attempting to reform Christianity in Zurich.  Some of his followers, however, did not think Zwingli’s reforms went far enough. In short they wanted to change much if not most of the workings of the established church, so they pushed for more reform than proposed by Zwingli.  Historians now (and honestly even back then) called these people ‘radical reformers’.

These men who liked Zwingli’s suggestions but wanted more radical reforms were named Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz.  Some of their radical ideas were: getting rid of tithing, paying interest, and serving in military service.  They also wanted each church to govern itself, so as not to have a leader who is corrupt and lived thousands of miles away instructing them them on how to run their church.  Zwingli disagreed with Grebel and Manz and so parted ways with them.  In 1525 the Zurich city council forbade the ‘radicals’ from spreading their views, so Grebel, Manz, and others fled to a nearby village where they baptized each other (hence the name Anabaptist or re-baptizer) into the “true church”.  They continued to spread their form of Christianity and were persecuted by many of the other factions.

Did Baptists come from Anabaptists?

Because of the similarity between the words “Baptist” and “Anabaptist” many people believe the Baptist church has a direct connection to the historic Anabaptist church.  These people think there was a group of Anabaptists who changed some of their thinking and theology so took on the name Baptist to keep similar beliefs but distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists.  There are to be sure some similar doctrines, however, there are some very different (and significant) beliefs between the two.  Here are some differences and similarities:

Similarities:

Beliefs                                          Anabaptist                                 Baptist

Congregationalism                      Yes                                              Yes

Separation of Church/State       Yes                                              Yes

Believer’s Baptism                        Yes                                              Yes

Pacifism (exempt from military)   Yes                                         No

Living distinct from society          Yes                                            No

Community of goods                        Yes                                           No

Salvation is Christ and good works   Yes                                     No

Reason held above Scripture              Yes                                      No

Works of the Spirit held above Scripture   Yes                          No

So I would assert that even though the history of Baptists is a little fuzzy, due to the comparison of some of their beliefs, they are not the same animal.  They may have come from the Protestant Reformation but they are very different, therefore, Baptists did NOT come from Anabaptists.

Who are the descendants of the Anabaptists around today?

 Some of the followers of Grebel and Manz who developed a following of their own were men like: Jacob Hutter and Menno Simons.  Both of these men (Hutter and Simons) had their own brand of Anabaptism, and had various groups believe in their brand of Christianity.  A group called the Hutterites were followers of Jacob Hutter.  The Mennonites and Amish are descendants of Menno Simons.

I would say the direct link to the Anabaptists today would be the Amish and Mennonites, not the Baptists.