Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011 12:05 pm
The Messenger, January 6, 2011
The Victory of Christmas: Council of Nicaea, Part II
By JUSTIN WESTMORELAND
Special to The Messenger
There would be no Christmas if the Council of Nicaea, convened in the fourth century after Christ, had failed. The world would be different and, I argue, darker. We owe the good and the bad, all the joy and the pain of the holidays, to the great theological truth that the baby in the manger was not just highly exalted and like a god. He was the same essence and substance as God.
Christmas faced a serious foe in Arianism. Arianism denied that Jesus was as fully God as God the Father. (A modern manifestation of Arianism is fringe cults who deny the deity of Christ and therefore exist outside the bounds of historic, biblical Christianity.) If Arianism had won the day at Nicaea, then Emmanuel — “God with us” — would have been denied.
Arians affirmed that Jesus, the Son of God, was good, mighty, glorious and holy. They also agreed that Jesus was God’s agent in creating the world and His chief agent in revealing Himself to the world. However, Arians denied that Jesus was the same in essence as God the Father. Instead, they claimed that God the Father was superior to God the Son, thereby robbing the Gospel of its “good news.” If God Himself did not take on flesh in order to redeem us, then we are left with a Jesus who is interesting, inspiring or a great example — but He cannot be a savior.
A lot was riding on the council of Nicaea. If Jesus was a highly exalted creature, as the Arians claimed, then there would be no Christmas, because there would probably be no Christianity. The birth of Jesus — the incarnation — would not be an incarnation at all, but only an interesting historical footnote. The whole future of biblical Christianity was at stake: If Christ was not God, men had not been redeemed by God. If Christ was not God, believers were not united to God. And, if Christ was not God, Christians had no right to worship Him.
The essence of Jesus is vitally important. If Christians are not confessing the biblical doctrine of Christ affirmed and confessed at Nicaea, we are idolaters worshipping a created thing. We lose our salvation, because no creature could judicially stand in the place of guilty sinners. Justification and the entire plan of salvation necessitates an infinite and eternal being — God Himself — to bear the infinite wrath against sin. We also lose our hope of holiness or sanctification in the future: We would not be united to the divine holy nature of God through union with Christ, but with a substance of less-than-divine power.
That Jesus was the same substance (or in Greek, homoousios) as God was the key terminology which outlawed Arius and his party’s theology from Christian churches forever. When the final wording of the Nicene Creed was hashed out, the paragraph about Jesus read: “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, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” (emphasis added)
The issue that Nicaea affirmed, and which causes us to rejoice today, is that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God. Therefore, what is in essence true of the Father is true of the Son. God Himself came to rescue sinners all over the world. In Christ, God incarnate, Christians are rescued from the guilt and power of sin and the vanity of idolatry.
Next week: More about the individuals involved in the first Council of Nicaea.
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 their three children.