Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Church History: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Council of Nicea

If you share the Gospel (especially if you talk to Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses), you will see that this is a highly practical study and one that was very important for me three times in the past week alone – one time for which I was unprepared. You will see that the early church already had a firm believe in the Deity of Christ, but only had to formally write it out after heresies kept sprouting up.

The Gospel of John was written in 80-90 AD and it is the Gospel which asserts the Deity of Christ most fully (cf. John 1:1, John 10:30-35, John 20:28, etc.)

Polycarp (A.D. 69-155), bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the apostle John. He wrote, "Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Himself, the (Son of) God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith . . ."

Ignatius of Antioch (he died around A.D. 107) spoke often of "our God, Jesus Christ." He also wrote letters to Polycarp asserting the same thing.

Justin Martyr (110-166 A.D.) "Our Christ conversed with Moses under the appearance of fire from a bush." It was not the Father of the universe who thus spoke to Moses; but ' 'Jesus the Christ, ' ' ' 'the Angel and Apostle," " who is also God," yea the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and "the I am that I am'' (First Apology, lxii; lxiii).

So very early on the church held the firm belief in Christ's Deity.

So who came up w/the word "trinity"?

Tertullain (155 - 250 A.D.) coined the term "trinity" and he along w/Hippolyta are credit with the term “economic trinity.” The term economic trinity refers how the Godhead works in history: The Father plans and elects, Son acts as the Savior and carries out the atonement, and Spirit is the one who indwells us, regenerates us, and inspires the Bible.

This is to differentiate it from the ontologlical/immanent trinity, which is how the Godhead deals with itself (internally) in eternity.

Here's a quick overview of the predominant heresies of the time.

Dynamic Monarchianism/”Adoptionism”: monos = one ; arche = origin or beginning

Started by a Byzantine leather merchant Theodotus (190 A.D.) who claimed

"Jesus was just a man until his baptism, merely a man"

Paul of Samosota was condemned in 268 A.D. at the synod of Antioch for this very heresy. He saw the Spirit as nothing more that a term for the grace that God poured out on the apostles.

This is best view is best summed up by Dr. Millard Erickson:

“There was a working or force of God upon or in or through the man Jesus, but there was no real substantive presence of God within Him.”

Modalistic Monarchianism/Modalism/Sabellainism:

This is named after Sabellius, who lived in Rome during the early 3rd century. Another heretic that owned this view was Noetus of Smyrna. Basically it is:

God switching modes ie that one God switches between 3 modes and they do not all exist at the same time.

This heresy lead to the doctrine of patripassianism, which means that God the Father died for us on the cross. How did they come up with that? Well, since there is only one God who kept switcing "modes," He (the Father) must have been the one to die for our sins.

Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) brought in a tritheistic view to battle modalism called subordinationism:

"The most honorable of all the beings brought into existence through the Word, the chief in rank of all the beings originated by the Father through Christ" - This is the teaching of substantial subordination.

Origen was very influential church father and even wrote the very first systematic theology. This heretical view asserted that the Father, Son, and Spirit were three separate persons (polytheism/tritheism) and that Son and Spirit were subordinate to the Father in essence.

Arius a bishop of Alexandria, was influenced by Origen, but saw inconsistency in his teachings.

He came up with Arianism which touted that:

1. Jesus was a created being

2.Jesus was similar to God

This was a big deal!

From Dr. David Calhoun, Prof. of Church History at Covenantal Theological Seminary (here's a LINK to his church history classes I highly recommend) just so you get a feel to how big this debate was:

"Arius helped to contribute to the intensity of the debate because he put his views forth in verse and set them to popular tunes that were sung around the town, in the bars and elsewhere. They were sung and whistled in the streets, and pretty soon the songs were punctuated by fights. Fists and clubs were used to win this theological debate. One of Arius' songs went like this: "Arius of Alexandria, I am the talk of all the town. Friend of saints, elect of heaven, filled with learning and renown. If you want the Logos-doctrine, I can serve it steaming hot. God begat Him and before He was begotten He was not." Arius was not particularly humble about it all. Well, that came to be a rather popular song."

Gregory of Nyssa and early church father from Cappadocia (335 AD) wrote about the climate of the city of Constantinople during this time (courtesy Dr. David Calhoun):

"Everyone entered into it [the Arian debate]. Men who met to transact business neglected their bargaining to talk theology. If one said to the baker, 'How much is that loaf of bread?' the baker would answer, 'The Son is subordinate to the Father." If one sent a servant on an errand he would reply, 'The Son arose out of nothing.' "

So the church (318 or so early church Fathers) in 325 AD came together to formally affirm the doctrine of the Deity of Christ in the city of Nicea. This became known as the Council of Nicea.

The Nicean Council was basically a debate about one letter – the Greek letter "iota":

Homoousios = “being of one substance”

Homoiousios = “being of similar substance”

They knew that Jesus was homoousios ie the same substance as the Father, thus making Christ co-equal with God in essence and co-eternal (ie never created or in other words there was never a time when he was not) with the Father. This formality, officially settled the church's stance on the Arian heresy.

Last point – The Filioque debate– one of the driving forces that split the church in to the Western and Eastern church (1054 A.D.). The Eastern Orthodox church holds this view.
The filioque view of the ontological trinity holds:
  1. The Doctrine of Eternal Generation of the Son - John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.The Doctrine of Eternal Procession of the Spriit – John 15:26

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,

This is not a heresy, per se, b/c it is exploring into the mystery of the internal workings of the Trinity and that is something we cannot absolutely know for sure. This is akin to the supra and infralapsarianism debate (no clear definite answer).

Finally, the Trinity in 6 points courtesy of Dr. John S. Feinberg in his phenomenal "No One Like Him":

  1. There is only one God = only one divine essence of nature
  2. The one divine essence is distributed or manifested in 3 distinct persons
  3. They exist simultaneously in distinct persons
  4. Equal ontologically
  5. Distinction btwn the ontological/immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity
  6. Filioque not req. by Scripture
I hope you learned something. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are prone to say either that the church never held to the Deity of Christ, that the church father's were wrong, that the doctrine of Christ's Deity was unknown prior to Nicea and was concocted then, or that they deliberately distorted the Scriptures to promulgate their own view.

Tips on how to witness to a Mormon of Jehovah's witness:

1) Quote to them the early church fathers' view on Jesus
2) Explain to them the early heresies that rose up.
3) Tell them that Arius held that Jesus was "like" God and not God and that he was a created being.
4) The Council of Nicea only formalized what was already known.
5) Show them that there view of Christ is just the old heresy of Arianism

Also go here to the apologetics of Dr. James White

God Bless and Fight the Good Fight.


Acts 2:38 said...

Though I believe in one God manifested in three forms in the New Testament (except in Revelations where he is the seven spirits of God-which means seven modes of dealing with the seven periods of church history. As God is one from day one until today. From Exodus 20 to Deuteronomy 6:4 "The Lord our God is one " to Saint John 4:24 "God is a spirit" to 1 John 5:7 "There are three that bear record in heaven: the father, the word-Not son because flesh and blood can't inherit incorruption, and right hand means power. Go to mark 14:62 to 64 and Holy sprit and these three are one"-yet many in the Old Testament such as the burning bush or pillar of fire or cloud ect.Zech 14:9 "The Lord shall be one and his name one" which correlates to Col 3:17 "do all in word or deed in Jesus' name" and Mat 28:18 Jesus has all power in heaven or earth. If the trinity is real then Peter, Paul and Philip disobeyed God by Baptizing in the name of Jesus instead of the trinity title in the name of the of the father (John 5:43 Jesus), and of the son Mat 1:21 Jesus) and of the spirit (John 14:26 Jesus).And as they all baptized in Jesus name Acts 2:38, Acts 8:1-18, and Acts 22:19.They all are liars and will go the lake of fire-according to you because they disobeyed God if the trinity is real because to whom you are baptized to is to their ownership-baptized unto Moses or Jesus Christ. It is better to obey God than a man or you.

The Predestined Blog said...

Thank you Acts 2:38 for commenting on my blog.

A couple of things, there are instances where people pray to Jesus and instances when people pray to the Father and it makes no difference b/c there is one God.

Most of all you can think of it like this, in different cultures, people have multiple names, so even I have a birth name and Korean name.

If someone calls me by my birth name or Korean name it doesn't matter b/c it is me.

This is a similar case with the Trinity, when you baptize unto the Son, you are still baptizing into the Godhead and all 3 persons (b/c they are one God). Now, if certain persons say "I baptize you ONLY in the name of Jesus and not the Father and Son" that is a MAJOR prb and one followers of Oneness Pentecostalism ultimately follow.

Finally, I nor anyone I know, has made any statement to say you MUST say "the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit" when you baptize, so please do not associate that with me.

However, if you deny the Trinity, you would be worshiping a false god and the consequences for that is indeed grave...

Anonymous said...

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