Saturday, November 14, 2009

Apologetics.com - All Along The Watchtower: A Former Jehovah's Witness (That's Me) Gives A Guided Tour Of Watchtower Theology

I was actually on the radio!! Three years ago I became one of the 30,000 people per year to be disfellowshipped from the Jehovah's Witnesses. I share with the Lindsay Brooks of the Apologetics.com radio program my journey and attempt to shed light on the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society along the way. Most people when asked what they know about the Jehovah's Witnesses might reply that they don't celebrate birthdays, Christmas or allow blood transfusion. Some may point to Michael Jackson's former days as a witness, or Venus & Serena William's membership, noting the morally conservative values and political neutrality of the group. Some may note with interest that Prince is one of 7 million Witnesses worldwide and reflects Watchtower theology in his lyrics. But what are the unique teachings of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society and, most importantly, what are the stakes of these teachings. Always being ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us means knowing what our neighbors believe. Since the Jehovah's Witnesses log over 1.3 billion hours per year going door to door, we have many opportunities to engage with this enigmatic group, to invite them in when they knock, to share the Gospel.Who is God? Is Jesus the Archangel Michael? What happens when we die? Who are the 144,000? Is the Logos God or "a god"? Lindsay Brooks explores these questions and more with myself.

HERE is the link to the summary, and here is the mp3.

Blessings,

Matt

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In what way are Jesus an the Father one? - A Response to the Watchtower Part 1 of 3

In the September 1st 2009 issue of the Watchtower magazine, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, on page 28 there is an article that would be worth taking the time to look into. The article is under the heading “Our Readers Ask”, and it is an attempt by the Watchtower to deal with John 10:30. I am going to start a three part series in response to this article.

The article entitled “In What Way Are Jesus And His Father One”, begins:

“I and the Father are one,” said Jesus . (John 10:30) Some quote this text to prove that Jesus and his Father are two parts of a triune God. Is that what Jesus meant by this statement?

Thus begins the misrepresentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. I am convinced that the Writing Committee and the Governing Body do not know what they are talking about. When it comes to the Trinity to seem to have no understanding of their subject.

I think it might be beneficial begin by giving a definition of what the Trinity. The Trinity is the belief that the one God eternally exists as three persons , the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and there is only one God. Implicit in this definition is a difference between the word "being" or "essence" and "person".

The first thing that I find interesting is the phrase “two parts of a triune God”. That is not what historic Trinitarian Christianity has taught. God’s being is not divided into three equal parts. Each person is completely and fully God. Each person has the whole fullness of God’s being in himself. The Son is not just partly God, or just one-third of God, but the Son is wholly and fully God, as the scripture says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 2:9 ESV) We see from the beginning that the Watchtower does not understand the Trinity, and thus they fail to address it adequately.

The article continues,

Let us take a look at the context. In verse 25, Jesus stated that he did works in the name of his Father. From verses 27 to 29, he talked about symbolic sheep who his Father had given him. Both statements by Jesus would have made little sense to his listeners if he and his Father were one and the same person. Instead, Jesus said, in effect, ‘My Father and I are so close-knit that no one can take away the sheep from me, just as no one can take them away from my Father.’ It is much like a son saying to his father’s enemy, ‘If you attack my father, you attack me.’ No one would conclude that this son and his father were the same person. But all could perceive the strong bond of unity between them.

Once again, we see the complete failure of the Watchtower to understand what they are attempting to refute. Notice that twice they said that Jesus isn’t “the same person” as the Father. A teenager might respond, “Well, DUH!”. Historical Christianity never said they were the same person. They are separate and distinct persons, sharing a personal relationship of love between each other. The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit. The Son isn’t the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father or the Son. They are one in “being” but different in “persons”. This is something far removed from the human experience, where every different human is a different “person” as well. God’s being is so much greater then ours that within his one undivided being there are three distinct interpersonal relationships so there can be three persons. This is essential to the very nature of God.

To help us get our bearings, I quote the Athanasian Creed. I do so, not so much as an authority over the church, but an expert so to speak on what the Trinity is defined as being. It says, “We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another….Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God…..As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so Christian religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords…And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.”

As we can see, the Society does not understand this definition of the Trinity and thus fails to refute it. The article goes on,

Jesus and his Father, Jehovah God, are also “one” in the sense that they are in complete agreement as to intentions, standards, and values.

Now begins the Watchtower’s attempt to define what “one” means here in John 10:30. Taking a look at the context will show just how stretched this understanding is.

I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came--and Scripture cannot be broken-- do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."(John 10:30-38 ESV)

Notice how the Jews understood what Jesus was saying. They, “picked up stones again to stone him”. Why? “For blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." Why would Jews pick up stones to kill Jesus if all he was affirming was his “complete agreement as to intentions, standards, and values”, with the Father? “’Cause we’re not about that,” says the Jews according to the Watchtower. “We don’t want anyone to in agreement with the Father.” How absurd is that! If Jesus just affirming a unity of purpose with the Father by saying “I and the Father are one,” then why did they Jews understand his words to be an affirmation that he was God (v. 33)? Cause they ‘re mistaken? If they were mistaken, why didn’t Jesus correct their misunderstanding? Instead Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." (Psalms 82:6-7 ESV) Here, unrighteous judges are called “gods”. However the whole Psalm is holding these judges in derision. They had misused the Law of God, tyrannically abused their authority and power for their own sinful passions, for oppressing the poor, and for every evil action.

Jesus in John 10:25-26 derides these leaders as well for their unbelief and for not being part of his flock. The greater context of John shows that the Jewish leaders of Jesus day were guilty of the same thing as those judges in Psalm 82. He reproaches them because they are unmindful of Him from whom they received their great dignity as leaders, and they profane the name of God. Rather then correct them, Jesus rebukes them. Jesus goes on to say, in v. 37, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, do not believe me,” thus confirming that they had understood him correctly. Ironically, the Watchtower agrees with the Pharisees who condemned Jesus, that Jesus is not God in flesh. They accused Jesus of claiming to be God v. 33, and Jesus confirmed this understanding in v. 37. But, of course they denied that Jesus was God, and so does the Watchtower society.

In contrast with Satan the Devil and the first human couple, Adam and Eve, Jesus never wanted to become independent of God. “The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing,” Jesus explained. “For whatever things that One does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” - John 5:19; 14:10; 17:8.

In John 5:19 we have the Jews seeking to kill Jesus for His blasphemy. Now note that Jesus, instead of denying equality, once again, he lets it stand. When Jesus said that he can “do nothing” of himself, he meant that because of his oneness with the Father, he can do nothing “independently” or separate from the Father. For the reason that he is God by nature, the Son must act in accordance with the nature and will of God. If he ever acted apart from God's will, he would - by definition - no longer be "equal with God." Jesus, as the Son, could not help but do what God does! He in effect, CLAIMS deity.

Jesus in his divine nature is fully equal to the Father, though relationally (or functionally) he is subordinate or submissive. This does not mean that Jesus is any less God than the Father, it simply reflects the hierarchial relationship in the Trinity. This is the same with a husband and wife. Though they are equal in nature, (they are both human), there is a heirarchial relationship that exists between them (1 Corinthians 11:3). This doesn't mean that the wife is not equal with her husband. It doesn't mean she any less human or inferior in any way. They just have different roles, and the same goes for the relationship between the Father and Jesus.

Why did Jesus say that He could only do those things that He saw the Father do? The most important statement in these verses is the second half of v. 19: “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” No mere man or angel could rightfully say this. Instead of Jesus saying he can only do some things that God does, he says, “Whatever the Father does,” Jesus does. If Jesus is God, then he would naturally be able to do whatever the Father can do. When the Father acts, Jesus acts. This is the sort of thing the Jews heard Jesus say. And they concluded rightly: You talk like you’re equal with him. This is so vital, as v. 23 says: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” If people honor Jesus for who he really is, then God the Father is honored for who he really is. So in that sense, all judgment is given to the Son. What people make of him decides their final judgment. But that’s because what they make of him is what they make of God.

Does the Watchtower honor Jesus for who he really is—as the divine Son of God, the Messiah, the crucified and risen Savior of the world, the Lord of the universe and Judge of all human beings? They do not and thus do not honor God.

Blessings,

Matt

Thursday, November 5, 2009

WT Baptism Questions

I was going through some old files, and I found something that I had actually forgot about. What I found was actually the Watchtower's OLD baptism questions.

When someone is about to be baptized as a Jehovah's Witness, they are asked two questions, which sort of end up becoming vows. When I was baptized, I had to anwser the questions, as did every other Witness.

Here were the questions that I anwsered:

(1) On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?

(2) Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in association with God's spirit-directed organization?

I still find it very interesting that there is no mention of Matthew 28:19-20. Not even an attempt to deal with the command that our Lord gives us to baptize in "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Instead, Witnesses today are baptized into the "spirit directed organiztion". The authority of the Triune God is not what is the basis for their baptism, it's the authority of the Organization. A witness has to accept that the Watchtower Society is the "Faithul and discreete slave", or in plain language, God's mouthpiece and sole spokesman on Earth today.

I find it very interesting that these questions were not the ones always asked. Many older Witnesses could tell you that, but I doubt they've ever thought through the changes.

Here are the old questions:

(1) Have you repented of your sins and turned around, recognizing yourself before Jehovah God as a condemned sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him, the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ?


(2) On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit?

Wow. Those almost sound BIBLICAL! No wonder why the Soceity changed them. They can't have something actually BIBLICAL now can they?

Do you know why I think that they changed the questions? Notice the last part of the second question, "to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit". What is the source of the knowledge of God's will? Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. Notice the part the individual has to play, "as he reveals to you", that might actually call for some discernment, and even a bit of thinking for yourself. Ultimately this puts Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible over the Organization. This places the Witness as a judge of everything the WT says. No wonder why they changed it. Now the authority is "God's spirit-directed organization". They are now the dispensers of God's will. What arrogance to think that any human instituton could replace our Lord, his Spirit, and his Word.

What about those who vowed the old questions at their baptism? Are those vows now invalid? If they were to insist that the Society actually start following what the Bible really teaches, (excuse the pun), should they not be held innocent, as they would just be fulfilling their baptismal vows.

Just another example of a change made by the Watchtower to keep their authority over their members, and depart even farther form the Biblical model.

Blessings,

Matt

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A little about me....

It has been said often, but it deserves repetition: there are only two types of belief systems in the world, those that say “Do” and the other that says “Done”. Those that trust in their own works say “do”. “Do this and this and don't do this and this”. This is what I will call religion. But that's not the belief system the Bible holds out. The Bible says that it's not about what we “do” but about what he has done. We don't trust in our own works, but we trust in the merits and work of another done in our behalf. This is the essence of the Gospel. This is the message that changed my life. 

This describes my life up to four years ago. I was religious. I was devoutly religious. I was a fourth generation Jehovah's Witness, so I was raised as a one from my youth. I was indoctrinated like all young Witness children are. You know how it starts. I would go to bed each night listening to the audio recordings of My Book of Bible Stories. Every Witness child had those stories memorized after a week. As I grew up, I replaced the Bible Story book with the Great Teacher book and later the Greatest Man book. I remember being deeply touched when it came to the chapter on Jesus parting words to his disciples. Although there was much good gained from this, you learn the basic Bible stories, in the end, it was the Watchtower version of those stories we learned. By age a very young age I was enrolled in the theocratic school, giving the number 2 and eventually the number 4 talk.


As I entered high school, I studied the Knowledge book and some other blue book. Interestingly enough, the elder who conducted the study with me had to skip many of the chapters in the blue book because it was out of date and was replaced a few years later. I officially entered the organization by baptism on March 24, 2001. The month after my baptism I Auxiliary pioneered, and I pioneered occasionally for two years. Then, a few years after my baptism, I became a Regular Auxiliary Pioneer. 
 
As a result of frequent sickness, my parents both missed many meetings. This forced me to get rides to the various meetings with an older gentleman named Howard. Howard was part of what I have heard called as, “the conscious class”. In case you hadn't heard that term before, “the conscious class” are members who are aware of. Watchtower Society's lies, but sadly continue to stay in the organization out fear. At the time Howard was in his early seventies. He had been a former elder. Almost every time he’d give me a ride, we’d end up in a discussion over some doctrine that Howard had a hard time with. Here is where I learned that there were problems with things like the 1914 doctrine and with the two class salvation idea. I didn't know if I believed everything he said, but it laid the seeds of distrust.

I was halfway through high school and already some doubts were beginning to form. It was then that I came into contact with several Christian men and ministries. These were apologetics ministries, counter cult ministries, and just Christian people who knew their bible. I heard their arguments, and engaged in debate over Witness doctrine. I tried my best to defend Watchtower theology. They were firm in their insistence that my beliefs had no biblical basis. They brought me back to the bible and expected me to prove what I was claiming from the text. Once, I had a very interesting series of discussions with a gentleman who was a Bible college teacher. We discussed the 1914 chronology, the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead, torture stake or cross, and Watchtower history and false prophecies. By the end of the discussion I had no answers for his arguments and I had to admit, at least to myself, that he was right.

In my discussions with these Christians I was soundly beat. All I was doing, and all that I was trained to do, was parrot what the Watchtower had told me to say. Instead of looking to the Bible for the answers, I was looking to the Governing Body to tell me what the Bible said. I failed to give a consistent defense of my beliefs from scriptures in the face of experienced Christians. I could not bring myself to accept that a member of “Christendom” might actually understand the bible better then I did. This led to even more doubts and confusion. 
 
Jehovah’s Witnesses are so proud, that they are taught to believe, that the Watchtower society has a monopoly on Biblical interpretation and truth. In reality, Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in Sola Scriptura. They have a view of scripture almost identical to that of the Catholic Church. Only the clergy, only the Governing Body, have the ability to interpret Scripture. They don't believe in the scripture alone, they believe in the Church alone. The average Witness thinks that he understands the Bible better then any Christian he may meet. They believe that no one knows the Bible better then the Governing Body in Brooklyn. 

During this period I had heard the Gospel clearly several times but I still refused it. Certain Watchtower dogmas were still deeply entrenched within me, despite my problems with other areas of theology. I was blind to the glory of the Gospel because of the bondage I was in to the Watchtower society. Martin Luther, commenting on Galatians 2:14 said, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. It is most necessary that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” Well, that's exactly what was happening to me, I was having the gospel beat into my head.

Soon, I stopped talking with these Christians altogether. I had refused to believe the things they were telling me. Instead, I trusted in the Organization, and in turn my own piety. So I drowned myself in good works. I preached more. I never missed a meeting. Anything that the Watchtower said I should do, I did. I took the doubts, questions, and objections I had and buried them. My rational was, the rational of all in the “conscious class”, that of, “Jehovah will take care of it in his own time. He will clean his organization. I will wait on him.” Which in itself is a form of both deception and pride. Deception because I still thought that Jehovah's Witnesses were God's people and his organization even though I had no logical basis for it, since I had rejected the 1914 chronology. It was pride because I thought that I was right and they were wrong and one day God was going to prove me right and they were going to change to fit me. In the meantime, I followed the Watchtower’s prescription of various works to possibly earn a right to be resurrected into the new system. The elders rewarded my zeal with “privileges” in the congregation. I did the microphones. I was at the literature counter. I was on the mixer booth. I made up the slips for the theocratic school. I never was a ministerial servant though.

Paul saw that the “righteousness” religion offered could only be an incomplete, superficial righteousness. As I heard once, “You fail to understand the gravity of sin”. We are all sinners by nature and choice. Every part of us is effected by sin. Sin has corrupted our minds because we do not think God's thoughts. Our will is corrupt because we do not desire what God desires. Our emotions are corrupt. We all sin every day in thought, word, and deed, in omission and commission. In light of our sinful nature and resulting sinful actions, it would seem that the only thing we deserve to get on our day in God's proverbial courtroom is a guilty verdict. If God didn't judge us as anything but guilty he would cease to be a just and good God.

In light of this, it's understandable why instead of things getting better for me because I was doing all these good works, things got worse. Sure, things were good for a while, but the good works eventually became a sour taste in my mouth. They felt pointless and without meaning. The more I went door to door, the more I went to the meetings, the more I read the Watchtower publications, the more I was convinced of the holiness of God and of my own sinfulness. It was then that God’s providence brought to my attention even more Watchtower lies, and deceit. They lied about their history by trying to rewrite it to exclude and down play their various false prophecies. I found out about the United Nations NGO scandal. Soon I was dealing with all the doubts, objections, and questions that I once had. I was forced to do the one thing I didn’t want to do, and that was to deal with the holes in my shredded theology. 

One night in late September, 2006, I talked to a friend of mine about my situation. He recommended I read Philippians chapter 3. The moment I finished reading those verses, I was by God‘s grace, born again. I was regenerated. I was dead, but now began to live. I was blind but now began to see. Finally, everything started to come together. I want to show you a few things that I saw for the first time when I read Philippians 3.

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11 ESV)

In the first century, there was a group of religious people, called the Judaizers. This group insisted that to be saved, gentile Christians had to obey all the Mosaic ceremonial laws. These were the laws like the strict dietary laws, and circumcision. This was abhorrent to Paul. In his mind the law was given to convict of sin and drive us to Christ. The teachings of the Judaizer diverted Gentiles away from Christ into a covenant that was never intended to save them.

So Paul in this chapter lists his resume before becoming a Christian. Paul thought that he could show God his resume and expect God to be pleased with him and allow him into heaven. The tendency of fallen humanity is to try to justify ourselves by what Paul calls “works of the law”. “Works of the law”, is when you try to earn your salvation through obedience. It's about you. It's about trying to make God love you by what you do, and your attempt to clean your self up and getting your life together by obeying a set of rules. 
 
In fact, the bedrock and foundation of all religion is the claim that the only way to be justified in God's eyes is to earn it by doing your best and obeying the rules. It's like people expect that God works like an employer. On the day of judgment they will get to stand before God and share with him their resume. They say in effect, “God, here's my life. I did a good job. I think I deserve to be justified and allowed into heaven.” It's like they're applying for a job. God has 144 000 management positions available and a multitude of entry level positions available in his company and there are six billion applicants so you'd better make sure your resume is top notch. You'd better look better, be better, have more experience, make a better impression, if you expect to get the job. That's religion.

I was doing the same thing as Paul did. I was trying to earn my salvation. I was trying to be worthy enough to be raised in the Kingdom. Why would I try to do that? That's what the Watchtower teaches. They teach that if you learn the bible from them, join and submit to the organization, obey God's moral requirements the rest of your life, and preach all the time,
then God might possibly, maybe, if he's in a good mood, resurrect you. 

The text says that the true people of God are those who “worship by the Spirit of God”. They “glory in Christ Jesus” and “put no confidence in the flesh”. The Reformer from Geneva, John Calvin commenting on this phrase, “confidence in the flesh”, says that it, “includes everything of an external kind in which an individual is prepared to boast … or to express it in fewer words: everything that is outside of Christ” The Watchtower never sees the sufficiency of Jesus. It's believe in Jesus and be part of the Organization. Believe in Jesus and go to all the meetings. Believe in Jesus and get baptized. Believe in Jesus and use the divine name Jehovah. Believe in Jesus and go in service. Believe in Jesus and prepare for meetings. Believe in Jesus and comment at meetings. Believe in Jesus and do all these things better then you did before. 

In the Watchtower, it's all about the individual, it's all about me. The gospel is about Jesus. The Watchtower says if I obey their rules then God might love me. The gospel of Jesus says because God has loved me through Jesus I now have a new nature and a new power that can obey God. The Watchtower sees good people and bad people and God loves the good people and hates the bad people. The gospel sees everyone as bad. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There are bad people and Jesus. The Watchtower says it's about what I do. The gospel is about what Jesus has done. Under the Watchtower I end up trusting my own works. The gospel allows me to rest in the finished work of Christ. The Watchtower give you nothing but uncertainty in your standing with God. “Will I be in the new system or destroyed at Armageddon? Am I God's friend or foe?” The Watchtower makes you say, “I don't know. I'm not sure. I'm not sure I've done enough or tried hard enough.” The gospel of Jesus provides assurance and certainty. “These things are written that you may know you have eternal life.” “He who has the son has life.” 

But when I read this passage, I read that was talking about “not having a righteousness of his own”. That blew me away. It blew me away because it was so different from what the Watchtower teaches. The Watchtower teaches that God only saves the godly. The Organization says that Jesus helps us but we also need to help him. He isn't enough to save us, we need to do something as well. Their version of salvation is Jesus giving the sinner the same chance as Adam had. Jesus needs us to participate and contribute to our own salvation. As a result it isn't humble, it's proud. It isn't joyous, but very angry, critical, and mean. It's isn't grace, it's nothing but pure law. 
 
The Gospel is far better. Christ lived a perfect life in my place. The imputation of Christ's righteousness is far better. That is the Gospel. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5 ESV) 

Justification has to do with our objective legal standing. The Christian, through faith in Christ, has been justified and declared righteous and godly by God, once for all. We are not righteous, or godly at all, but unrighteous and ungodly. The best we can give God, all of our righteous deeds are like dirty menstrual rags says the prophet, like a pile of crap says the apostle. That's gross. Yes! I know! But that's how I was trying to be saved. I was trying to be saved by used rags and dung. God however declares sinners as godly and righteous because he credits Christ's merits, godliness and righteousness to us by faith. This is a legal action. Christ takes away my sin, guilt, powerlessness, death, ugliness, and godlessness. In exchange he gives me his holiness, righteousness, innocence, life, as well as a relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. The result of this is that the Christian no longer lives under the fear of judgment and the wrath of God but has peace with God, which is not merely a subjective feeling but an objective reality. 


This is the gospel God, in love and mercy, sent His only Son, Jesus. He lived a perfect, holy and sinless life. He lived the life we should have lived. He died a brutal death on the cross. He died in the place of sinners. It was the death we should have died. He was buried and rose again, conquering Satan, sin, and death. He never broke the Law, but he died to fulfill the law we had broken, to pay its penalty, to bring salvation to all who, by His grace, turn and trust in Him. God credits or imputes, Christ's lifelong record of perfect obedience to the person who trusts in him. Those who are born again, repent of their sins and trust in Christ, thereby entering into a new life: an eternal fellowship with God.

What Paul valued more then anything else in life was knowing Jesus. The value Paul placed in knowing the Lord Jesus is seen in what he was willing to give up in order to gain Christ. The value we place on known Christ Jesus is determined by the price we are willing to pay. For Paul, becoming a Christian cost him everything he held so dear. He had dedicated his life to his religion and he presumed that his religious devotion was synonymous with giving his life to God. He had worked very hard to live righteously so that God would approve of him and accept him. If anyone could ever win or earn God's favor by sheer religious devotion it was Paul.

Paul here speaks of "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ". A worth surpassing what? Notice Paul says, "I count everything as loss", I have suffered the loss of all things". Everything else in life, when compared to knowing Christ is rubbish, refuse, dung, completely worthless. Paul valued knowing Christ so much that he considered everything he had given up as rubbish. Paul said he wanted to know Christ. This knowledge isn't not only knowing intellectual facts about Jesus. This isn't what the Society calls “accurate knowledge”. “Knowing” is not “taking in knowledge” as the New World Translation says. “Adam knew Eve” and they had a child. John MacArthur says that “knowing” here “is equivalent to shared life with Christ.” This is an intimate, continuous and personal relationship. What Paul receives as a Christian is not just better, more preferable or a better alternative, but it makes his former religious works worthless, despicable, and disgusting. Paul valued a relationship with Christ so much that he was willing to sacrifice everything in order to obtain it.

When I caught a sight of the Glory of Christ I saw it's infinite value. There is nothing else in the universe that can compare to the beauty, worth, and majesty of , the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As long as I trusted my own religious works, I could never have been saved. Once I was saved, they no longer meant anything to me because I saw the surpassing worth of Jesus, and everything else seemed like nothing in comparison. When the sovereign power of God's grace opened my eyes to behold the glory of Christ by faith, there was a complete transformation of my person. I was changed from the inside out. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) By God's grace, that is still an ongoing process. I was outwardly religious, but inwardly full of dead men's bones. I was faced with this fact, did I value Jesus more then my sin? Did I count my life of sin as rubbish to gain Christ? Justification is a free pardon based on Christ's righteousness and merits gifted to us through faith. Regeneration is the Holy Spirit taking a corrupt heart of stone and turning it into a heart of flesh. The Holy Spirit now enables us to hate the sin we once loved. He grants us the ability to flee sin. This regeneration leads to sanctification. A new relationship with God means a new relationship with sin. 

Paul says that religion destroys everything. It's not Jesus PLUS anything; it's Jesus ONLY! Jesus is all we need. Jesus is all we have. Jesus plus anything ruins everything. “Not the labors of my hands, could fulfill thy law's demands. Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to thy fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die."

I saw my sin. I was guilty of pride and arrogance, thinking that I knew it all and the bible better than anyone. The Watchtower Organization is a false religion and a false prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses were never God’s people I was guilty of trying to have a righteousness of my own. I was trying to earn my salvation. I was trying to be good enough, read my bible enough, go to meetings enough, preach enough. But I realized that no matter how much I did, it would never be enough. How could any of the religious works benefit me before a perfectly holy God? It dawned on me that nothing was capable of covering my sins other than the righteousness of Christ. “My faith is built on nothing less then Jesus blood and righteousness”. I repented. I could no longer trust in my own righteousness, instead I now cling to Christ and his righteousness as my only hope!

The Monday night following my conversion, I was praying the hardest I've ever prayed. Up until this point I was living a life of hypocrisy. I was going to the meetings, but I didn't agree with any of it. I was lying to my parents. I was sneaking out of the house to go to friends houses. I was an A student in my first two years, but I was flunking third year in College because I was lazy and skipped class with friends. When I became a Christian, this ate me up inside. What I was doing was wrong. I needed to tell my parents everything and I was scared silly. All things considered, I thought for sure I was going to be kicked out of the house. That night, I went out to see a movie with my brother and a friend of mine. So on Tuesday night, my Mom came down stairs and asked me, "So why did you invite Brian to the theater and not one of your Witness friends?"

It was the answer to my prayer. The Lord had opened the door for me. At this point I see my chance to tell her that I am a Christian. I was able to tell her that for a while I have had disagreements with the Watchtower's understanding on certain matters. I told her it would be wrong of me to attend the Kingdom Hall if I no longer believed in "The Organization". I confessed all my sins to her, and I asked her if that would effect my living in the house. She told me it would not. That I was still her son and she still loved me. 

So they did not kick me out. But I didn't know what was worse, being kicked out, or living in a house where there is a silent battle going on. It was a cold war between myself and my mother and even my older siblings noticed. There was one discussion with my Mom that was very interesting. She asked, "What is it about that religion that has sucked you in?" I replied, "What religion?" "That Church where you are going," she retorted. "That isn't a religion. It isn't about religion, it's about a relationship with God and Christ," was my response. "OH! I SEE! OKAY!"

Then my parents went to the Elders. I had them to do so, and I also expected the inevitable Judicial Committee. Let me tell you, the Judicial Committee wasn't what I expected. I don't really know what I expected, but it wasn't the inquisition that I got. But, from what I hear now, it was a standard meeting. I was bombarded with questions as to my doctrine and new beliefs. 
 
So I told them simply that I do not believe the WT Society is God's Organization. I started to explain why by showing how to determine a false prophet, (Deuteronomy 18:20-22), and then show the various false prophecies, (viz. 1874, 1914, 1925 etc). I didn't even get to read three references when they stopped me and said that this meeting wasn't for debating issues, it was to find out where I stand on matters.

So I told them where I disagree with the Society, (viz. New Covenant, Trinity, Dates, Cross, etc.), and where the Society went wrong, (viz. secretly joining the UN). Every time I mentioned something, the elders had a response. I would put my response back and they would side step the issue by moving to another issue and saying this meeting wasn't for debating.

Then the discussion turned to the "Organization". They must have talked for the better part of an hour about how clean and holy the organization was. "God's always had an organization. We don't go to war. No one has the moral standards we do. No one else disfellowships to protect their flock. No one else does the preaching work. You can walk into any kingdom hall and be taught the same thing." And things like these.

The best part of the meeting went as follows:
Quote:
Matt: So does foundation matter? Is it important?
Elder1: Yes absolutely.
Elder2: You see, any organization which is on a unstable foundation will ultimately fail. A foundation based on falsehoods is doomed from the beginning.
Matt: So was Jesus returning in 1874 a falsehood?
[awkward silence]

My second favorite part was:

Quote:
Elder1: So Matt, are you going to tell others about your disagreements? If you were to go preaching, what message would you preach? Would you preach against the organization?
Matt: Would I tell others about what I know? Well I'm not going to lie to them. I'm going to tell them what I believe.
Elder2: What about the ministry? You've stated earlier that the Good News must be preached. We're the only organization that preaches the Good News. No one else does. No one goes door to door. It's a vital and scriptural command to go door to door. Even if you preach to your friends at school or work, that isn't good enough, you have to go door to door and no other organization does that.
Matt: Other organizations do it.
Elder1: But what matters Matt, is the message. These groups don't preach the message we do.
Matt: What message is that?
Elder1: The main theme of the Bible, the Kingdom of God.
Matt: The main theme of the Bible isn't the Kingdom, it's Jesus Christ. And the message we are to be preaching is Christ, and Him crucified. 
 
So we went on and they basically said I was arrogant and prideful by thinking that I knew better then the Organization. They told me to think about how I got into this situation. They told me that I was in this situation because I was on "apostate websites" which had "bad association" which over time "poisoned me".

So the elders asked me if I would formally reject and disavow my new beliefs and come back under the authority of the Organization. They asked me what I wanted to do.

I responded by modifying a famous quote from Martin Luther, “Unless I am convinced by scripture, and by plain reason, and not by governing bodies and watchtower articles which have so often contradicted each other, my conscience is bound to the Word of God. I can not and I will not recant. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can no longer in good conscience be apart of this organization.”

To which the elders replied, “Then you are no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses.” Soon, because of the “cold war” that was going on between my mother and I, I decided to move out. I attended a Pentecostal church for a time, and eventually I moved. Now I attend a Reformed Baptist church, and I love my current church family.

So the question you have to ask yourself is, are you placing “confidence in the flesh” or do you “glory in Christ Jesus”? Is your hope in “anything and everything that is outside of Christ” or have your turned to Christ by faith? If you are not a Christian, do not wait any longer. Cry out to Christ in faith and he will rush to save you. Dear Christian, have you messed up this week? Perhaps you didn't live as much of a Christian life as you should have. You didn't perform. There is good news for you today. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) “
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”. (Philippians 1:6) You didn't become a Christian because you followed a list of rules, or because of your performance. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) You are a Christian because Christ has sought you. He has come after you. He who would not give up on you. He made satisfaction for your sins. He is here now among us and is here to carry you one step closer towards being more like him. “The Lord will rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)

"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Free Will

An non-reformed friend of mine recently asked me what I believe about "free will".

I wrote out a response to him.

This is in response to your question to me as to what I believe about free will.

Free will is the ability for a person to make choices that determine some or all of his actions. Human choices are real and make a difference in the outcome of events. The will is only as free as its nature permits it to be free. We cannot violate our own natures and our will is part of our nature, and our will is directly related to and affected by our nature. If our nature affects our ability to choose, then what the Bible says about our nature will effect our ability to choose. The unbeliever is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:14-20, John 8:34), has a heart that is desperately sick (Jer. 17:9), is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1), does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot—and it cannot please God (Rom. 8:7-8), it is not able to come to Christ (John 6:44, 65), and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). A sinful will is not able to choose contrary to what the Bible clearly states concerning its nature, which is in pretty bad shape. If someone is a slave of sin, is dead, does not seek for God, is full of evil, and does not understand spiritual things, it makes sense to say that his choices are limited to the scope allowed by the description set forth in the Bible. This is what Genesis 6:5 means when it says that every intention of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil continually.

Now the only question left after a group of texts like that is if that inability, that "cannot," is blameworthy or not, whether it gets us off the hook or puts us deeper on the hook.

I think the Bible is pretty clear that the corruption of our own hearts, being so great that we can't do good, intensifies our guilt rather than relieves us of it. My inability to do good apart from the Holy Spirit is not an exonerating inability. It is an inability that is rooted square in my rebellion.

So what I believe about free will is that I am free to do whatever I please, and what I please is to sin. Therefore I'm going to be damned by my free will. I must be rescued from the bondage of my free will in order to see and hear God for who he is.

Does that make me an automaton or diminish the glory of God? I don't think so, because what God does is come to me and free me from the bondage of my blindness and deafness and hardness so that, finally, I become rational and can act as a truly free human being. This is called being "born again".

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IX, puts it this way.

"I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only."

If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Puritan Prayer

Well, I'm back after some time off from blogging.

I've been looking into the Puritans recently. And I found this Puritan prayer that really sums up how I feel as of late.

It is entitled “Confession & Petition”…

Holy LORD,
I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in Thy Word, of neglect to seek Thee in daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless Thee that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ; Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but do Thou rule over me in liberty and power. I thank Thee that many of my prayers have been refused - I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Thy patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Thy rule. I thank Thee for Thy wisdom and Thy love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross. No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If Thou shouldst give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt awat with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Thy grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in Thee. Then I shall bless The, God of Jeshurun, for helping me to be upright.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Really Happened at Nicea?

Recently I was engaged in a conversation with a Jehovah's Witness. He didn't recognize me as one, even though I probably saw him at least three times a year at our conferences. Anyway, it is very common for Witnesses, and other groups to attack Constantine and the Council of Nicea as the end of the Christianity that Jesus established and the beginning of "Apostate" Christianity. I am not a historian, though I would love to be, but Dr. James White provides a great historical background to this council and defense of it.

But before we get to that article below, there are a few things I would like to comment about.

It is often claimed that Constantine made Christianity the state religion. This is simply not true. Actually it was Theodosius I who decreed that Christianity was the official religion of the empire in 379. There was no "Roman Catholic Church" in the Fourth Century. At the time of Constantine, Rome was highly honored, but held no special position of superiority at that time. Constantine legalized Christianity. Before this it was an illegal religion. It would be comparable today as if a leader rose up in China who would grant Christians there legal status. That leader would be heralded as a great savior. Because of him the gospel would be able to be preached to millons who would not have heard it before. The same is true of Constantine.

Second, the implication is often made that Constantine was a "pagan" emperor in disguise, because many claim he kept the traditional pagan titles, and his coins still bore the figures and names of the old Roman gods. There was a distinct difference between the Constantine from 312-323 and the Constantine from 324 and after. In 312 he became the emperor of the western half of the empire, while Licinius became emperor of the east.

After 324 all this changed. In 324 Constantine defeated Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis, and he became sole ruler of the Roman empire. Now his devotion to Christianity new no bounds. In fact, he was so disgusted by the paganism of Rome, that he moved the capital of the empire to Byzantium, finishing it in 330, and renaming it Constantinople. He forbade pagan sacrifices and he decreed that there were to be no idolatrous worship and no pagan festivals of any kind.
Thus, there is no evidence for a "pagan" Constantine was somehow just acting as a Christian. If anything, the evidence shows a Constantine who became so committed to the Christian faith that he was steadily moving toward disallowing all paganism.

With that in mind, here's Dr. White's article. If you doubt his history, do the research yourself: he offers his sources at the end of the article.

Here is the creed, or confession of faith, hammered out by the brothers in Nicea.


I believe in one God the Father Almighty (Isaiah 44:6, 8, 24; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Eph 4:6; Heb. 11:6; Rev. 1:8), Maker of heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; Rev. 4:11), and of all things visible and invisible. (Jer. 32:17; Col 1:16; Heb. 11:3)

And in one Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 2:3; Phil. 2:10-11), the only-begotten Son of God (John 1:14-18; John 3:18), eternally begotten of the Father (Mich. 5:2; John 17:4, 24; Col. 1:17; Heb. 7:3; 13:8), God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God (John 1:4; 5:18; 12:35-37; 1 John 1:5-7), begotten, not made (John 1:3; 8:58), being of one substance with the Father (John 1:1; 10:30; 20:28; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3-4, 6, 8), by whom all things were made (Col. 1:15-17); who for us men and for our salvation (Matt. 1:21; John 3:16), came down from heaven (John 3:31; 8:23), and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:35; 2:6), and was made man (John 1:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Phil 2:5-8), and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:25; Matt. 27:22-26). He suffered and was buried (Matthew 27:50-60), and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures (Matthew 28:6; 1 Cor. 15:4), and ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9), and sits on the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). And he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead (Matt 25:31; 2 Tim. 4:1), and His kingdom shall have no end (Dan. 2:44; Luke 1:33).

And I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), the Lord and Giver of Life (2 Cor. 3:6, 17-18; Is. 6:8; Acts 28:25; Rom. 8:2 ), who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified (Rev. 4:8), who spoke by the prophets (2 Pet. 1:21). And I believe one holy Christian Church (Eph 2:19-20; 4:5; Rom. 12:4-5). I acknowledge one baptism for the identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-9). And I expect the resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:14-15), and the life of the world to come (Matthew 25:34; 2 Peter 3:13).

But those who say: "There was a time when he was not"; and "He was not before he was made"; and "He was made out of nothing", or "He is of another substance" or "essence", or "The Son of God is created", or "changeable", or "alterable", these the Church anathematizes. (Gal. 1:8-9)


Blessings,

Matt


WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT NICEA?
by James R. White


Summary

The Council of Nicea is often misrepresented by cults and other religious movements. The actual concern of the council was clearly and unambiguously the relationship between the Father and the Son. Is Christ a creature, or true God? The council said He was true God. Yet, the opponents of the deity of Christ did not simply give up after the council’s decision. In fact, they almost succeeded in overturning the Nicene affirmation of Christ’s deity. But faithful Christians like Athanasius continued to defend the truth, and in the end, truth triumphed over error.

The conversation intensified quickly. "You can’t really trust the Bible," my Latter-day Saints acquaintance said, "because you really don’t know what books belong in it. You see, a bunch of men got together and decided the canon of Scripture at the Council of Nicea, picking some books, rejecting others." A few others were listening in on the conversation at the South Gate of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. It was the LDS General Conference, and I again heard the Council of Nicea presented as that point in history where something "went wrong," where some group of unnamed, faceless men "decided" for me what I was supposed to believe. I quickly corrected him about Nicea — nothing was decided, or even said, about the canon of Scripture at that council.1

I was reminded how often the phrase "the Council of Nicea" is used as an accusation by those who reject the Christian faith. New Agers often allege that the council removed the teaching of reincarnation from the Bible.2 And of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses and critics of the deity of Christ likewise point to that council as the "beginning of the Trinity" or the "first time the deity of Christ was asserted as orthodox teaching." Others see it as the beginning of the union of church and state in light of the participation of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. Some even say it was the beginning of the Roman Catholic church.

THE BACKGROUND

Excepting the apostolic council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, the Council of Nicea stands above other early councils of the church as far as its scope and its focus. Luther called it "the most sacred of all councils."3 When it began on June 19, 325, the fires of persecution had barely cooled. The Roman Empire had been unsuccessful in its attempt to wipe out the Christian faith. Fourteen years had elapsed since the final persecutions under the Emperor Galerius had ended. Many of the men who made up the Council of Nicea bore in their bodies the scars of persecution. They had been willing to suffer for the name of Christ.

The council was called by the Emperor Constantine. Leading bishops in the church agreed to participate, so serious was the matter at hand. To understand why the first universal council was called, we must go back to around A.D. 318. In the populous Alexandria suburb of Baucalis, a well-liked presbyter by the name of Arius began teaching in opposition to the bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. Specifically, he disagreed with Alexander’s teaching that Jesus, the Son of God, had existed eternally, being "generated" eternally by the Father. Instead, Arius insisted that "there was a time when the Son was not." Christ must be numbered among the created beings — highly exalted, to be sure, but a creation, nonetheless. Alexander defended his position, and it was not long before Arius was declared a heretic in a local council in 321.

This did not end the matter. Arius simply moved to Palestine and began promoting his ideas there. Alexander wrote letters to the churches in the area, warning them against those he called the "Exukontians," from a Greek phrase meaning "out of nothing." Arius taught that the Son of God was created "out of nothing." Arius found an audience for his teachings, and over the course of the next few years the debate became so heated that it came to the attention of Constantine, the Emperor.

Having consolidated his hold on the Empire, Constantine promoted unity in every way possible. He recognized that a schism in the Christian church would be just one more destabilizing factor in his empire, and he moved to solve the problem.4 While he had encouragement from men like Hosius, bishop of Cordova, and Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine was the one who officially called for the council.5

THE PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR VIEWS

The Council of Nicea was mostly Eastern. According to tradition, 318 bishops were in attendance, though most historians believe this number is a bit high. The vast majority came from the East, with less than a dozen representing the rest of the Empire.

The council was divided into three groups. Arius was in attendance, at the command of the Emperor, along with a few supporters. Most notable of these were two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, as well as Eusebius of Nicomedia. This group represented the viewpoint that Christ was of a different substance (Greek: heteroousios) than the Father, that is, that He is a creature.

The "orthodox" group was led primarily by Hosius of Cordova and Alexander of Alexandria (accompanied by his brilliant young deacon, and later champion of the Nicene position, Athanasius6). They represented the view that Christ was of the same substance (Greek: homo-ousios7) as the Father, that is, that He has eternally shared in the one essence that is God and in full deity.

The middle group, led by Eusebius of Caesarea (and hence often called the "Eusebian" party), distrusted the term homoousios, primarily because it had been used in the previous century by the modalistic8 heretic Sabellius and others who wished to teach the error that the Father and the Son were one person. This middle group agreed with the orthodox party that Jesus was fully God, but they were concerned that the term homoousios could be misunderstood to support the false idea that the Father and Son are one person. The middle group therefore presented the idea that the Son was of a similar substance (Greek: homoiousios) as the Father. By this means they hoped to avoid both the error of Arius as well as the perceived danger of Sabellianism found in the term homoousios.

Party/Leaders


View of Christ
Arian/Arius of a different substance — heteroousios
Orthodox/Alexander, Hosius, Athanasius of the same substance — homoousios
Eusebian/Eusebius of Caesarea of a similar substance — homoiousios

THE ROLE OF CONSTANTINE

We are dependent, in large measure, on the words of Eusebius of Caesarea for our knowledge of many of the events at the council. This is somewhat unfortunate, because Eusebius, the first "church historian," was a partisan participant as well. Historians recognize that his viewpoint is influenced by his desire for the favor of the Emperor and by his own political and theological goals and positions. Philip Schaff, in reproducing Eusebius’s description of the entrance of the Emperor into the council, speaks of Eusebius’s "panegyrical flattery."9 Eusebius presents Constantine in the highest possible terms so as to enhance his own position.

What really was Constantine’s role? Often it is alleged (especially by Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) that, for whatever reasons, Constantine forced the "same substance" view upon the council,10 or, at the very least, insured that it would be adopted. This is not the case. There is no question that Constantine wanted a unified church after the Council of Nicea. But he was no theologian, nor did he really care to any degree what basis would be used to forge the unity he desired. Later events show that he didn’t have any particular stake in the term homoousios and was willing to abandon it, if he saw that doing so would be of benefit to him. As Schaff rightly points out with reference to the term itself, "The word...was not an invention of the council of Nicea, still less of Constantine, but had previously arisen in theological language, and occurs even in Origen [185-254] and among the Gnostics...."11 Constantine is not the source or origin of the term, and the council did not adopt the term at his command.

THE DECISION AND THE CREED

The truth of how the council came to use the term is not difficult to discern. Athanasius notes that the gathered bishops truly desired to express their faith in primarily scriptural language, and they tried to do so. But every time they came up with a statement that was limited solely to biblical terms, the Arians would find a way of "reading" the statement so as to allow for agreement.12 They were forced to see that they needed to use a term that could not be misunderstood, that would clearly differentiate between a belief in the full deity of Christ and all those positions that would compromise that belief. Therefore, they focused on the term homoousios as being completely antithetical to the Arian position, and at the same time reflective of the scriptural truth that Jesus Christ is not a creature, but is fully God, incarnate deity.

The "orthodox" party had to express clearly to the "middle group" that by the use of the term homoousios they were not in any way attempting to give aid and comfort to the modalists and Sabellians in the East who continued to teach their errors even in the days of Nicea. They were not compromising the existence of three Persons, but were instead safeguarding the full deity of the Persons, and in particular, the Son.13 The resulting creed, signed by all but Arius and two bishops, was quite clear in its position:

We believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father, through Whom all things were made....

The creed also contained the "anathema" (i.e., condemnation) for those who rejected these truths, and for the first time, such anathemas carried with them civil repercussions. Arius and some of his followers were banished, even though for a short time. This set a precedent that eventually would have tremendous impact on culture and church, but it is also a separate issue from the theological proclamation of the council.

Nicea did not come up with something "new" in the creed. Belief in the deity of Christ was as old as the apostles themselves, who enunciated this truth over and over again.14 References to the full deity of Christ are abundant in the period prior to the Council of Nicea. Ignatius (died c. 108), the great martyr bishop of Antioch, could easily speak of Jesus Christ as God at the opening of the second century. More than once Ignatius speaks of Jesus Christ as "our God."15 When writing to Polycarp he can exhort him to "await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, (who for our sake became visible!), the Impalpable, the Impassible, (who for our sake suffered!), who in all ways endured for our sake."16 Ignatius shows the highest view of Christ at a very early stage, when he writes to the Ephesians: "There is only one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord."17

Melito of Sardis (c. 170-180), a much less well-known figure, was tremendously gifted in expressing the ancient faith of the church regarding the deity of Christ:

And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was provided too, to indicate who was being killed. Who was it? It is a heavy thing to say, and a most fearful thing to refrain from saying. But listen, as you tremble in the face of him on whose account the earth trembled. He who hung the earth in place is hanged. He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place. He who made all things fast is made fast on the tree. The Master is insulted. God is murdered. The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.18

Nicea was not creating some new doctrine, some new belief, but clearly, explicitly, defining truth against error. The council had no idea that they, by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority.

This can easily be seen from the fact that Athanasius, in defending the Nicene council, does so on the basis of its harmony with Scripture, not on the basis of the council having some inherent authority in and of itself. Note his words: "Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture."19

The relationship between the sufficient Scriptures and the "Nicene Bishops" should be noted carefully. The Scriptures are not made insufficient by the council; rather, the words of the council "remind" one of the "religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture." Obviously, then, the authority of the council is derivative from its fidelity to Scripture.

CANON #6

While the creed of the council was its central achievement, it was not the only thing that the bishops accomplished during their meeting. Twenty canons were presented dealing with various disciplinary issues within the church. Of most interest to us today was the sixth, which read as follows:

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.20

This canon is significant because it demonstrates that at this time there was no concept of a single universal head of the church with jurisdiction over everyone else. While later Roman bishops would claim such authority, resulting in the development of the papacy, at this time no Christian looked to one individual, or church, as the final authority. This is important because often we hear it alleged that the Trinity, or the Nicene definition of the deity of Christ, is a "Roman Catholic" concept "forced" on the church by the pope. The simple fact of the matter is, when the bishops gathered at Nicea they did not acknowledge the bishop of Rome as anything more than the leader of the most influential church in the West.21

THE AFTERMATH

Modern Christians often have the impression that ancient councils held absolute sway, and when they made "the decision," the controversy ended. This is not true. Though Nicea is seen as one of the greatest of the councils, it had to fight hard for acceptance. The basis of its final victory was not the power of politics, nor the endorsement of established religion. There was one reason the Nicene definition prevailed: its fidelity to the testimony of the Scriptures.

During the six decades between the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople in 381, Arianism experienced many victories. There were periods where Arian bishops constituted the majority of the visible ecclesiastical hierarchy. Primarily through the force of political power, Arian sympathizers soon took to undoing the condemnation of Arius and his theology. Eusebius of Nicomedia and others attempted to overturn Nicea, and for a number of decades it looked as if they might succeed. Constantine adopted a compromising position under the influence of various sources, including Eusebius of Caesarea and a politically worded "confession" from Arius. Constantine put little stock in the definition of Nicea itself: he was a politician to the last. Upon his death, his second son Constantius ruled in the East, and he gave great aid and comfort to Arianism. United by their rejection of the homoousion, semi-Arians and Arians worked to unseat a common enemy, almost always proceeding with political power on their side.

Under Constantius, council after council met in this location or that. So furious was the activity that one commentator wrote of the time, "The highways were covered with galloping bishops."22 Most importantly, regional councils meeting at Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium presented Arian and semi-Arian creeds, and many leaders were coerced into subscribing to them. Even Liberius, bishop of Rome, having been banished from his see (position as bishop) and longing to return, was persuaded to give in and compromise on the matter.23

During the course of the decades following Nicea, Athanasius, who had become bishop of Alexandria shortly after the council, was removed from his see five times, once by force of 5,000 soldiers coming in the front door while he escaped out the back! Hosius, now nearly 100 years old, was likewise forced by imperial threats to compromise and give place to Arian ideas. At the end of the sixth decade of the century, it looked as if Nicea would be defeated. Jerome would later describe this moment in history as the time when "the whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian."24

Yet, in the midst of this darkness, a lone voice remained strong. Arguing from Scripture, fearlessly reproaching error, writing from refuge in the desert, along the Nile, or in the crowded suburbs around Alexandria, Athanasius continued the fight. His unwillingness to give place — even when banished by the Emperor, disfellowshipped by the established church, and condemned by local councils and bishops alike — gave rise to the phrase, Athanasius contra mundum: "Athanasius against the world." Convinced that Scripture is "sufficient above all things,"25 Athanasius acted as a true "Protestant" in his day.26 Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority. Athanasius would have understood, on some of those long, lonely days of exile, what Wycliffe meant a thousand years later: "If we had a hundred popes, and if all the friars were cardinals, to the law of the gospel we should bow, more than all this multitude."27

Movements that depend on political favor (rather than God’s truth) eventually die, and this was true of Arianism. As soon as it looked as if the Arians had consolidated their hold on the Empire, they turned to internal fighting and quite literally destroyed each other. They had no one like a faithful Athanasius, and it was not long before the tide turned against them. By A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople could meet and reaffirm, without hesitancy, the Nicene faith, complete with the homoousious clause. The full deity of Christ was affirmed, not because Nicea had said so, but because God had revealed it to be so. Nicea’s authority rested upon the solid foundation of Scripture. A century after Nicea, we find the great bishop of Hippo, Augustine, writing to Maximin, an Arian, and saying: "I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both — the testimony of the Holy Scriptures."28

NICEA TODAY

Why do Christians believe in the deity of Christ today? Is it because they have been forced to do so by legislated theology from councils and popes? No, it is because the Scriptures teach this truth. When orthodox believers affirm the validity of the creed hammered out at Nicea, they are simply affirming a concise, clear presentation of scriptural truth. The authority of the Nicene creed, including its assertion of the homoousion, is not to be found in some concept of an infallible church, but in the fidelity of the creed to scriptural revelation. It speaks with the voice of the apostles because it speaks the truth as they proclaimed it. Modern Christians can be thankful for the testimony of an Athanasius who stood for these truths even when the vast majority stood against him. We should remember his example in our day.

James R. White is Scholar in Residence at the College of Christian Studies, Grand Canyon University, an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (AZ Campus) and Faraston Theological Seminary, and Director of Ministries for Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona.

NOTES

1.
The Council of Nicea did not take up the issue of the canon of Scripture. In fact, only regional councils touched on this issue (Hippo in 393, Carthage in 397) until much later. The New Testament canon developed in the consciousness of the church over time, just as the Old Testament canon did. See Don Kistler, ed., Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995).
2.
See Joseph P. Gudel, Robert M. Bowman, Jr., and Dan R. Schlesinger, "Reincarnation Did the Church Suppress It?" Christian Research Journal, Summer 1987, 8-12.
3.
Gordon Rupp, Luthers Progress to the Diet of Worms (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), 66.
4.
Much has been written about Constantines religious beliefs and his "conversion" to Christianity. Some attribute to him high motives in his involvement at Nicea; others see him as merely pursuing political ends. In either case, we do not need to decide the issue of the validity of his confession of faith, for the decisions of the Nicene Council on the nature of the Son were not dictated by Constantine, and even after the Council he proved himself willing to "compromise" on the issue, all for the sake of political unity. The real battle over the deity of Christ was fought out in his shadow, to be sure, but it took place on a plane he could scarcely understand, let alone dominate.
5.
Later centuries would find the idea of an ecumenical council being called by anyone but the bishop of Rome, the pope, unthinkable. Hence, long after Nicea, in A.D. 680, the story began to circulate that in fact the bishop of Rome called the Council, and even to this day some attempt to revive this historical anachronism, claiming the two presbyters (Victor and Vincentius) who represented Sylvester, the aged bishop of Rome, in fact sat as presidents over the Council. See Philip Schaffs comments in his History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 3:335.
6.
Athanasiuss role at the council has been hotly debated. As a deacon, he would not, by later standards, even be allowed to vote. But his brilliance was already seen, and it would eventually fall to him to defend the decisions of the Council, which became his lifelong work.
7.
The Latin translation is consubstantialis, consubstantial, which is the common rendering of the term in English versions of the final form of the Nicene Creed.
8.
Modalism is the belief that there is one Person in the Godhead who at times acts as the Father, and other times as the Son, and still other times as the Spirit. Modalism denies the Trinity, which asserts that the three Persons have existed eternally.
9.
Schaff, 3:624.
10.
The only basis that can be presented for such an idea is found in a letter, written by Eusebius of Caesarea during the council itself to his home church, explaining why he eventually gave in and signed the creed, and agreed to the term homoousios. At one point Eusebius writes that Constantine "encouraged the others to sign it and to agree with its teaching, only with the addition of the word consubstantial [i.e., homoousios]." The specific term used by Eusebius, parakeleueto, can be rendered as strongly as "command" or as mildly as "advise" or "encourage." There is nothing in Eusebiuss letter, however, that would suggest that he felt he had been ordered to subscribe to the use of the term, nor that he felt that Constantine was the actual source of the term.
11.
Schaff, 3:628.
12.
Someone might say that this demonstrates the insufficiency of Scripture to function as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church; that is, that it denies sola scriptura. But sola scriptura does not claim the Bible is sufficient to answer every perversion of its own revealed truths. Peter knew that there would be those who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, and it is good to note that God has not deemed it proper to transport all heretics off the planet at the first moment they utter their heresy. Struggling with false teaching has, in Gods sovereign plan, been a part of the maturing of His people.
13.
For many generations misunderstandings between East and West, complicated by the language differences (Greek remaining predominate in the East, Latin becoming the normal language of religion in the West), kept controversy alive even when there was no need for it.
14.
Titus 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:1, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:15-17, Phil. 2:5-11, etc.
15.
See, for example, his epistle to the Ephesians, 18, and to the Romans, 3, in J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds., The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 141 and 150.
16.
Polycarp 3, The Apostolic Fathers, 161.
17.
Ephesians 7, The Apostolic Fathers, 139.
18.
Melito of Sardis, A Homily on the Passover, sect. 95-96, as found in Richard Norris, Jr., The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 46. This homily is one of the best examples of early preaching that is solidly biblical in tone and Christ-centered in message.
19.
Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, as found in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), IV:453.
20.
Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, XIV:15.
21.
For those who struggle with the idea that it was not "Roman Catholicism" that existed in those days, consider this: if one went into a church today, and discovered that the people gathered there did not believe in the papacy, did not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Bodily Assumption of Mary, purgatory, indulgences, did not believe in the concept of transubstantiation replete with the communion hosts total change in accidence and substance, and had no tabernacles on the altars in their churches, would one think he or she was in a "Roman Catholic" church? Of course not. Yet, the church of 325 had none of these beliefs, either. Hence, while they called themselves "Catholics," they would not have had any idea what "Roman Catholic" meant.
22.
Ammianus Marcellinus, as cited by Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), III:632.
23.
For a discussion of the lapse of Liberius, see Schaff, III:635-36. For information on the relationship of Liberius and the concept of papal infallibility, see George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 425-29, and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), I:176-78.
24.
Jerome, Adversus Luciferianos, 19, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 6:329.
25.
Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 4:453.
26.
I credit one of my students, Michael Porter, with this phraseology.
27.
Robert Vaughn, The Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe (London: Holdworth and Ball, 1831), 313. See 312-17 for a summary of Wycliffes doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
28.
Augustine, To Maximim the Arian, as cited by George Salman, The Infallibility of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 295.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I am a Solider!

This was something my Pastor used in his sermon today on "Knowing God as Teacher". I thought it was excellent! I really hope I can live up to all this says!

I am a soldier in the army of my God. The Lord Jesus Christ is my Commanding Officer. The Holy Bible is my code of conduct. Faith, prayer and the Word are my weapons of warfare. I have been taught by the Holy Spirit, trained by experience, tried by adversity and tested by fire.

I am a volunteer in this army, and I am enlisted for eternity. I will either retire in this army at the rapture or die in this army. But I will not get out, sell out, be talked out or pushed out. I am faithful, reliable, capable, and dependable. If my God needs me, I am there. If He needs me in Sunday School, to teach children, work with the youth, help adults or just sit and learn, He can use me because I am there!

I am a soldier. I am not a baby. I do not need to be pampered, petted, primed up, pumped up, picked up or pepped up. I am a soldier. I am not a wimp. I am in place, saluting my King, obeying His orders, praising His name and building His kingdom! No one has to send me flowers, gifts, food, cards or candy, or give me handouts. I do not need to be cuddled, cradled, cared for or catered to. I am committed. I cannot have my feelings hurt bad enough to turn me around. I cannot be discouraged enough to turn me aside. I cannot lose enough to cause me to quit.

When Jesus called me into this army, I had nothing. If I end up with nothing, I will still come out ahead. I will win. My God has and will continue to supply all of my need. I am more than a conqueror. I will always triumph. I can do all things through Christ. The devil cannot defeat me. People cannot disillusion me. Weather cannot weary me. Sickness cannot stop me. Battles cannot beat me. Money cannot buy me. Governments cannot silence me, and hell cannot handle me. I am a solider. Even death cannot destroy me. For when my Commander calls me from His battlefield, He will promote me to captain and then allow me to rule with Him. I am a soldier in the army, and I’m marching claiming victory. I will not give up. I will not turn around. I am a solider, marching heaven bound.

When all is done, here I stand!