As part of the ongoing Truth Project involvement, the pastor challenged each member of the congregation to write out a statement of their worldview. He suggested keeping it to about a page, so it doesn’t get unwieldy.
I realize that I’m being more than a little cute here, but here’s my first draft: A One Page Christian Worldview.
Have a look.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Yeah, okay, so it’s not original with me. Gimmeabreak–you want me to do better than that?
Not better, you say, just different. Something in your own words, Tim. What you believe…
Sure. What’s on that page is what I believe. So what if I didn’t write it? It’s not like the Christian faith is original with me, either. I didn’t invent any of this.
C’mon, be a sport…
Okay, but I’m trying to make a point. Before we go individualizing the situation into chaos — haven’t we got plenty of that already? — let’s remember who we are and where we’ve come from. It’s not like Our People never thought about these things before. If I’m going to draft a statement, I am not, in fact, coming to the thing de novo, and it is the height of forgetfulness, modernist arrogance, and flat-out folly to pretend that I am. Novelty and originality are not really virtues here; I’ll be using the well-worn symbols and language of the Bible and my fathers who steeped themselves in it.
That said, I have no problem setting out the intellectual aspects of worldview — only one part, but an important part — in my own words. For the next little while I’ll be doing it every week, in fact. Although I concede that those tend to run to a bit more than a page.
So here’s a short one:
Before the beginning was Yahweh, the Triune God who eternally lives: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in loving union. Yahweh spoke the universe into existence, separate from Himself, but created and loved by Him. The universe is the ultimate miniature — a finite expression of infinity, a perfect revelation of Yahweh’s eternal power and God-ness, so clear that no one has any excuse for not knowing Him. Into that world God placed man to rule as His image-bearer. As His image-bearer, man is to guard and cultivate the creation, to know and love the creation as God does, and so God made man to know, and the creation to be known by Him. God has given instructions in our task, and in this way we know right from wrong. Our first parents chose wrong, which introduced death into the world, but Christ redeemed us from the power of death and through faith in Him we are able to transcend death through the resurrection. God is slowly maturing the human race to the day when sin will be finally eradicated, and those who refuse to believe God will be quarantined in the lake of fire. From then onward, a righteous humanity will continue to mature into eternity.
Standing on the shoulders of the fathers can be a very good thing, and we should probably be doing more of it, as you are basically saying.
But passing on terminolgy like “mother of God” I’ll have to take a pass on. And I’ll have to be clarifying what “catholic” means.
catholic: universal. “Roman Catholic Church” is a contradiction in terms: “The universal church — you know, the Roman one…” (Similar objections apply to recent discussions of “Reformed Catholicity.”) This is a perfectly good word and one that much of the Reformation never ceded to Rome. The Lutherans did, and the Baptists, and it was a mistake. Letting them call themselves “the Catholic church” without a fight is just as bad as letting our Campbellite brethren call themselves “The Church of Christ” or “The Christian Church,” or letting the Russelites call themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Terminology matters and we ought not to let them get away with it. Using the creeds as commonly translated is an important step in that direction.
As to “mother of God,” I certainly understand your discomfort, but objecting to that language in the Definition of Chalcedon is a little like objecting to “of one substance” in the Nicene Creed. It’s a matter of understanding the historical context. Within that context, the formulation “mother of God” was an important step in affirming the full unity of Jesus’ two natures against Nestorian error. Nestorius would have been happy with “mother of Christ,” but balked at “mother of God” because he couldn’t see his way clear to a decent union of the God-man. He didn’t want to predicate the gritty human details about deity. John 1 soundly rejects that position — the divine Word became flesh.
To get the rest of the way from there is not too difficult. The Word became flesh by way of being born of the virgin Mary, and therefore Mary is the mother of the Word. The Word is God. Mary is the mother of God. Q.E.D.
I understand your concerns about Mary-worship and of course I join you in rejecting the cult of Mary. But Chalcedon is not the place to pick that particular fight. Affirming “mother of God” with the Chalcedonian bishops is not swallowing Mariolatry at a gulp; it’s rejecting Nestorius. This is necessary, and I can affirm it most heartily and still reject prayer to Mary, veneration of Mary, and all of that, with no contradiction at all. Scripture compels the former by good and necessary consequence; it offers neither precedent nor shelter for the latter.
As usual, your explanations are from a depth of knowledge and understanding. And I would agree with you but for the particulars of audience.
So let me clarify my point. The problem lies in the sad fact that you are one of the currently few on earth with such understandings. And since mariolatry is so pervasive in a religion that most of the world knows as Christianity, those of us who are trying to make things clear in our time and guard against Roman error, as well as other errors, need to watch and make clear what we are passing on.
If you are speaking to an audience I know you to typically speak to, scholarly presentation is one thing. Now you’re on the internet, a very wide open forum. Without the clarification you have just provided, if I did not know you, I could well have assumed in a quick read that you have just the opposite point of view than you’ve just stated.
Other than that, I’m with you.
As is our continuing custom, we disagree here more on angle of approach than on the substance of the issue, I think. I understand the nature of the audience, as you do. I believe our difference here reflects a difference between our respective strategies of approaching the diverse audience found online.
I’m well aware that the verbiage can be misunderstood by both potential allies and potential adversaries. But Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist, and many others did and said things that had a serious risk of misunderstanding, and were in fact repeatedly misunderstood. “Somebody might misunderstand” just isn’t a sufficient objection. And speaking from my own past, I found that objection to be founded entirely in fear of what man would think, and not in a desire to follow Christ’s example.
Meanwhile, I find the risk to be necessary to accomplish the mission of re-connecting contemporary Christians with our people in other places and times. It is empty waste to talk about this unless we actually do it, and like it or not, back then they didn’t talk like we do. The actual history of our people isn’t exactly seeker-sensitive, and it’s a little rough on contemporary evangelical sensibilities as well; you can’t just walk in with a load of modern preconceptions and expect to grasp it immediately. I accept this, and accept that a certain amount of misunderstanding will attend the necessary process of re-education. I’ve found that God gives me grace to handle the misunderstanding when it arises. And when I consider the alternatives, I find myself coming back to the same question over and over: “As opposed to what?”
I’m willing to live and let live with brothers like you who have a different take on strategy, but in truth, I don’t think there’s a responsible alternative here. One can have pristine doctrinal clarity in the words of modern statements of faith within one’s own narrow tradition, and have no danger of being misunderstood, of course. I believe Scripture compels me to be at war with that sort of chronological sectarianism, so I won’t be doing that. The alternative is to admit kinship with the saints of past ages — and having done that, one must accept that they didn’t talk like us, and make the best of it.
This will, of course, scare off the occasional potential ally who, seeing the words “catholic” or “mother of God” in something I wrote, mistakenly thinks he has caught a whiff of Rome, and heads for the hills. In biblical language, this man “answers a matter before he hears it.” Solomon gives us God’s assessment of this behavior: “It is a folly and a shame to him.” May God in His providence spare me from having such allies! I would just as soon this fellow got on down the road and took no interest in me for the present. I have found that I have a reasonable success rate in getting such people to reconsider their position when we meet in person, and in person I certainly make the attempt. But online it’s an arduous process, and often the effort is for naught in any case.
As you say, Our continuing custom.
Just how close a kinship do you consider yourself to have with current day Rome? I have no issue with connecting to saints of the past and agree that we could benefit from doing more of it. But I also, for my part at least, am cognizant of how language and terminology can become so perverted over time, that sometimes it can be more strategic to just set it aside with due consideration being given to just what it is we are setting aside and for what reason.
As you said previously, we can get to “mother of God” pretty easily by connecting dots, but where specifically is this phrase in Scripture? I’m not suggesting we set aside Son of God or Son of Man or The Christ or… Is it so crucial for us to use some phrase not used in the Text because others before us used it? Was it perverted when they used it as it is now?
Now, I fully understand that we can expand the argument to other words or phrases that we may or may not find appropriate to set aside and let me clarify that I think our choices should be made carefully. And herein is my original point: As for me I won’t be using this certain phrase… My choice, my strategy, my thinking, my reasoning.
Frankly, as a translator, let alone a current day Christian, I frequently find myself in the situation of having to consider terminology. You know what our tools look like. And I’m certain you know how varied theologies have crept into them. Why are we still translating after all of these centuries if language is static? Do I have to use a word chosen in the 17th century to translate “ekklesia” because that’s what those who went before us chose? Within certain restraints, if I choose to translate words different than they did 4 centuries ago in order to make my teaching more clear in my age, have I committed some form of blasphemy or something?
Your counterpoints pertaining to the internet and seeker sensitive are understood, as are some of your other points.
At the end of the day I want to have communicated what I understand to be necessary to communicate Truth as clearly and precisely as possible. This may or may not include terminology that those who went before me chose to use in their time. I certainly do see your point of connecting to our spiritual forefathers by not only creed and such as you’ve discussed here, but also in psalms and hymns, liturgy and such as you have discussed elsewhere. But ultimately we are to guard and spread the Truth, Christ Himself as you have stated in another writing, and this may or may not include some phrase or terminology someone in a different time chose to use for their reasons. I really doubt they would have an issue with my decision in this regard. I really doubt that God who wrote through men’s various personalities would find my decision inappropriate.
As for me, all roads do not lead to Rome, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. I may well be overprotective of this, but I have my reasons. And I know you have your reasons for your approach. I’m not attempting to be involved in “chronological sectarianism”. But, as we discussed in another of your recent articles, there are some forms of separation I think are appropriate.
Kinship with Rome: she is of two minds about me, having anathematized me up one side and down the other at Trent, and then acknowledged me as a “separated brother” at Vatican II. As for my opinion of her, I stand with Luther, Calvin, the Westminster Divines and the rest of the magisterial reformation in saying that she is a true Christian church that has fallen into apostasy and desperately needs to repent (not a pagan religion but an apostate church, if that helps). To be clear here, I am speaking of the modern, post-reformation Roman church. Prior to the Reformation, she is the ancestor of the Protestant churches, the womb from which we sprung forth — as are the Eastern churches prior to the East-West divide. Denying that is purest fantasy. This does not mean that all roads lead to Rome. I grew up in my parents’ house, and at a certain point, I moved out. It does not follow that in order to be a dutiful son, I must move back in. Neither may I deny that I once lived there; that would be wicked and ungrateful.
“Mother of God” is of course not directly used in Scripture. But then, neither is “Trinity.” Is it critical that we use these terms? On the one hand, we are obviously not bound to non-biblical, confessional language in the same way we are bound to Scriptural language. I would sooner abandon the term “Trinity” than I would stop saying that baptism saves you — the Bible directly says the latter, and not the former. But realistically, I have no intention of abandoning the confessional language of Christ’s Church. When heretics find a way to equivocate their way around the biblical language, it is necessary to find a way of stating the truth that exposes the heresy. This is precisely the situation that calls forth confessional language, and in the very nature of it, confessional language is a commentary on the biblical language, a statement in our words explaining what we believe the biblical statements mean.
Since the so-called Enlightenment, modern man strides boldly into the future, confident in his own genius, a self-made man worshipping his maker and trying to forget his ‘benighted’ past. We in the modern evangelical church have drunk deeply of this particular poison. We love the notion that we can re-invent ourselves by fiat, and of course this entails severing all loyalties to the past and pretending that we haven’t inherited the accumulated capital of those who went before us. But this is just wishing to live in a world God didn’t make. In so wishing, we modern evangelicals have ignored our history for a hundred years and more.
Our heritage now seems alien to us, and this is not a defect in our fathers but a defect in us, attributable entirely to our own willful ignorance. They are our people. The faith of Nicea is our faith; homoousios is our word, by which we definitively defeated Arian error. Theotokos is our word, under which we took shelter from Nestorian error. To use Nicea as an example, when Charles Taze Russell resurrected the heresies of Arius, individuals were deceived, of course, but what was the effect on the Church? Arius rocked Christ’s Church to the very foundations; Russell didn’t even nick the exterior paint. Why? Because Christ has built His church, and we have matured to the point where that particular wind of doctrine can no longer blow us about. This is because whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, the bishops of Nicea are our people — and we benefit from the connection even if we refuse to admit that it is there. Likewise for the bishops of Chalcedon.
Using the confessional language is a matter of dealing in reality instead of comfortable modernist fantasy. It is a visible expression of our gratitude to God for His saints who’ve gone before us. Of course, one comments, explains, suggests synonyms and alternate ways of speaking. One even critiques. This, too, is part of our heritage. We didn’t stop writing creeds, confessions and catechisms at Chalcedon, nor have we ever stopped. But the interaction should be grounded in understanding. Here again it is a folly and a shame to answer the matter before one hears it, and part of our job is to teach that particular bit of wisdom to modern men who count forgetting it among their favorite sins.
The job, as you say, is to communicate the truth to the people in front of us. This sometimes requires new formulations and fresh analogies; critiques of old patterns, all of that. God has providentially placed us where we are in history; we build on a foundation of His holy apostles and prophets, but we are long since past building the first floor. The fact that we are where we are in the building is part of the truth that we must communicate, and if you’re hanging ceiling beams on the seventh floor, it does little good to let the trainee workers think those beams rest directly on the foundation, with nothing in between.
I expect we will agree, more or less, on the theory. I doubt we will fully agree on the practice, and in a Body with more than one eye, a certain amount of parallax is to be expected. God be thanked, iron sharpens iron, and I am as grateful for a sharpening from you as I am for a sharpening from some African bishop long since gone to glory.
As you say, on theory, and to some degree on practice, and thank God for parallax and for iron sharpening.
By the way, some day I’d like to hear more about dominion premil. The times seem to be bringing such into focus.
While I totally agree with you in spirit my perspective on the history of the Roman church is completely contrary. I stand to be corrected. 😉
From my perspective it seems you’ve ascribed a history of theology to the history of the Church. Where I would perceive Church history in terms of the spread of the Gospel it seems you would perceive it in terms of theological development.
With respect to Nicaea and the origin of The Roman church I would really appreciate your critique of this article and discussion if you find the time:
I should also say I am ashamed that this is my first comment here because I so often find myself saying “Amen!” out loud after reading many of your post. 😉
Glad to have you commenting.
We agree about the spread of the gospel, but that doesn’t exclude the other perspective. Where the gospel spreads, there you will find the Church, and where you find the Church, you will find — God help us all! 😉 — theologians. The problem with perceiving Church history purely in terms of the spread of the gospel is that one tends to focus on conversions to the exclusion of growth into maturity. In the US, Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, for example, have historically been guilty of this kind of ‘mile wide/inch deep’ ecclesiology over and over again. The Church is meant to “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” but rather to “grow up in all things into Him who is the Head.” This is not just numerical growth; it’s growth into adulthood, and this requires sinking our roots deeper into God’s word, which is to say, spiritual growth and theological development.
Regarding your article: No offense, brother, but the analogy is terrible! The situation then is not remotely comparable to today. 18% today would have to leave massive parts of the tradition completely unrepresented; we were considerably less fragmented back then, and although Christianity had certainly spread beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, the gathering under Constantine was still considerably more representative of the whole Church than anything you’d be able to gather under an American president with a similar percentage of church leadership.
And let’s not be ungrateful for what did happen. The Roman eagle that formerly hunted Christ’s people now guarantees their safe passage. Conveyed by the soldiers who had formerly been their persecutors, the bishops come from all over the empire, and a few from outside it. Many of them bear the marks of Diocletian’s torturers. Paphnutius of Egypt, for example, has been blinded in one eye and hamstrung — and the emperor greets him with a kiss. When the bishops are assembled, Constantine enters the hall, eyes downcast, and humbly waits for them to be seated before sitting himself. Christ has visibly conquered Caesar.
Now this is not to say that the church-state relationship has been perfected (not that America is a better model on that point, but that’s another post), and there are other points one could criticize as well.
But here again, I’ll point to the difference in effect between Arius and Russell: we are beneficiaries of Nicea, whether we wish to admit it or not. And you’re wrong about the history, too: Arius was not readmitted to the church; he died in Constantinople the day before the readmission ceremony. Arianism was defeated decisively, and did die out. Took another generation after Nicea to get there, but after much haggling, the grounds for agreement were reached, and in 381 the council of Constantinople reaffirmed the Nicene Creed, with a couple of additions that addressed the deity of the Holy Spirit, and shortly thereafter, Arianism was a dead issue. Russell revived it 1500 years later, but that’s hardly the same thing as it surviving the efforts of the first two ecumenical councils.
As regards the ecumentical status of the first two councils: You might conceivably dispute their claim to worldwide authority, but if you’re an American Protestant, the councils are part of the history of your church, whatever their standing in, say, southern India. You can disagree with them; you can critique them; but you don’t get to deny the connection, because, well, there it is. I suppose you could try to avoid this by subscribing to some sort of ideologically-based ‘trail of blood’ fantasy — if you do, we can talk about that — but it won’t hold up.
Thanks so much for the kind welcome and especially for your time and effort and candid critique! Please know I truly appreciate the theologians of the Church, both past and present. Why some of my best friends are theologians! 😉 I would also like to reiterate that I agree with you in spirit. We should be most willing to both learn from and build onto our rich Christian heritage. My only contention lies in your perception of the Roman church. I hope I can fully engage each of your points.
I agree that a “’mile wide/inch deep’ ecclesiology” is problematic but I don’t attribute this problem to a historical perspective but rather to the invalid use of creeds and catechisms as a shortcut to discipleship. I suspect we would agree that a believer must first be rooted and grounded in the word before these theological instruments can take on any real meaning. While this problem may be most evident in those denominations you mentioned I would find it is most prevalent within the Roman church and certain Protestant denominations that continue in the hierarchal form of church government established by the Roman Church. It is most evident in the former because they are free to express their ignorance but most prevalent in the latter because their ignorance is suppressed and goes largely unchecked. I appreciate the distinction you noted between numeric growth and spiritual growth and especially the distinction between spiritual growth and theological development. While I hold that we are all theologians and that faith seeks understanding, I do not find that we are all “gifted” in this pursuit. Even those who are must still be justified by faith and it is only through faith that we can grow into the full measure of Christ. This is not to excuse any believer from holding a clear and true doctrine of God but to allow for them to come to that doctrine through scripture and express it solely in scriptural terms. I do, however, agree that spiritual growth and theological development are both aspects of Church history but I consider the spread of the Gospel the unique and defining event through which we can follow all other aspects.
Bro. Tim I will never take offense to your honest thoughts or feelings. I consider it one of the greatest expressions of God’s love and our unity to be able to totally disagree in our understanding while at the same time remaining fully devoted in our love for God and one another. I must even concede to your point and confess that my analogy is, in fact, terrible though I still find that in principle it is thoroughly valid. 😉
”And let’s not be ungrateful for what did happen” I think it wise at this point to unravel the historical facts from the emotional imagery lest we inadvertently pay homage where none is due. 😉 We can hardly credit the 325 Council at Nicaea with the liberty being enjoyed by the Church in this period as this liberty was consequential to, and preceded by, the Edict of Toleration in 311 and the Edict of Milan in 313. We certainly cannot credit this council with developing the doctrine of God as it is/was clearly revealed in the OT and fully taught by Christ, the Apostles and the Ante-Nicene Fathers. We most definitely cannot credit any form of religious liberty to the 325 Council at Nicaea, much to the contrary! At best we can say that this council was at least partially successful in expressing scriptural truths in philosophical terms, an accomplishment whose value I won’t judge at this point in that we both agree that they were unsuccessful in squelching the error of Arius. In fact I think it fair to conclude that the council perpetuated that error given that it even outlawed the debates and discussions that eventually led to its overthrow! We must also acknowledge that this council was responsible for establishing that theological agreement, as opposed to faith in Christ, be prerequisite to Christian fellowship. The organic body of Christ that was previously known to the world by their love for one another suddenly became hidden behind an institution of men that would soon become known for their widespread persecutions. These are only a few of the things that were accomplished in 325 at Nicaea but I am no more grateful for these than I am for the Arian controversy, which is also a part of our Christian heritage. 😉
Now I don’t consider Carroll’s work valid and I think it is fallacious to presuppose that Church history can only be traced through one denomination but that includes the Roman church as well. There were most definitely valid expressions (probably even more so) of the Church outside of Rome throughout history but I don’t think Carroll’s work gives an accurate portrayal of these. I consider a better distinction should be drawn between the persecuting Church and the persecuted Church regardless of their denominational façade.
It seems we agree that the history of the Roman church is a part of our history but I think we might still have some contention concerning their historical merits.
Oh and BTW concerning Arius, yes he did die under suspicious circumstances prior to being formally received back in communion and I should have stated that he was ordered to be fully restored rather than stating that he was fully restored.
Sorry to be so long getting back to you. Weekends are kinda busy for me.
Creeds and catechisms are no substitute for the Bible, to be sure. But they are inevitable. Most of the creed-hating churches still have a written “statement of faith,” which is a creed. If they don’t write it down, they nevertheless recognize that when a practicing Buddhist enters their midst, this person is not on that account part of the church — which tells us that the group has a doctrinal boundary — i.e., a creed — of some kind, even if it is unwritten. (Of course, there are some “Christian” groups where the Buddhist would be considered part of the group as an honest fellow seeker. So, no creedal boundaries, right? Not so fast — let George Dollar walk in the door, and see what happens. There are always creedal boundaries.)
Likewise, when a person enters that group and seeks to become part of it, he will be subjected to a process of enculturation. He will be taught how to pray and what to pray for, what songs to sing, when to stand and sit in worship, and so on. Now whether the church formalizes this cultural content in a written document or not, what they are doing is catechizing the new member. Properly understood, then, creeds and catechisms (or their dishonestly-named equivalents) are an inevitable part of any group. The need, of course, is to make sure that the content of creed and catechism is biblical, and that the material recognizes the authority of Scripture. The group itself must also be actually willing to change the creed/catechism as needed.
All that to say that you don’t teach people the Bible first, and then the creeds and catechisms. A well-crafted creed and catechism will be already teaching them the Bible, and by “just teaching the Bible,” you will be catechizing them and teaching your creed in any case. If you want to discuss whether it’s wise to introduce a new convert to the Nicene Creed, we can have that discussion, but first we need to be honest with our terms, or the discussion won’t ever get anywhere.
Regarding the history of Nicea: I didn’t claim that it established religious liberty (which you seem to value far more than I do; perhaps we should discuss that some time). I claimed it as a symbol that Christ had visibly conquered Caesar, which it is. Symbols matter. But I can see from your lack of appreciation for “emotional imagery” that we don’t agree on that point. I don’t like to think of what you’d do with Psalm 105 or Exodus 15 and all their emotional imagery.
As to whether the council squelched the error of Arius, you’re just being shortsighted. What do you want, one big meeting and then nobody in the world believes Arius anymore? Real people, and real groups, don’t work that way; changing hearts takes time. Nicea was a necessary step in the process of squelching Arian error, and it set in motion the debates of the next several decades, which culminated in the first council of Constantinople. Less than sixty years after Nicea, Arius was dead and his heresy with him. Nicea was the beginning of the end.
You note that we can’t credit Nicea with the Bible and the ante-Nicene fathers — um, duh. So what? No one does. We credit Nicea with a decisive defense against Arius, a defense that in the long run proved successful. As to philosophical terms, see my earlier comments on confessional language in the discussion with Gary in this thread — it’s inevitable.
As to “We must also acknowledge that this council was responsible for establishing that theological agreement, as opposed to faith in Christ, be prerequisite to Christian fellowship”: Not so fast. Christian fellowship is established based on faith in the actual Christ, not some figment of one’s imagination to which one gives the same name. If you believe in Jesus and so do I, we have fellowship, right? But what if it turns out that the Jesus I believe in is hay-zoos the taco stand guy? No Christian fellowship, you say? Why is that? Surely you’re not going to tell me that we first have to agree on some theological question like “which Jesus?”
In an important sense, Arius preached a god of his own invention, and a Jesus of his own invention, and this was the determination of the council: The Jesus of the Bible is not the Jesus preached by Arius; they differ in the following ways….
As to ecclesiology, I agree with you that the Roman church is part of our history, and of course all the splinter groups and so on are as well. The Celtic church, for example, ignored Rome for a very long time — married clergy and the whole bit. If you prefer to carve it up into persecuting/persecuted, well and good, but if you’re going to be historically accurate, that may prove problematic. Where will you put Luther? Munzer? Calvin?
Please know I appreciate your time no matter where you find it. 😉
Given your article on the unity of the Spirit and your comments here, I suspect that any contention we might have concerning the valid use of creeds would be relatively minor. Still I find it is the invalid use of creeds that results in a “crust deep” theology as opposed to a given historical view. If you have to consult “the creed” to find out what “we” believe then something’s amiss.
I can see that my point on Nicaea was poorly made. I did not wish to dispose of the powerful imagery you used. I only wished to ascribe it to the proper historical events. All the elements of your “picture” were fully formed prior to the 325 Council and can in no way be attributed to it. I find it ironic that you ask if I would be the one who would want the “one big meeting” to resolve the Arian conflict. We completely agree this is not how the hearts and minds of people are won and yet this is exactly what the 325 Council proposed to do! Nicaea was not a necessary step in that direction; in fact it was a step back! The debates that would lead to exposing the error of Arius were already raging but were brought to a screaming halt following the 325 Council (That’s not full contact Christianity at all! ;-). They were not allowed to continue until Constantine once more considered what was politically viable. Nicaea was the end of the beginning of these debates and not the beginning of the end of the Arian controversy. I did not note that we couldn’t credit the Bible or the Ante-Nicene Fathers to Nicaea. I stated that we couldn’t credit Nicaea with the doctrine of God as this was already clearly taught in the scriptures, by Christ and the Apostles and by the Ante-Nicene Fathers.
I should also note at this point that it’s not the findings of the 325 Council that I’m calling into question. It is the imposition of their findings on the Church that is completely contrary to the teachings of Christ. Up to this point the hearts and minds of the people were being won as prescribed above. After this point many believers throughout history considered it their Christian duty to usurp the authority of Christ and exercise dominion over the Church (Mat 20:25,28). The Kingdom of God was made to resemble a kingdom of men at Nicaea.
Do you really think Arius believed in another Jesus? I’m afraid this perception will mask the real error of Arius, one that is all too common even today. I perceive that Arius went outside of what was revealed to try and answer a question about God and the answer he formed had devastating theological implications. Don’t we gain an equally distorted perception of God when we go outside of what is revealed and presuppose theological Determinism? How would you propose that we, the Church, deal with such errors?
Re. creeds and catechisms, I think we’re still not seeing eye to eye on the inevitability issue. As I understand the terms (“creed” = what you believe), what you just said was “If you have to consult [what we believe] to find out what ‘we’ believe then something’s amiss.” Huh?
If you’re saying that we quote creeds and catechisms at times when we ought to be quoting the Bible — and as a functional substitute for quoting the Bible — then yeah. And this gets particularly bad when someone tries to trump the Bible with a creedal statement. This is part of the genius of the Westminster Confession: “The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (WCF 1.10) The confession itself requires defense from Scripture in any controversy, which means that trying to settle a doctrinal controversy by quoting WCF is contrary to the confession itself (a lesson some folks seem not to have learnt, by the way). I’m not, in other respects, a great fan of WCF, but that bit is just gorgeous.
I think we’re missing each other on the importance of the opening of Nicea, but if you’d prefer to see the Edict of Milan as the symbol of Christ conquering Caesar, I can certainly live with that. I stand by what I said, but we have other fish to fry.
As to stopping debate: Nicea was certainly an attempt to settle the issue. Of course, in practical effect, Nicea didn’t stop the debate at all; it merely served to crystallize the issue and provoke further debate. None of the parties — Nicene, Arian, Eusebian, Homoean — stopped arguing just because the council (or the emperor!) said so. It was a martyr church; they were accustomed to risking their lives to preach their beliefs. Letters and polemics appeared by the cartload; councils and counter-councils abounded. It wasn’t until Athanasius made peace at the conference of Alexandria in 362 that the waters began to settle a bit, and it took the first Council of Constantinople (another big meeting) to decisively settle the issue. But Constantinople reaffirmed the results of Nicea; the Nicene fathers were right to start with.
I agree with you that the root of Arius’ error lay in going beyond what is written. I think its practical effect was the invention of a Jesus that bore little resemblance to the Jesus of Scripture. To deny the eternality and true deity of Jesus seems to me an identity-level issue, and so I’m comfortable saying that Arius preached a different Jesus.
The biggest issue in our discussion, though, seems to be here: “It is the imposition of their findings on the Church that is completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.” On this point, I’d like to ask you to comment on Acts 15. If big meetings are bad, then what’s with the Jerusalem Council? If binding decrees coming out of big meetings are bad, then why did James do as he did? Or was he wrong? Or is it just the involvement of the state that you find offensive?
I really don’t see where we’re that far apart on the use of creeds but I’ll press on and perhaps it will become evident.
We agree in our terminology (creed=what you believe) but if you have to consult a creed to find out what ‘we’ believe then, in reality, ‘we’ don’t yet believe it. This would be indicative of a prior commitment to the creed over and above the scripture.
I really do think it’s in the historical facts concerning Nicaea that we’ll find our greatest contention but I’ll press on for now. Being from the Gulf Coast I simply cannot resist a fish fry! 😉
I think we agree that the debate did not “end” with Nicaea but I still contend it could not continue after Nicaea until Constantine considered it politically expedient. There can be no debate where there is no dissention and any and all dissenters were excommunicated and exiled by act of the Council. This did indeed “crystallize” the issue and it could not become “fluid” again until after the Council action was overturned.
I find this point critical in historical terms. The letters and polemics you mention during this period are representative of the methods employed by denominations today. We don’t talk “to” one another. We only talk “about” each other and nothing gets resolved. What’s worse is that error not only goes unchecked but also proliferates in this environment.
I suppose I shy away from the “different” Jesus view because of its implications on soteriology.
I can see why you would find the imposition statement our biggest issue but I think this is consequential to our biggest issue. I’m fairly certain I can relieve many of your concerns by simply stating I think councils, associations, area conferences and especially ecumenical Christian conferences are invaluable with respect to many things in the body of Christ. I do not, however, find that these councils have any legislative or governing authority within the Church. They should be informative only and their findings reported to the Church for further action, if any. I think the council at Jerusalem exemplifies this. The council reported their findings and then the “whole church” took action concerning the mission at Antioch. Where these groups would take authority they usurp the authority of Christ and violate the priesthood of believers. This is what occurred at Nicaea and is the error of the Roman Church.
RE. creeds: I’m with you as far as individuals are concerned. If an individual has to go check the WCF (or whatever) to see what he believes about, say, the atonement, then clearly he doesn’t believe those things yet. I would want to say that consulting the creed in that case may indicate giving it primacy over Scripture. Maybe not — the Bible’s a big book; he may be looking for relevant Scripture citations to go study. Surely you wouldn’t begrudge him a little help on that? But yes, it’s certainly possible that he’s given his primary allegiance to the creed, and just goes there to find out what he believes, and defends it against all comers, including the likes of Peter, Paul, or Isaiah.
When it comes to groups, however, I think it’s a different story. Each individual in my church has a full slate of beliefs, but not all of those beliefs are common to all of us. A creed or statement of faith for the group contains only what we all agree to hold in common, and it’s entirely reasonable that a believer with a robust, biblical understanding of the atonement might still need to check the creed to see how much of what he believes is held in common by the group. In that way, what “we” (collectively) believe is contained in the creed, and one certainly might need to look it up.
Historically, I don’t think Constantine (or the following emperors) had as much control as you attribute to them. The whole point of Nicea, politically, was to get everybody together so they could hash it out and get it done with. It was politically expedient for Constantine to see the debate end — that’s what he wanted. You’ll notice he didn’t get it, which is to say that the debate continued in spite of what Constantine found expedient. Emperors could exile and persecute, of course, but they had always had that power, and that had never stopped the church before. Exiled dissenters continued to exert a strong influence on the discussion. As long as he lived, Arius continued to have a strong influence no matter which way imperial wind blew. Athanasius was instrumental in promoting the Nicene position even during his various exiles and flights into the desert. And so on. No, the debate did not continue only when Constantine found it expedient. Constantine found it expedient to acquiesce to the fact that the debate was continuing.
Regarding imposition and authority, two questions.
1. Do the elders of a church have authority to discipline and excommunicate someone for heresy?
2. If councils, etc. have no governing authority, what do you do with the letter in Acts 15? “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things…” sounds like a governing statement. Is it not?
With regard to creeds I still think we’re in sync but to be honest I am drawing heavily on your article concerning spiritual union to interpret your comments here. To be certain I’m reading you right let me ask you a question. Where do you find the basis for communion/fellowship? Is it in our spiritual union, doctrinal agreement (interpretation and understanding) or in something else? I would say that it is objectively in our spiritual union and subjectively in our obedience to Christ.
Once more to Nicaea; I don’t consider control the issue but rather authority and responsibility. We may do well to hold over the discussion on our historical perspective until we can address your questions concerning discipline.
1.) “ Do the elders of a church have authority to discipline and excommunicate someone for heresy?”
There are several terms here that I suspect are quite loose. Let me start with “discipline”. I consider discipline as a necessary component of “disciple making” and one of the critical means whereby we maintain communion. Any form of “excommunication” could not then be considered as discipline. It would in fact be an acknowledgment that discipline is no longer an option and, scripturally, visibly, and practically excommunication would be a matter of disassociation or the subjective dissolution of our union. Using Matthew 18:15,18 as a framework for discipline we see it first begins with the individuals involved, then with two or three more and finally with the whole assembly. In this last phase it is the one who is charged by the church that makes the “decision” concerning excommunication if he refuses to hear. The “act” of excommunication is then performed by every member of the church when they obey Christ’ command. Excommunication might be better perceived as “shunning” but should in no way be perceived as giving license for persecution. I would say, from the model in Matthew 18, that both the authority and the responsibility for discipline rest on the whole church and not “just” the Elders. The authority and responsibility of the Elders in this, as in all things, is to “council” the church and the church is responsible for subjecting itself to this council. This is not to imply that the church must obey the council. It means they must give it due respect and consideration in their deliberations. Ultimately the church will answer for any action it takes and the Elders will give account for their guidance or lack thereof. As all of this pertains to the “H” word I would simply say we should follow the same model and let the one who finds a doctrine offensive first confront the one who espouses it and so forth and so on. If it goes all the way to the whole assembly then it might well be considered a “creed worthy” item. 😉
2.) “. If councils, etc. have no governing authority, what do you do with the letter in Acts 15? “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things…” sounds like a governing statement. Is it not?”
I’ll be short and sweet. Were it legislative it would have had penal directives but it fits well under the model above as being advisory. “We’re doing this but they say we should do this too. What do you think?” 😉
Creeds — I’d say the basis for fellowship is our spiritual union. Insofar as I’m willing to make an objective/subjective split, I’d say that the subjective basis would be obedience to Christ, as you said, and perception of spiritual union.
There’s another issue, though, that’s purely practical. Since fellowship is generally centered around doing something, there has to be some measure of agreement about the particular activity at hand. I fellowship in various settings with my Pentecostal brethren — meals, movies, parties, and so on — but their conception of a church service and mine are so different that a joint service would be effectively impossible. I don’t see our differing positions on tongues to be a barrier to fellowship as such, but in formal worship our convictions keep us from working together, because we can’t agree on what to do. I have few folk in my church who believe that full human life begins at first breath, and not at conception, a position based on a misapplication of Genesis 1. It has not prevented us from serving in the same church together, but I would not be willing to invite them to work at a crisis pregnancy center, for obvious reasons. I have Baptist brethren I dearly love, but there are certain beverages — God’s good gifts to gladden the heart of man, according to the Bible — that they simply reject out of hand. They know we disagree, and don’t insist on trying to keep me away from wine, but if it’s going to be at the party, they won’t be. So we go to Bible studies together, but don’t collaborate on wine-tastings. You get the idea.
Excommunication/shunning & discipline — I’m happy with the distinction you made between discipline and shunning. We disagree on the nature of church leadership, and I think that’s the root of our other disagreements. I understand the attraction of your view, especially to people who’ve been brutalized by wicked (or just unskillful) leaders.
But I believe Scripture teaches something else. Elders shepherd the flock as God commanded, and shepherds do not just advise sheep. They have the authority to make binding decisions for the flock they lead, not just recommendations, which is to say that they rule as servants of the flock. (Here I would cite Ac. 20:28, 1 Tim. 5:17, Heb. 13:17, for starters.) A well-qualified elder can do this with a light touch, by persuasion and advice rather than decree most of the time, just like a wise husband leads his wife with a light touch rather than by barking orders all the time, and a skillful shepherd leads his flock instead of whipping the sheep until they do what he wants. I’ve been an elder for five years, and married for six, and it has, very occasionally, been necessary to override objections with a direct order. In both settings, though, I think I can count ’em on one hand and still have enough fingers left to handle a bowling ball.
I’m ready to say we agree in our understanding on creeds though I confess it seems you place more value on them than I do.
I don’t think we’re that far off on the nature of church leadership either. I suspect our primary difference concerns responsibility and authority and probably boils down to me making distinction between a leader and a ruler. I do, however, think we’ve reached the place where you can see my point on the historical significance of Nicaea and the error of the Roman church and even though we don’t agree I’m satisfied you can understand my position.
All that to say that I know the weekend’s approaching and your bucket is full so if you’d like we can pursue these things another day when the topic would become relevant once more. 😉
I sincerely appreciate all your time and effort and your instruction and continue to look forward to learning from you here.
Creeds — still not sure, but we’re close anyhow, and the nuances can wait until something surfaces them. Ditto for church leadership, and that was the nub of the Nicea issue — now that I know where you stand on church leadership generally , what you were saying about Nicea falls into place nicely.
As you say, I don’t quite agree. But it’s not that big a deal. I’d say ‘I don’t care,’ but that seems to make some folks a little too excited… 😉
Appreciate your prayers for the weekend — I’m doing a men’s
retreatAdvance (the men of Grace Chapel don’t retreat) on the subject “Masculine Worship.” Gonna be fun.