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Do you know whom you worship? This question came to the forefront when there was as yet no doctrinal consensus about the divinity of Christ. All Christians asserted that Jesus was God and worshipped Him as such, as stated...


Rev. Dr. Richard Howell

Generally controversial issues have a built-in marketable value; an obvious example is the recent film Da Vinci Code. The moral debate it generated and sustained for some stretch of time has proved big business. The heart of the matter however is not whether the film is a commercial success or a flop. The issues it trades in are sacred and a million minds have soaked in impressions from the power of the silver screen. In this article I have very briefly engaged with just two impressions.

The young and restless Daisy driven by brimming curiosity generated by the controversy of Da Vinci Code set her eyes on the film in the company of her friends. Fascinated by the thriller her remarks reflect those of the group, "I know the film is fictitious, but the story line appeared so real." Then in a snappy voice she questioned, "Why doesn't anyone in the Church teach about the Council of Nicaea. I wish I knew the roots of my faith." As if Daisy's question isn't taxing enough to reply to, in a Sunday service I witnessed a pastor's passionate pronouncement against the onslaught of The Da Vinci Code, "We should follow Christ because we have a daily encounter with him, not because we can prove his existence historically." A position generally taken by uninformed some Christian leaders. On the one hand you have Daisy wondering about the roots of her faith; on the other hand a Bible believing pastor unknowingly (I hope) assumed that historicity does not matter for faith.

History Matters for Faith

Does Christian faith require historical grounding? Yes, most definitely. Listen to what the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth in I Corinthians 15: 1 -6, "Now, brothers. I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2)By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (3)For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised 011 the third day according to the Scriptures. (5) and that he appeared 10 Peter, and to the Twelve. (6)After that, he appeared to more than five hundred a/the brothers at the same time... ..

Paul jogs the memory of the Corinthians to "the gospel I preached to you" which they received, in which they placed their trust, and by which they are saved if they continue to "hold firmly" to their faith in its truth. For otherwise, if their first acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ gives way to set disbelief, they will "have believed in vain" (v.I-2).

From verse three onward Paul’s preaching is summarised in a creedal form (I can almost hear someone say, "creedal, my word how boring) Paul uses the Greek word Paralambanow, a technical term for the careful receiving of authoritative teaching which was passed on. The contents of this very early creed are composed from the facts of Jesus' death interpreted as a death for our sins; burial; resurrection; and appearance after death. These are historical events which a newspaper journalist can report. This is the reason the gospel is known as the good news. News is an account about what happens, a reported event. The creed is based on the evidence of Scriptures and appearance of the risen Christ to more than five hundred witnesses. Christian faith is not of a matter of only ideas; it is rooted in the self revelation of the living God in the historical person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is Lord

Whether you experience Christ or not, he is the truth. It is objectively true that Jesus Christ is Lord no matter what anyone thinks. The Divinity of Christ was not conferred to him by the voting members of the Council of Nicaea. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2: II witnesses that "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." It’s important we question whether our faith is guided by only feelings or based on the facts of history and testimony of the Scriptures. I hope the film has rattled the modern experience savvy generation to the necessity of meaningfully engaging issues with logic and good judgment.

For the sake of the pastor who rightly advocates a daily encounter with Christ it is important to note that for an experience to be Christian it must have the face of historical Jesus Christ to which the Word of God bears witness as opposed to the Christ of my imagination.

The Road to Nicaea

Do you know whom you worship? This question came to the forefront when there was as yet no doctrinal consensus about the divinity of Christ. All Christians asserted that Jesus was God and worshipped Him as such, as stated in an early second-century sermon known as II Clement: "brethren, we ought to think of Jesus as we do of God." However, those baptismal creeds which have come down to us from local churches said very little beyond the basic wording: "of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" (Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus).

Such confessional statements answered very few questions. How could the Son, who was born a human being, suffered and died, also be God in relation to God the Father? How does "one God" fit with "Lord Jesus"? Of course, like many "easy" questions, in what way is Jesus divine; was a highly intricate and challenging issue. The disagreements to this issue forced many of the greatest thinkers of the time question to what extent the Christian doctrines of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit were coherent, and even to what extent Christians could trust in the canon of sacred text; which up till now seemed to them sufficient as a description of the faith and conduct. In many ways, therefore, Nicaea reminds us of the present time. Rather than being a symbol of clarity, peace, and order, it was a call to a difficult focusing of mind across a church that was often as muddled and confused as ours seems still to be.

The Arius Party

The real cause of struggle was the varying interpretations concerning the person of Jesus Christ; the actual controversy began in Alexandria, about 320, in a dispute between Arius and his bishop, Alexander (3 l2?-328). Arius who was advanced in years and held in high repute as a preacher of learning, ability and piety. He represented the teaching that Christ was a created being. As such he was of the substance of God, but was made like other creatures of "nothing." "The Son has a beginning, but ...God is without beginning." (Arius) Bishop Alexander on the other hand maintained, the Son was eternal, like in essence to the Father, and wholly uncreated.

The dispute was brought to the attention of Emperor Constantine who, in A.D. 324, had defeated his last rival to become sole monarch of all the Roman Empire. Constantine decided to use the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his claiming of the throne, which would be celebrated in A.D. 325, to help settle the embarrassing dispute among his allies, the bishops. So the he summoned bishops to his private lakeside palace at Nicaea ("Victory City") in Asia Minor (now Iznik in Turkey). The council, which assembled in May, 325, has always lived. in Christian tradition as the most important in the history of the Church opened on June 19. Tradition has it that 318 clergy were in attendance. The order of the day was to resolve the question about the eternity and divine status of the Son of God.

The Catchword

Almost at the beginning of the Council a creed presented by the Arians was rejected. The key word to nail the Arian party who did not believe Jesus Christ was co-equal and co-eternal to the Father was homoousios. The term meant "of the same substances," and when applied to the Logos (Word) John I: I, it proclaimed that the Logos was divine in the same way as God the Father was divine (not in an inferior, different, or nominal sense). In short, if the Logos was homoousios with the Father, he was truly God alongside the Father.
After all doctrinal and canonical work was finished, the emperor concluded the council with great festivities. Hardly was the council closed when the old party factions broke out with as much resentment as before. Those who attended the Council of Nicaea might well have felt that they had achieved a lasting settlement. The Arius party saw that it gave the Son equality with the Father without explaining how this relationship worked. In fact, it would be another 60 years before anyone successfully articulated the doctrine of the Trinity.

Creator of the Universe is also its Redeemer

Meanwhile Athanasius, the great defender of the Nicene faith had come fully on the scene. He was born in Alexandria about 295. He was a great character, in an age when court favour counted for much, he stood like a rock for his convictions, and that Nicene theology ultimately prevailed was primarily due to him. To him, the question at issue was one of salvation, and that he made people realize it to be so was the main source of his work. Athanasius writes in his article On the Incarnation, "It is, then, proper for us to begin the treatment of this subject by speaking of the creation of the universe, and of God as its artificer, that so it may be duly perceived that the renewal of creation has been the work of the selfsame Word that made it at the beginning. For it will appear not inconsistent for the Father to have wrought its salvation in him by whose means he made it." For only by real Godhead coming into union with full manhood in Christ could transformation of the humankind into the likeness of Christ be accomplished. This is the truth claim the historical Christian faith has believed in and freely proclaimed for people to accept or reject. But indeed it is important to know whom we worship. Our salvation is dependent upon this.

Source: AIM July 2006 Edition