Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Nicene Creed With Scripture References

Here is the Nicene Creed of 325 AD with scripture references. These references are not exhaustive.


We believe in one God,  (Deut 6:4, Mal 2:10, Jude 1:25)
the Father Almighty,  (1 Cor 8:6, John 17:3)
Maker of all things visible and invisible;  (Rev 4:11, Gen 1:1, Eph 3:9)

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,  (1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:5)
the Son of God,  (2 John 1:3, Matt 16:16)
begotten from the Father,  (Prov 8:22-31, 1 John 5:18, Heb 2:11)
only-begotten,  (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18, 1 John 4:9)
that is, from the substance of the Father,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,  (John 1:3,14,18)
consubstantial with the Father,  (John 1:1, 10:22-36, Heb 1:3, Rom 9:5, Col 1:15, John 14:9)
through Whom all things came into being,  (John 1:3, Heb 1:2)
things in heaven and things on earth,  (Col 1:16)
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down,  (Luke 19:10, John 3:13)
and became incarnate,  (John 1:14)
and became man,  (Phil 2:5-8)
and suffered,  (Heb 13:12)
and rose again on the third day,  (1 Cor 15:4)
and ascended to the heavens,  (Heb 1:3, Eph 4:10)
and will come to judge the living and dead.  (Acts 10:42)

And in the Holy Spirit.  (Matt 28:19)

But as for those who say, There was when He was not,
and, Before being born He was not,
and that He came into existence out of nothing,
or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance,
or created,
or is subject to alteration or change- 
these the catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.  (1 Cor 16:22, Gal 1:8-9)


You may notice two sections don't have a lot of references at the end of every line -that's because the end section consists of condemnations of the Arian heresy, and is negative in nature (saying what is not instead of what is), and the first section is basically elaboration on what comes before and after, and so is by extension proven by the same verses.

I look forward to going through the entirety of the Creed piece by piece in coming posts, explaining the meaning of what is said and demonstrating that it constitutes not only an accurate summary of what the Bible says on these subjects (as you can hopefully already see from this alone), but that it also well represents the historic understanding of these doctrines as held by the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers.


Grace and peace,

Andrew

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

C.S. Lewis on Eternal Generation

The following is a quote from C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity. I came across it some time ago while studying the topic and think he does a good job of highlighting the crucial distinction historically made between begetting and creating, as we see in the Nicene Creed where Christ is said to be "begotten, not made".

“We don't use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set – or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Son's of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.” (taken from this source on the internet)

"Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 1:25-25 NASB)


Grace and peace,

Andrew

Monday, August 17, 2015

Arianism, Sabellianism, and Orthodoxy, and the Theological Terms That Help Us Discuss Them

When we talk about the Trinity, we have to be careful to use precision in our language. This is because when we do not, things get more confusing than they already tend to be. And false teachers have historically exploited this confusion to propagate heresy and lead people astray.

Perhaps for this more than any other reason, the ancient church ended up coming up with a set of well-defined terms to use in order to speak precisely about the Trinity. When we learn and use those terms, it allows us to speak about the Trinity in a way that is less likely to be misunderstood, and denies heretics the possibility of finding 'wiggle-room' in semantics (ambiguity allows them to say that they agree with you because they are using the same words to mean something different than you do).

So lets review a few terms that through church history have developed a very well-defined meaning:

Person/Hypostasis: "Hypostasis" is a transliteration of the Greek word historically equated with the English word "person". On the Orthodox Church of America's website they give a helpful explanation of the term: "In Orthodox terminology the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are called three divine persons. Person is defined here simply as the subject of existence and life—hypostasis in the traditional church language."

Substance/Ousia: Merriam-Webster defines "ousia" as "true being: entity, essence, substance". Historically the terms "nature", "being", "Godhood", and "Godhead" all end up being used equivalently along with "essence" and "substance" to describe the divine nature of the three persons of God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

Heteroousios: different substance; from the prefix "hetero" meaning "different" and "ousia" meaning "substance". Used by the Arians to describe their Christ as not being of the same divine nature as the Father as thus not God.

Homoousios: same substance; from the prefix "homo" meaning "same" and "ousia" meaning "substance". Used by the Orthodox to describe Christ as being of the same divine nature as the Father, and thus truly God. Often translated into English as "co-essential" or "consubstantial".

Consubstantial: of the same substance. (Equivalent "co-essential"). Used along with homoousias to describe that something is of the same nature/essence/substance, ei the Orthodox formula that 'Christ is consubstantial with the Father' means He is of the same substance/divine nature as the Father. According to the ancient Chalcedonian Definition Christ is also consubstantial with mankind: "co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood". This was used to describe Christ's true divinity and humanity.

Godhood/Godhead: divinity. In orthodox discussion of the Trinity it often ends up being used the same way as "substance" and "essence" to refer to the divinity/divine nature of the persons of the Trinity.

Now that we have the vocabulary to accurately speak about the biblical realities of the Trinity, lets examine Arianism, Sabellianism, and Orthodoxy.

One way we can break down these three views of the Trinity is in terms of persons and nature:

Orthodoxy says that there is one Godhood existing in three distinct persons -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this understanding, God the Father and His only-begotten Son are numerically distinct persons (that is, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father) and are of the same essence/divine nature (so the Son is God in nature just as the Father is). So in terms of person they are distinct, but in terms of nature they are the same (homoousios).

Sabellianism (also known as Modalism) is an ancient heresy that agrees with Orthodoxy that Christ is of the same nature as the Father -but adds to that that they are not only the same in nature, but that they are actually the same person. It teaches that there is only one divine person who acts at various times in different personas or modes -sometimes revealing himself as Father, other times as Son, other times as the Spirit. But at the end of the day, it says, they are all one and the self-same person simply acting in different roles.

Arianism is another ancient heresy that veers off the Orthodox path in the opposite direction from Sabellianism. It agrees with Orthodoxy that Christ and the Father are distinct persons -but goes beyond Orthodoxy by extending the difference to their natures as well, asserting that the Father and Son are distinct in person and in nature/essence (heteroousios).

So in summary, Orthodoxy says the Father and Son are distinct persons of the same nature (consubstantial); Sabellianism admits that the Father and Son are of the same nature but denies the distinction in persons, while Arianism admits the distinction between the persons of the Father and the Son but denies their consubstantiality. In this respect, Sabellianism and Arianism are sort of mirror heresies, each taking the opposite extreme, with Orthodoxy in the middle.

So why study these heresies? Why even bother remembering what they are? Aren't they ancient problems that the ancient church dealt with and put down, yesterday's news? How does this have any bearing whatsoever on the average Christian today?

Although the heresies of Arianism and Sabellianism were defeated by the early church and eventually died out completely or near-completely in the centuries following the Nicene Council, like theological zombies, they eventually returned from the dead to trouble the church afresh following the Protestant Reformation. Today many manifestations and variations of these heresies can be found again assailing the church, and we need to know what they are so we can be on alert against them. Arianism has risen from the grave to devour souls again in the modern 'Jehovah's Witness' cult, and Sabellianism again plagues the church in such forms as Pentecostal 'Oneness Theology'.

Both of these ancient heresies are still active dangers to the church today, and one of the greatest advantages they have is the ignorance of the average professing Christian. To quote one of my favorite movies (The Usual Suspects) "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist". People are most susceptible to the dangers they never realize are a threat. Ignorance of heresy opens the door for that heresy. But far more dangerous than ignorance of heresy is ignorance of Orthodoxy. Know Orthodoxy, and heresy will be unable to deceive you. But remain ignorant of it, and you may soon find yourself confessing something different than what the Bible teaches and the church has confessed.

So like with zombies, you don't need to study each individually in order to find a new way to kill them, you just need a good shotgun and some ammo; so also with trinitarian heresies we need only take up the shotgun of the Nicene Creed and the ammunition of Nicene Orthodoxy to put down these doctrinal aberrations. Of course this is no replacement for the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, but rather let us wield both these weapons, like what Paul wrote, wielding "weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left" against the myriad variations of these heresies that assail the church today.

So in conclusion, and if you take nothing else away from this, studying Nicene Orthodoxy matters and has great practical value to Christians because it protects us from the various heresies in the world that are constantly assailing the church in an attempt to lead whoever they may astray from the truth. And if we love God it is only natural that we should seek to understand Him as He has revealed Himself to us, that we might worship Him, serve Him, and glorify Him in truth and in knowledge, for the glory of God shines brightly in the truth of who He is.

May our love for God our Father and Christ our Lord spur us to strive to better and more accurately understand Them, and may our understanding of the truth of who They are in turn fuel our love for Them all the more.


"...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 1:3 NASB)


Grace and peace,

Andrew

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Great Resource On Eternal Generation

I want to recommend the following article as strongly as possible. This is an excellent treatment of the subject of eternal generation by David Waltz: http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2010/03/eternal-generation-of-son.html.

For those who aren't familiar with what Eternal Generation is, 'Eternal Generation' is the name of the doctrine expressed in the Nicene Creed as follows:

"And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
begotten from the Father, only-begotten,
that is, from the substance of the Father,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father"

The Nicene-Constantinople Creed is vey clear on it as well:

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God, 
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God,
Light of Light,
very God of very God;
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father"

This sadly neglected doctrine is crucial to the Nicene understanding of the Trinity and has proved a bulwark of Orthodoxy against the heresies of Sabellianism and Arianism because if it is true, then it logically follows that Christ must be both a numerically distinct person from the Father (hence defeating Sabellianism which says the Father and Son are the same person) as well as truly God in His very nature, consubstantial with the Father (hence defeating Arianism, which denies the divinity of the Son).

Contra the erroneous claim that this doctrine finds its beginning with the church father Origen in the 3rd century, it can be traced back through Justin Martyr in the 2nd century and Ignatius in the 1st. But far more importantly, it can be proven from the scriptures. More to come on this. :)

Grace and peace,

Andrew


Friday, August 14, 2015

An Introduction to Nicene Orthodoxy

This article is meant to serve as a simple introduction to a series here on Truth For Every Season about 'Nicene Orthodoxy'. I will be using this term throughout in reference to the understanding of the Trinity expounded by the Nicene Creed and Nicene-Constantinople Creed. (Links below:)

Nicene Creed (325 AD): http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/creed_of_nicaea_325.htm

Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 AD): https://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html

It is this particular understanding of the Trinity that I firmly believe God gave to the church through both the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Apostles. The scriptures, of course, being the very word of God, must be our ultimate source for our understanding of God and the Trinity. But we would do well to remember that the church didn't receive the Bible apart from history- and the same men God used to author the scriptures of the New Testament also spent decades ministering to the early church, laying a firm foundation of biblical, apostolic teaching on doctrine (ei, the "faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" Jude 1:3 NASB).

The early Church Fathers serve as a witness to this, as they were initially on the receiving end of this "handing down" from the apostles. They then passed it on "the faith" to their successors. And so the early church had a strong doctrinal tradition, founded on the scriptures and the teaching of the apostles. We can see what this tradition was by reading the writings of the Church Fathers. And their understanding of God and the Trinity was a central part of this faith they received and constantly strove to preserve against the innovations of heretics.

“The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God” Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter X. 1.

The Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, then, was passed on from the apostles down through the Ante-Nicene Fathers and eventually embodied in summary in the Nicene Creed (along with the later Nicene-Constantinople Creed). While the Creeds and Fathers are not in themselves authoritative or infallible, scripture is, and when what they say is an accurate representation of what it clearly teaches, it does by extension carry the authority of scripture, since when that happens, it is no longer the mere opinions of men we are dealing with, but the very truths revealed to us in the infallible word of God. Such, I believe, is the case with the Nicene Creed -it carries weight not because it has inherent authority as a creed of the church, but because it accurately represents the very teachings of the word of God on the subjects on which it speaks. (Don't worry- I intend to prove this assertion in coming posts!)

In coming posts, I hope to 1) explain the meaning of the Creed and 2) prove from scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers that this view is biblical and that it is the historical view of the early church.

Some may find it odd that I would bother trying to spend time proving what the early church believed when I admit that the Fathers in themselves are not authoritative; this is done mainly for the purpose of showing that the Nicene Orthodox understanding of the Trinity, and the interpretation of scripture which it rests on, were not novel inventions of the Fathers who framed the Nicene Creed (or of this author) but rather the historically orthodox understanding of scripture handed down from the apostles themselves. They serve as witnesses to the accuracy of the Nicene Orthodox interpretation of scripture and to the apostolicity of the doctrine itself.

With these introductory matters aside, I look forward to writing more in-depth on the issue of Nicene Orthodoxy in the coming weeks.

Grace and peace,

Andrew

An Introduction to the Church Fathers

Despite their importance to church history and the usefulness of their writings to us today, sadly many modern Christians do not know who or what the "Church Fathers" are.  Perhaps this ignorance is especially strong in evangelical circles, where such strong emphasis is placed on studying the scriptures that sometimes the study of church history is forgotten about entirely.  So before referencing the Church Fathers in coming posts on this blog, I wanted to briefly introduce who the they are and why their writings still have relevance to us modern Christians.

Who are they?  The Church Fathers are early Christian writers from the first several centuries of Christianity.  They are typically divided into two groups- the Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), who lived and wrote from the first century to 325 A.D. (the year of the Nicene Council) and the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) who lived after 325 A.D.  They are altogether a very diverse group, spanning across a large period of time and representing a lot of geographical diversity, hailing from all across the ancient world; Alexandria, Jerusalem, Lyons, Carthage, Neapolis, Cappadocia, Syria, Rome, Athens and more. Some of these men held positions in the church such as bishop, while others we have no record of holding such office. Many of them were martyrs. The writing of these men represent the lion's share of most extant ancient extra-biblical Christian literature. Nearly all of their writings are available for free online.

Why should we care? The writings of the Church Fathers give us a unique window into the faith and practice of the early church at the time they wrote. If you want to know what the second century church believed and how they worshipped, while you could pick up a modern book on the early church, you could also pick up the works of the Church Fathers of the second century and cut out the middle-man by reading them for yourself. As is typically the case, these authors best speak for themselves. 

This window into the beliefs of the early church can be more relevant to us moderns than you might imagine. Firstly, the things they wrote to edify the church of their time are often just as edifying to modern readers. While not inspired like the biblical authors, the Church Fathers can be edifying to modern Christians, just like modern Christian authors who are also not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many of the things they taught about living the Christian life in the first century still find application in the lives of modern Christians today. 

Secondly, the Fathers did a great deal of work in the area of apologetics, just as many modern authors do. They, like us, found it expedient to be able to "give an account for the faith that is in [them]". They interacted with Greeks, Romans, Jews, and heretics or various kinds, encountering many of the same attitudes and beliefs we still encounter today (there is nothing new under the sun). An as such, their works still prove very relevant to us today. For example, seeing how they were able to prove the gospel to Jews from the Old Testament still has much use for us today in witnessing to Jews (and others). Likewise the study of how they defended the faith against attacks by pagans and heretics can still yield great fruit for us today as we face many of the same attacks, and for that matter, in many cases even the very same heresies. We would be foolish, in combatting a heresy the early church also dealt with, to not study how they put it to flight early on. In doing so, we find many useful arguments and tactics already laid out in their writings, like ready weapons laid out for us by our fathers in the faith to be picked up by us and wielded again against the modern manifestations of these heresies.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the writings of these early Christians hold great value for us as witnesses to the content of the biblical faith handed down from the apostles to the church. With their own words they show us what the doctrine of the earliest church actually was, and also, those of later dates can help us trace changes in doctrine. Now while the concept of a "rule of faith" handed down to the church from the apostles was common knowledge in the early church, in many circles today it isn't, so lets take a moment and examine what we mean by "the faith".

When God established the church, scripture tells us He built it on "the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone". Through holy scripture, His very word, and the teaching of the apostles, He gave us what scripture calls "the faith" -that is, the body of true, biblical doctrine (think of the gospel, the Trinity, etc.) that together constitues orthodox Christian doctrine. For example, Ephesians 4:5 mentions "one faith", and in 1 Timothy 3:9 Timothy is instructed to hold "the faith" with a clear conscience. In these cases, "faith" is not used to speak of belief or the exercise of trust, but a body of doctrine. So also, Jude 1:3 says "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (NASB, emphasis mine). 

Now I am convinced that this faith, this orthodox doctrine, can be found and arrived at from the scriptures alone.  But in order for that to happen, we must interpret them correctly, for if we misinterpret the word of God, we are bound to misunderstand it and then may find ourselves believing something quite different from that "faith which was once for all handed down to the saints".  And here is where I will pose the question- from whom is this "faith once for all handed down to the saints" handed down?  The early church evidently understood that to be the apostles, for they constantly refer to them as the source of their doctrine and practice, along with the scriptures. And that was the great advantage that the early church had that we can ever hope to compete with -the Church Fathers, especially the ANF, lived in close proximity to the apostles in time.  This means that the earliest of them learned directly from the apostles, such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Papias, and Ignatius.  Those that followed them had the privilege of learning from these men, who in turn taught them what they had learned from the apostles.  The result is that the early Church Fathers benefitted both from learning directly from the apostles themselves, and those that came after from a strong tradition established by them (all in addition to the same scriptures and Spirit we have today). So in their writings, we see this faith handed down from the apostles reflected, and the earlier we go, very well preserved against innovations.

This then, can be of great value for us. For if we are reading scripture in some way entirely differently than these earliest of Church Fathers, who had the advantage of being discipled by the apostles and learning their doctrine and interpretation of scripture from them, we have reason to be concerned. We can't sit down with Peter or Paul or John and ask them to explain what they had been taught by Christ and the Spirit about such and such a doctrine. We can't ask them questions about how to interpret difficult passages. We can't ask them what they meant by certain hard to understand things they penned in their own writings under the inspiration of the Spirit. But Clement of Rome could. So could Polycarp and Ignatius. But we cannot be discipled by anyone today who may claim such an advantage, or anything close to it.

The writings of the Church Fathers (uninspired and fallible as they may be) are still of immense value to use modern Christians as a way of making it easier for us to find that "one faith" handed down once for all. Can we reach orthodoxy simply by the study of scripture? Yes. Will you lack some essential element of the "faith" God wants His people to hold if you only study the Bible? Not necessarily. But not utilizing the Church Fathers may make it harder for you to arrive at a correct and fuller understanding of God's word. For while the Bible is a sufficient source to learn it from, you must ask yourself if you really trust your interpretation that much (or if you should)?  For me personally, I am much comforted when I am able to look back to the writings of these earliest Christians and see that the faith they held as having received from God through both the scriptures and the apostles is the same as what I have found in my own study of the Bible. If nothing else, it is a way to double check myself. And many times, we may find that they understood things more accurately and fully than we do. 

While the Bible as the word of God is surely the source of our faith, we can be greatly helped in our understanding of it by allowing the Church Fathers to help shape our interpretation of it. When they say they received a doctrine (and an interpretation of God's word) from the apostles that is different from our own, we would do well to let this cause us to re-examine our own position and see if perhaps their is something we missed. Perhaps we will discover that their interpretation is sounder than our own. And in the cases where they make mistakes, as with any human author, we must be discerning and disregard the mistakes. But we should not lightly brush aside the traditional view of the people of God as to an interpretation of God's word without some good reason. 

Let us be humble. Let us remember that Christianity did not begin with us reading our Bibles today in the twenty-first century. It began long ago with the apostles and their disciples, and we simply inherited it.  It is not our place to come up with novel interpretations of scripture and invent new doctrines.  Because according to the word of God, true doctrine was already given to the church -and we don't need someone's innovations 2,000 years later to arrive at it. Truth is received, not invented. So if we see the Church Fathers saying with one voice that they received their faith from the apostles, we ought to pay heed and test our faith by theirs. Where there are things we have missed seeing in scripture, let us add them. Where there are passages of scripture we have misunderstood, let us alter our understanding of them.  For we ought always be correcting and changing our doctrine to be in greater conformity with the word of God.  So also, when we read that the Church Fathers held a certain doctrine to be biblical and apostolic, we ought to, like any new interpretation or doctrine of which we may hear, test it by scripture, and if it holds up, accept it as biblical and trustworthy. This way we will maintain a faith that is both biblical and apostolic, and can be more sure that we are truly holding to that faith handed down to us saints once for all.

So then, when you see the Church Fathers quoted on this blog, please recognize that I do not quote them because I believe them to be authoritative in their own right or infallible. They are not, and scripture is. But they can be helpful in proving what the church received as taught by the apostles in their ministry. They can serve as witnesses to what the correct interpretation of scripture is, and their writings can serve as helpful commentaries to us on the word of God. While we are not totally dependent on them in order to arrive a correct interpretation of scripture, since many strange doctrines have been introduced both by false teachers and well-meaning but mistaken Christians, their testimony is a very helpful witnesses to the accuracy and apostolicity of the doctrines scripture clearly teaches. And when we find that our doctrine is both consistent with the Bible itself and the Church Fathers who first received our faith from the apostles, we may be confident in it indeed as part of that true "faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" for which we are commanded to contend earnestly.

Grace and peace,

Andrew