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):

Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 AD):

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,


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