Understanding our Filter

Another one of my struggles with a number of the modern texts is how much they conflict with what was generally accepted as canon in the first few centuries of the church. It is remarkable that what was widely known and accepted by the early church fathers is largely held with a great deal of suspicion by modern contemporary Christians.

The central theme of the early church was, “Jesus Christ – God as Man – in union with all things.” What this means is Jesus Christ is God who has assumed what we are in all our sinfulness so that we could become what He is in all His glory, even and in spite of all our rebellion. This union assumed our rebellion, sin, darkness and depravity in every aspect of our humanity including our spirit, soul, mind and body, what is technically known as the hypostatic union. Everything is assumed and thereby everything is healed. No matter how strong humanity’s rebellion is, God’s union to us is much more powerful. Sin was seen as a mindset, a posture of resistance and the subsequent lifestyle that takes away and undermines the dignity and respect of human beings. The life of Christ from the Incarnation to the resurrection and ascension places humanity on His foundation and this no human being can take away. We can refuse to participate in Him and live the life that defies the gift but His love for humanity will never let anyone go, even if they damn themselves to hell.

In the first few centuries leading up to the Council of Nicea, this was the widely accepted view of the universal church. Now there were others who were concerned with declaring that God could become human and allow Himself to live in what they saw as evil matter. In their minds, it was impossible for God to do this and therefore the Incarnation was seen as an impossible event. At the Council of Nicea, Arius held these views and came to argue the case trying to explain Jesus. This is what he said:

  • Humanity must be held at an infinite distance from God
  • Human beings cannot endure the absolute presence of God
    • Therefore Jesus cannot be divine
  • The Spiritual is good and all matter is evil
    • How can the good be in union with evil
    • Therefore the Incarnation is impossible
  • Jesus is the logos who was created to be with us and maintain this infinite distance. Therefore there was a time when He was not.
  • His central theme was Plato’s idea that “sin is separation from God”

When the council heard this, they covered their ears and shouted him down almost causing a riot in the process. This amounted to around 300 bishops and including their entourage to around 2000 in attendance. Over 99% of those in attendance were in protest of these ideas. These people were brought in from all over the known world and all had followed the tradition in their own parts of the world without any chance of coercion and colluding. They protested against the idea that “sin is separation from God.”

Now we look at what some of the churches say in their statement of belief:

  • Someone has said that the holiness of God is the expression of the unspeakable distance by which he in his righteousness is separated from us . . .
  • God says that sin results in separation from God. God hates sin and His anger with sin will mean that people are eternally separated from God
  • We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives

This is what Arius was trying to argue for at the Council of Niceae which was rejected by all but three of the 2000 delegates. The rest of the delegates were teaching and saying the same thing. It was for this reason that the council felt there was no choice but to include the non-Scriptural term, homoousios, into the creed to reflect clearly that Jesus shares the same being as the Father and the Spirit as well as our humanity and all creation.

The point I want to make here is who is right: The Nicene theologians or Arius?