The ancient church were so awestruck by the incarnation. When the Word became flesh they realised people were now face-to-face with God. God in Himself in this Person of Jesus Christ is our Mediator between God in Himself, who is in eternal union with the Father, and humanity. There is no distance between human beings and God. They only distance are ones that are mythologically imposed by human beings. God in Jesus Christ has eradicated any obstacle that stands in the way and has completely united Himself to all human beings. The apostles have written down this event and has left us first-hand accounts of what happened as they laid eyes on the Lord of glory and held and touched Him with their own hands. In Jesus Christ is the centre of knowledge for all the ways and works of God and this knowledge is now seated within us by the Spirit of Christ. Right here is the Umpire who makes the final call on matters concerning God, a call which cannot be challenged or subject to review. Yet, we find in the Christian community there are as many and various ideas on who God is, and is not, and what He can and cannot do. Even though God has come as this Man Jesus Christ in such a precise way with all authority and power given to Him by the Father, we cannot universally agree on the fundamental points of the implications of the Word made flesh.
We go back to the declaration of Jesus Christ in Matt. 11.27 where He boldly says, No one knows the Father except the Son . . . and we look into mainstream theological libraries filled with books on the doctrine of God written by authors who are confident of what they teach without referring to Jesus Christ. Irenaeus says it takes God to know God and without God, God cannot be known. Paul says, Let God be true and every man a liar. If Jesus Christ is God and God is true; if Jesus Christ is God and it takes God to know God, then why don’t we allow Jesus Christ to teach us the doctrine of Himself? Why do we not let the Teacher of the things of Himself, teach us? When Jesus Christ says no one knows the Father except Himself, why do we turn to others when Jesus says no one else but Him has any idea on the ways and works of God? Why do we embrace the teaching of ordinary men when there is only one Man in the whole of human history that can teach us the true things of God? The most any other human being can be is nothing more than a witness to His majesty. To be given such a privilege as to testify to Him is an honour bestowed on us that is second to none. Yet many of us are easily tempted to gain more honour by fancy new ideas often only reserved for the academically elite.
What can we learn from the first five centuries of the church? Many times over the years people have often suggested that we need to get back to the early church and conduct our Christian life like they did back then. This is all well and good but are we prepared to consider what it is they believed? I believe there is a reason why the church began at this particular time in history. I also believe the event of the Incarnation within the nation of Israel is no accident either. Because Jesus was born into the culture of a nation which He chose and trained over thousands of years, He entered this nation and was born into the ancient world at the right time. When we read the Scriptures, we see God interacting with His own people in such a way that a way of thinking developed as a result of sometimes strained relationships that occurred over this long period of time. When Jesus started His ministry, He interaction with His people invoked a particular kind of response that would have only occurred within the nation of Israel. It is the cultural context of the Hebrews that gave the whole of Jesus’ life from His Incarnation through to His death, resurrection and ascension giving it its true and intended meaning that is unique to the whole history of Israel. We find in the writings of the first five centuries in particular this Hebraic way of understanding has been taken up and preserved. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is an example of employing a way of thinking that was first delivered to them by the apostles.
The words in this Creed are not new words. One will find in a careful reading of the fathers of the first five centuries in particular, that there is phrasing from the Creed that was said not only in the New Testament but also in the writings the fathers produced up until the Council of Nicaea. What the Nicene Creed succeeded to do was to make it precisely clear without any ambiguity whatsoever, what has been said from the very beginning. It stresses with the utmost importance the coming of Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of God Himself sharing the very same being with the Father making specific reference to Exodus 3.14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” and also in Jeremiah 23.18 “But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? and in v. 22 “But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds. In these last days we do stand in His council and we can announce His words to all people because we actually see and hear Him. God is not hidden from sight. He is not just for the privileged few. He is not just for the academic elite to figure out as if He is some kind of code to break. He is not reserved for the higher levels of church hierarchy to deliver to the lower masses of the Christian community. He is like a lighthouse on a hill for the entire world to see. He promises in the New Covenant And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, They will all know Me from the least of them to the greatest (Heb. 8.11).
The Nicene Creed provides us with clear understanding of what the ancient church believed from the beginning and represents in a nutshell the apostolic tradition. It provides us with a shade of colour of our confession. If we say the same thing as the Creed then we are speaking with the very same shade of colour, speaking, walking and living the very same narrow path that Jesus Christ has placed us on. If one chooses to say anything different to the Creed and all that it stands for, then what they confess is not the same shade of colour of the Creed’s confession. With this Creed as the backdrop, this different shade of confession will stand out as a blemish against the truth. What the Creed represents is like a beautiful view out of a window. We can still do church if we want to but the most this represents is the window dressing. The view that matters is Jesus Christ, God made human, who is of the same being with the Father. He is God incarnate uniting us all in Himself as if we are one human being so we see that what became of the Son of God is what became of us in Him. When He was born, we all became reborn from above. He lived His life in perfect obedience to the Father bringing us all into His perfect obedience. When He died we all died in Him. When He rose, we all rose with Him. When He ascended to the Father we all ascended in Him and are now seated at the right hand. Jesus Christ is God and humanity reconciled meaning this is the only way we can see every human being.
If we start to downplay the significance of the Incarnation or disregard it altogether then we pull the blind down on the window leaving everyone in the dark. Sometimes subtle non-christological ideas creep in making the glass dirty so we are never sure of what we see. What we are taught then becomes guesses as we all try to figure out what might be behind the dirty glass window. It becomes a matter of what makes the most sense rather than testifying to the reality of Jesus Christ who is truly the image of the invisible God. When we ignore the image as the heretics of old tried to do, then we can be made to believe whatever suits the desires of those who have placed themselves in authority above that of Christ. What results is a misuse of authority and power often at the expense of those they are suppose to serve. We have seen time and time again the abuses within many corners of the church today.
When we allow the true nature and character of Jesus Christ who is the exact representation of the Father’s being speak for Himself then what we see is of the utmost beauty and is an utterly staggering display of love leaving us astonished and amazed. When we allow His light to shine through this window then we are in our safest place. What this Creed does for us is to know for ourselves those who place themselves in positions to preach and teach whether or not they are preaching or teaching the truth. We can know intuitively that we are being spun a line that might seductively bemdrawing us away from the only Truth that matters. There should be no doubt, or questions probed in our minds to ponder, that makes us consider the possibility that what the Creed stands for is no longer relevant. When we are willing to stand by the same confession of this Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, then we stand with the cloud of witnesses which have fought to uphold the apostolic tradition and have taught the very same as was handed to them by the apostles.
The desire of most Christians is to live in truth according to the Scriptures. Just about everyone wants to believe they know God. Here in Australia most people have a big problem with being told what to think, what to believe, what to do, what to say and what to know. There is a huge perception within the wider community that being a Christian means we have to be told how to live our lives. If we become Christians then we have to careful what we do, believe, think, say and know. Going from unbelief to belief can sometimes feel like we are hemmed in by all these rules and regulations and somehow we have to do it right. If we do all these things then we will be adopted. This is very much the Arian way. The ancient tradition flies in the face of all this by saying that we are adopted in the Incarnation, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It is the power of God unto salvation, not through natural descent, human decision or any will of any human being but born out of God in the Incarnation of the Word through which we are all adopted. Thus our being is united to the being of God long before we ever think, do, know, believe or say. This was planned before the foundation of the world. Being always comes before doing. This brings everyone regardless of status to the very same starting line.
If at the Incarnation, God is our Father, Jesus Christ is our brother, then we cannot look at any human being accept from the very start as brother or sister. When God united Himself to us in the Incarnation, He also united us to one another as brother and sister. No one is more brother and sister than any brother and sister to Jesus Christ. Some see this materialise within our own beings while others fail to see it or even completely ignore it. This is so because Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is so because Jesus Christ is God. This is not in a static sense as many evangelicals across many denominations believe. Claiming Jesus Christ is of the same being with the Father as the Nicene Creed asserts means that He in the midst of our betrayal of him, is the Word and Hand of God stretched out to save us, the very heart of God Almighty beating with the pulse of his infinite love within the depth of our lost humanity in order to vanquish and do away with everything that separated man from God. That is the saving import of the homoousios applied to Christ, who for us and for our salvation was made man and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate (Torrance, T. F., 1981, Introduction in Incarnation, The Handsel Press, p. xv.). If we are so completely united with God in Jesus Christ then we are so completely adopted as children of God, especially when this knowledge is made manifestly real to us and we assent to it, why do we spend so much time arguing and debating with each other? I am an adopted child of God in Jesus Christ. Every other Christian is equally adopted in Christ and are participating in it. When we hear the Spirit deep within us soothe us with the words of the Father, You are my beloved child in whom my soul delights, I am so pleased with you and we respond, Abba Father! do we really need to argue endless debates with each other? Adoption is a universal and free gift to humanity. Salvation is not one thing in Jesus Christ and another thing in a denomination.
Salvation that ties the very being of Jesus Christ to the Father in union and ties the very being of His humanity to all human beings binding in His grip of love that is so tight that death cannot sever it. Even our own condemnation to hell can never sever it. The posture of love displayed in Jesus Christ in the whole of His life in His time on earth is the very same posture of love He will exhibit at the very end of the age when He will judge the living and the dead.
The motive of the ancient church when they introduced the term homoousios into the Creed was to protect the flock from the damaging effects of separation theology (which is in fact what Athanasius calls mythology) as proposed by Arius and his followers. This presented to the flock an understanding of Jesus Christ that is totally independent, fixed and immune to corruption from damaging dualist views. It gave to the flock an object from which they could actually see in Jesus Christ the true nature and character of God. To put this to question gave each Christian an ability to discern for themselves that to do so was to betray God Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. With the Nicene Creed the way of God is straight and clear. Any other way becomes crooked and confused. With the way of the Nicene Creed, the whole scope of Scripture is taken into account. Any other way requires selective passages ordered in a logical string while other passages require a long and convoluted semantic somersaults so they fit into the logical string. With the Nicene Creed Jesus Christ is the centre bringing order and structure to Scripture. Any other way the structure and order breaks down and turns into chaos and division in the Christian community much like we see in the church today. There is not one reason for anyone to reject anything the Nicene Creed represents. Its precise form of thought demonstrates the oneness in being between Christ and God. Furthermore, it expresses a clear statement in relation to the Father, the Son and the Spirit in all its says relating to our creation, salvation and ultimate destiny. It places an irrevocable line between the economy of God in Jesus Christ (the visible acts of God) that takes us directly into the ontological or immanent Trinity (which lies in the very heart of God’s being). There is nothing behind the back of Jesus Christ that will cause us to fear or doubt because in Him that fear and doubt is completely taken away.
To reject the Nicene Creed on the whole or even in part is to make oneself an enemy of the ancient church. It is to fall into the trap of the wrong way of thinking of the Gnostics, the Arians, the Apollinarians, the Nestorians and all those who questioned the full significance of the homoousion which was introduced into the Nicene Creed at this time in history. From the time of the apostles and the tradition they handed down to the fathers of the early church up until the Nicene Council of 325AD, to the Council of Constantinople of 381AD the ancient church stood fast on all the Nicene Creed stood for as well as the theology that lay behind it. There was no other option. Today there is still no other option. Without it huge misunderstandings of the Incarnation have emerged seriously eroding the very substance of the gospel. The has left millions upon millions of Christians confused unsure of which way it is they should go as they are confronted with the many and various doctrines laid before them. This should not be the case. This was not the way it was in the beginning and especially in the first five centuries of the church. This is not the way it should be today. There is not one reason between heaven and hell we should shy away from all the Nicene Creed says. Let God be true and every man a liar.