The Christian’s Heritage!

HeritageCouncil of Nicea

On May 20 in the year 325, the Christian Church entered a new experience. At the behest of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the empire that persecuted the Church for almost 300 years was now facilitating and financing the first ecumenical or worldwide gathering of Church leaders!

Their purpose was to decide and define the meaning of Christ’s divinity. Was He really God or was Jesus less than God? The initiative for the congress came from Emperor Constantine, who was friendly to the church, and his reign coincided with the need of the Church to settle rising differences about the nature and character of Jesus. The conference was called in Nicea, close to Constantine’s military headquarters.

Constantine gathered the churchmen because he wanted them to come to some agreement on the crucial questions dividing them. “Division in the church,” he said, “is worse than war.” Constantine recognized that a divided Church, whose faith and precepts he had made the national religion of the empire, were beginning to affect law and society through its doctrinal division.

The crucial debate centered on the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. The theological issue before the council concerned what exactly was meant by “Son of God,” “The Word” or “Logos” and “One with the Father.” However the real problem that needed to be settled concerned the teaching of Arius of Alexander. He held that Jesus was completely subordinate to the Father and was NOT one with Him. There were other alternative challenges as well, but this one in particular was gathering acceptance and proving decisive for the Church community. Arius argued that Jesus was not one and co-equal with God and he reduced Jesus in status to something less. If this was true, the question was how could Jesus who was less than God, but not human, impart salvation to humanity?

Arius’ arguments had entangled the Church for 7 years before the conference at Nicea. Delegates gathered from across the church world. Bishops from Persia, Rome, Alexandria, Spain, and modern-day Turkey met and debated just who Jesus was. The council’s deliberations were decisive in every way. Its definition of Christ’s nature and person were clear. After extended debate, all but two bishops at the council agreed upon a creed that confessed faith “in one Lord Jesus Christ, . . . true God of true God.” The importance of the council was crucial since it settled not only who Jesus was, but also His work as Savior. This was all the more important because, although Arius had great respect for Jesus, his refusal to acknowledge Jesus as “One Lord Jesus Christ, . . . true God of true God,” was leading people away.

The fact that this council was chaired by the emperor of the Empire that for 300 years had sought to snuff out Christianity, gave the decisions substance and recognition across the whole of the Roman Empire. For these reasons Nicea was a great turning point in Church history. It settled forever within the Christian community the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ and the efficacy of His redemptive work.

Constantine was pleased, thinking the issue was settled. However, there was a lengthy struggle over imperial power and theological language for the next century, which later culminated in the Council at Chalcedon in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), which will be covered in next month’s newsletter.

What is remarkable is that God used the very Empire and authority of Rome which had crucified His Son and persecuted His church for over 300 years, to gather, debate, agree and then announce the Lordship of Christ. Isn’t He amazing?

In the very things in which they behaved proudly He was above them!