Aug4SunAugust 4, 2019
Our church recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. We thank God for sustaining Forward as a faithful, gospel-preaching church in Toronto for a century and we pray for many more years of God-honouring, effective, faithful ministry. As we look towards the future, we must also remember that God has been at work in His church much longer than 100 years. Many men and women have stood for Christ and served Him faithfully through the past two millennia. Knowing their stories will help us continue to stand for Christ and serve Him faithfully in our lives.
One of the most important events in the history of the church took place in 325 AD. This was about 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. By this time, Christianity had spread throughout the Greco-Roman world and largely gained acceptance as the religion of the Roman Empire. But as Christianity spread, false teachings, known as heresies, began to spring up. These heresies twisted the teachings of the Bible in subtle ways that changed the message of the gospel significantly. One of these heresies became known as Arianism. Arianism is named after a man named Arius, who was an elder of the church in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius struggled to understand the relationship between God the Father and Jesus, the Son. He began to teach that God the Father was God and Jesus was not. He also taught that the Father was eternal, but that He created the Son. This teaching directly opposed the teaching of the New Testament, which states that Jesus is God, equal with the Father, that He is eternal, and that the Father and the Son are one (John 1:1, John 10:30, Romans 9:5, etc). Arius’ false teaching about Jesus caused great conflict in the church.
The Roman Emperor at this time was Constantine, who was himself a Christian. He didn’t understand the problem, but knew it was causing trouble, so he called a council of the entire church in the whole Greco-Roman world. This church council met in the city of Nicaea (in Turkey) in 325 AD. Almost 300 church bishops (each of whom oversaw the church in a particular city or region) attended as well as many elders (who oversaw particular parishes in a city or region) and deacons. One prominent attender was Nicholas of Myra, later known as Saint Nicholas, who was known for giving gifts to the poor (over time, the legend of Santa Claus developed from his life). The council condemned Arius’ teachings as heresy almost unanimously, two other men stood with Arius and were excommunicated from the church (they were put through church discipline and removed from church leadership and membership).
The Council of Nicaea together wrote the Nicene Creed, which was an official statement of faith about the person of Jesus. The creed begins:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father, 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…
The creed affirms the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is the Son of God, and distinct from the Father, and yet is fully God, of one substance (equal in essence) with the Father. It also reflects the language of the New Testament that often uses the Old Testament divine names 'God' and 'Lord' for the Father and Son respectively. Calling Jesus 'Lord' is identifying Him as the God of the Old Testament. Our statement of faith as a church reflects theses teachings when it says, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He shares the same divine essence as His Father and the Holy Spirit and is fully God.”
The Arian heresy is still believed today by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but many Christians also demote Jesus because they find the concept of the Trinity confusing and they end up believing heresy. Our faithfulness as a church depends on faithfulness to the Bible’s teachings about Christ. If you want to look into these matters more, here are some books that will help you:Knowing God by J.I. Packer