Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 1:53 pm
The Messenger, December 30, 2010
Christian Chicken and Connecting Dots: Council of Nicaea, Part I
By JUSTIN WESTMORELAND
Special to The Messenger
What if a businessman invested in a Chik-Fil-A franchise, then decided to sell hamburgers from his restaurant instead of chicken? The company would come in and rightfully strip away his Chik-Fil-A rights. Following the first century and the closing of the canon of Scripture, Christians had to hash out the “chicken” from the “beef” — they had to articulate the basic beliefs required for a church to maintain its legitimacy as Christian. Why all this wrangling over basic Christian doctrine?
Reason No. 1: The Bible is not a theology textbook: it is the Word of God. The Bible is a collection of 66 documents, including historical narratives, poetry, brief proverbs, pages and pages of fulfilled prophecies, “gospels,” personal and corporate letters and end-times prophecies. As a collective whole, the books of the Old and New Testaments make objective doctrinal claims. Because the Bible tells us so, the Christian church believes that this book was 100 percent written by humans. But the Bible also tells us that these humans who authored the biblical books were carried along by the Holy Spirit in such a manner that the words written were breathed out by God.
(Do you see what I just did? When I wrote those last two sentences, I thought through different truths that the Bible communicates about itself, and I synthesized them together into a brief summary. Whether we realize it or not, all of us formulate creeds. Creed formulation must be done and we all do it.)
Reason No. 2: Our learning process. Every individual’s intellectual framework is composed of these brief summaries or assumptions about what the Bible says concerning X, Y or Z. Because we are human and always learning, we never have perfect knowledge; therefore, when we read the Bible we may come to verses which seemingly contradict our basic assumptions about God, Jesus, ourselves, and our world.
One of the fascinating things about the television series “LOST” was that each episode progressively revealed that the characters were more connected to one another than any of the survivors on the show (or even we viewers) knew previously. When re-watching “LOST,” what had seemed like innocuous interactions between Jack and Claire become more meaningful, because we learned from our first viewing that they are half-brother and sister. Similarly, as a Christian encounters the Bible, grasping the richness of meaning depends on connecting the dots of the whole story. Because it is hard to balance all the connections of the Bible all the time, it is vital for the church’s pooled wisdom to formulate baseline statements of what a church must affirm as biblical truth in order to be called a Christian church.
One of the most perplexing challenges for a Christian is understanding God Himself. How can men and women, who have to hire experts to decipher tax codes, even begin to comprehend the infinite, eternal God who opened His mouth to speak and created galaxies in an instant? This difficulty even shadows the creation story in Genesis, when God says, “Let us make man in our image.” Clearly, God is singular in Scripture, but here He speaks of Himself as plural.
One of the basic tenets of the Old Testament is affirmed in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear O Israel, the LORD, your God is one.” But then you turn to the Christmas story in the New Testament and find shepherds and wise-men worshipping baby Jesus. Fast forward to Matthew’s record of Jesus’s baptism, and God’s voice thunders from heaven as the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. All three — Father, Son and Spirit — are called God. It’s enough to make your head spin!
Is God one or many? Are Jesus and the Father the same? Is one more eternal, more essentially God, than another? An army of questions had to be addressed. Different voices within the early church had different answers. Somebody was right and somebody was wrong. Who was “chicken,” and who was “beef”?
Join us next week as begin to explore how the church wrestled with the basic Christian understanding of Jesus and the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
Editor’s note: Justin Westmoreland, campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at UT-Martin, attends Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com) in Troy with his wife, Meredith, and three children.