In listening to the Covenant Theological Seminary’s Ancient and Medieval Church History lectures(aside from the issues I have with their discussion of baptism–but that is saved for another post), I was reminded again of the importance of theology for the believer. I am in lecture 12: The Council of Nicea and it was quoted to me again that in this time the world was being ‘torn apart because of a dipthong’ and that the theology of the church ‘rested in one iota.’
It made me think of the many comments heard from well meaning people when a person is delving deep into the scriptures and hashing out a difficult and sometimes convtroversial topic. Many people will assure them that ‘doctrine only divides’ and that we should all come under the banner of Christian unity. Phrases and comments like “I dont get caught up in theology, I just believe in Jesus” are meant to bring things back into focus. Inevitably the trump card to end all serious inquiry into doctrine many times is evangelism, “we shouldn’t spend our time arguing over these things, we should be out saving the lost”
While I heartily agree that focusing on Christ is extremely important–the foundation of our faith–and that evangelism is vital, I do not see them opposed to Christians wrestling over the doctrines of the faith. In fact, these labors are very necessary for there to be true evangelism and unity. We ought to work out our faith and wrestle with these things in order to get the gospel right.
In case you do not know or it has been a while, the main issue of the Council of Nicea in 325 boiled down to the issue of Christ being of ‘similar substance as the Father (homoiousios in Greek)’ or ‘the same substance as the Father(homoousios)’. Now if this debate were occuring today, no doubt there would be well meaning people saying that this was just semantics, and that it wasn’t worth getting upset about. After all, it takes a very observant reader to even notice the different spelling in the two words (the difference is an iota).
Thank goodness people like Athanasius did not agree. What was at stake here was only the very diety of Christ: a foundational issue to be sure. If Christians did not contend for this doctrine, the very nature of our salvation and everything we know about the trinity would be false. Athanasius was not cowed by pressure to give up the fight and bring false unity to a church divided over this issue. In fact, he was called Athanasius contra mundum: against the world. Today orthodox Christians take for granted that Christ is held to be fully God and fully man. When this ‘battle over an iota’ was first raged it threatened to tear the church apart. (A full account can be found on the web or in a good church history book, I do not do the justice it deserves.)
I am so thankful to the Lord for saints who contend for the faith, who did not compromise on what seem to be semantics or minor issues. It is vital that we wrestle over these things to be sure that the gospel that we share and the unity that we seek is true and is based on the Word of God. I am challenged by these accounts to read more, to study more, and to be sure that what I hold to be true is what the Word has revealed.
It also reminds me of the relevance of history today. It is important that we as believers know about these controversies so that we can see that these debates and discussions are not new, they have been waged before and we ought to know about them so we can see the value of the faith passed down from our fathers.
And may we take heart that all scripture is God-breathed and worth our time and effort to understand. We should wrestle with scripture. What might seem trivial to some can have much bigger implications than we realize, like that darn little iota.
Let us all keep striving for truth!
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7