Posts Tagged With: Holy Trinity

Reflecting on the truths of the Nicene Creed Today

Christmas is historically about affirming the truths expressed in the Nicene creed about the person of Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary.  As we enjoy this festival, let us reflect on these words:

The Nicene Creed (325 AD)

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

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.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(text from http://www.reformed.org)

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Pastoral Letter 12/1/13

Greetings in the name of Him who came to save His people from their sins!

As I type I can feel the leftover turkey and yams churning in my stomach.  We have much to be thankful for, and the upcoming Advent season gives us even more reason to be thankful, for it is this time of year that we pause to remember God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ, God from all eternity, conceived and born in due time, predestined before the foundation of the world to come as the Savior of Sinners.

Although the Bible does not fix for us the date of the birth of Christ, Christmas is an ancient tradition in the Christian Church.  The date of December 25th began to be observed in Rome in the 4th century.  (The 4th century church father John Chrysostom notes that there was a longstanding tradition already in the Church that Jesus was born during the winter time dating back long before this time.)  Around the same period, in the Eastern churches of Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Epiphany was starting to become a popular festival on January 6th celebrating Jesus’ birth, the visit of the wise men, and baptism by John in the Jordan River.  While the celebration of Epiphany spread westward, the celebration of Christmas spread eastward and southward to the churches.

nicholas   strikes arius detail

Nicholas of Myra strikes Arius at the Council of Nicaea; Fresco in the Soumela monastery, Turkey

In this period of time there was a great controversy in the Christian church due to a teaching of a preacher in Alexandria, Egypt named Arius that from all eternity “the Son was not.”  He taught that only the Father was the eternal God and that Jesus the son was a lesser god who had been created by the Father at a point in time prior to creation.  (This doctrine is similar to the teaching of some modern groups, for example the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”)  Arius’ teaching caught on like wildfire because many people found it easier to understand and accept than the biblical teaching on the Trinity: One God in Three Persons (cf. Matthew 28:19.)  But God in His providence raised up great preachers to oppose this teaching, men like the Greek fathers Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John “golden mouth” Chrysostom.  They knew that without a Savior who is both fully God and fully man, with two distinct natures in one person, there could be no reconciliation of a holy God with sinful man, and there would be no salvation.  These church fathers thought that a new festival on December 25th would provide a valuable opportunity to proclaim the truth about the person of Christ, that God the Son, being fully God from all eternity with the Father and the Spirit, took to Himself a full yet previously un-impersonated human nature, and became man, in the womb of the virgin Mary.  They used Christmas as a defense against Arius and his false teaching about Christ.  It was Gregory Nazianzus who said in reference to John 1:1, “What better way to celebrate Him who is the Word, than by preaching the word?”  Christmas caught on in churches all over the world as a time to hear sermons on the incarnation of Christ, and in the end, it was probably one of the great influences which wound up leading to the decision of the Council of Nicaea in favor of the biblical teaching on who Christ is.  (At the council, according to tradition, there was one minister from the city of Myra in Asia Minor named Nicholas, who is said to have struck Arius in the face during a council session when he said, “The Son was not” in an attempt to knock some sense into him.  Nicholas was defending the biblical doctrine of Christ being fully God, and was also known for being generous to the poor.  He is the origin of the “Santa Claus” stories.)  The results of this council were encodified in the Nicene Creed, an important and historical statement of the doctrine of Christ and the Trinity.

As we reflect on Christ during this season, let us be thankful to God for leading His Church to the truth about who He is, guiding her through history, and remember that salvation is only in Him who being God from all eternity, became man in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born in a stable, and continues to be God and man, in one person, with two distinct natures forever, the Mediator between God and sinful man.

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Why Our World Cannot Be Explained Without the Trinity

Human philosophy is at a loss when it comes to explaining the world we live in.  As human beings, we experience both unity and diversity in our world.  Unity is observed in what we all have in common as humans: in common dreams, hopes, fears, struggles.  Our brains tend to follow similar patterns of logic.  We can read a news report about a person from an entirely different culture, who speaks a different language, and sense a commonality with that person.  We can even empathize with her if her parents have been ruthlessly murdered in cold blood, or be happy for her if she wins a prize.  This commonality bespeaks an underlying unity to mankind.  There is an underlying unity between human beings, and this also allows for communication from one person to another.  The English language, for example, works as a way for me to convey the ideas I am now expressing because there is enough unity among human beings that we can assign common definitions to words and convey meaning to one another.  I can type in a way that the reader can understand, and this points to an essential unity in human existence.  Although English is only one of many human languages, any human can learn English with enough practice. This unity between human beings is also seen in many ways in the world around us, like when a bird helps pick insects from a rhino, an act of mutual cooperation which benefits both, and when ants communicate with each other to alert the colony of an approaching green lizard.  Diversity is seen in the multiplicity of all that exists in our world.  The many stars in their own different solar systems, the diversity of lifeforms on earth from infectious bacteria to wrinkled Grey Elephants, and the diversity of human races, languages, and individual opinions are all manifestations of diversity in our world.  What are we to make of the fact that the world is unified and that it is diverse at the same time?

Human philosophy, which tries to make sense of the universe around us, has attempted to explain, account for, or understand how our world can be both unified and diverse, as shown in the examples described.  After all, if the world were only unity, how could we have so many different dog species, or flavors of barbecue sauce?  If it were only diversity, we could not even have a discussion because there would be no common understandings of words or their meanings.  How are we to make sense of all this?  As human beings we see diversity all around us in the world we inhabit, but we have an intuitive sense of an underlying unity which is behind it all. The great Greek philosopher of the ancient world, Plato, tried different methods of thinking in attempts to explain the unity and diversity in the world. But each time he failed, because the diversity that we experience in the world around us would not give him any clues as to where the perceived unity has its foundation. Modern thinking has not been able to get any farther in solving the problem of the unity and diversity in the universe than Plato did. If only the material world exists, and the supernatural is a fiction, as some today would say, then where does the underlying unity, that we perceive intuitively, come from? Universal laws of human behavior, the laws of physics, laws of grammar, etc. point to a unity underlying them all. The modern thinker just can’t explain this other than just to shrug and say it must exist somehowi.

The riddle of the unity and diversity in our world is only solvable by the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Since the Creator of the Universe is a Trinity, that is, one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from all eternity, He is the root of the unity and diversity that exists in our world. Since our world is a reflection of Him, and He is one God in three Persons, therefore it is easy to see how our world can exhibit such unity and diversity at the same time. Conceptions of God like that of Islam, which teaches that God is only one person, not three, cannot account for the wide diversity in the world that we experience. How could such a diverse world be created by a monolithic god? Materialism, which takes all its cues from the physical world around us, cannot explain the unity which under-girds us. Only the Bible with its teaching of a God who is One in Three can make sense of the world that we live in. And although we cannot fully understand the Trinity, yet we can see that the unity of essence and diversity of persons in God is the root of the unity and diversity that we experience here below.

i  I am indebted in my thinking on this topic to the published works of Conelius Van Til, 1885-1987.

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