Read John 14; Colossians 2:6-10
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, see also vs. 3-5 NRSV)
Who is God? What relationship is Jesus to God? Is Jesus of the same essence as God? In other words, has Jesus and God been one for all eternity, or was God alone in the beginning before God made the Word who was to become flesh in the world? Is Jesus God eternal or begotten of God before Creation? These questions and more have been asked throughout the centuries and, depending on which group of Christians one asks one might receive a different set of answers.
This debate came to a head in the early fourth century C.E. between Alexander of Alexandria in Egypt and Arius, who was a presbyter in Alexandria. Arius believed that people were putting too much emphasis on the Jesus’ divinity that they were forgetting his humanity. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 that Jesus was God’s only begotten son, explicitly stating that Jesus was brought into existence by the Father? Yet, Alexander felt that to emphasize Christ’s humanity was to strip Christ of his divinity and to make him less than fully divine. After all, didn’t that same Gospel of John quote Jesus as saying, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10, NRSV). Doesn’t Jesus imply here that him and the Father are of the same essence, making Jesus GOD ETERNAL?
So, as can be found so often throughout Christian history, two parties disagree on each other’s theology so much that they feel they have to battle it out. The matter was debated back and forth at the first Council of Nicaea. In the end, the emperor Constantine, who was presiding over the council, pushed for a happy medium that would hopefully tie the two sides together, with the larger hope of establishing a Christian religion that would tie his empire together. Thus the Nicene Creed was established and the compromise reached, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.).
Alexander’s side was appeased and Arius’ concern seemingly addressed, Jesus was both God and the only-begotten son of God. The two were of the same essence. In reality, nothing was solved and the debate carried on throughout the years. As for Arius, he was exiled following the council’s decision, where he remained for many years; however, Constantine finally allowed him and his followers to return to their homes once Arius muted the points found most objectionable by his critics.
While the debate between Arius and Alexander is long over and the vast majority of Christians accept the Nicene Creed as being the creed all Christians have believed from the beginning, there is an important lesson to be learned from this. Many Christians get caught up in theological debates over this or that. This stuff is deeply personal to people and anything that goes against what one believes is often taken as a “personal attack” against “their faith.” Yet, the question is does God care as much as we do? Are we, who are human and fallible, ever going to get our theologies 100% right on the money? Are we ever going to KNOW God perfectly? Is that what God is calling us to do?
Jesus answers this question in, yet again, the Gospel of John: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves” (John 14:11, NRSV). For Jesus, it was less about the intellect and much more about the heart. If we believe in Jesus, regardless of what we believe or how we believe it, we will follow him. If we truly believe in the works that Christ did, we will find ourselves doing those works! Faith leads us to action. Theology IS important as it helps us to grasp at the mystery of the relationship between God and humanity; however, faith in Christ and/or Christ’s works (regardless of how that plays out) is what will lead us to where Christ wants us to be.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If we are to err, and err we shall, let us err on the side of Grace.” — Rev. Alec Park
Lord, lead me to where you want me to be and extend your grace through me to others. Amen.