In 325 AD the young church faced a crisis. A new teaching had emerged that threatened the very fabric of the new religion. Arius, a church leader in Alexandria, Egypt, had been teaching that Christ was a created being and therefore not eternally divine. Church leaders, led by Athanasius, rightly believed that this doctrine was wrong and that its teaching and spreading would destroy the core of the Gospel and, ultimately, the Christian faith itself. In order to figure out the best way to respond church leaders, at the direction of Emperor Constantine I, met in the town of Nicaea in modern-day Turkey. They discussed a variety of issues facing the young religion but this doctrine was the central conversation. Was Jesus who he said he was? (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes!)
There are many doctrines and passages of Scripture that seem difficult to reconcile with each other. While the most prominent one is arguably the Calvinism/Arminianism debate I’ve noticed it in other areas as well. As our culture has shifted to the left socially and politically there have been more and more pastors, teachers, and churches emphasizing love and acceptance over the truth of the Bible. In an effort to be more “seeker-friendly” they’ve watered down the Gospel and robbed it of its power. A Joel Osteen sermon will make you feel good but ultimately it won’t transform your life. There are also those like Gene Kim, a pastor in San Jose, California who go the opposite direction. In teaching that Calvinism is heretical (for the record, it’s not, and that’s coming from someone who’s not Calvinist) he robs election of the humility that it brings to our hearts. It’s easy to avoid falling off the road into the ditches on either side (like the ones I just mentioned) if we consider a couple of basic hermeneutic* principles. The first principle is that we need to let scripture interpret scripture. If you’re having a hard time understanding what a passage is saying find other passages that speak to the same subject. Sometimes another writer will explain the same thing in a way that’s much clearer or easier to understand than the initial one that you looked at. The second principle is that context, both of the particular book or passage that you are looking at and the whole of Scripture, is key to any exegesis*. The 66 books of the Bible work together to tell 1 grand story, the story of our redemption and it’s important to consider how what you’re reading fits together with that.
One of the most enduring things that came out of this first ecumenical council was what is now known as the Nicene Creed. It states the following: “We believe in one God…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.” It declares Jesus to be 100% God and 100% man, just as Scripture teaches. I understand that this concept is hard for us to wrap our minds around it but it doesn’t make the teaching any less true. We see this tension in other areas of the Christian faith as well. In the same way that we choose Christ in time and space (John 3:16) he also chooses us outside of time and space (Ephesians 1:4). We are sinners (Romans 3:23) but, as Christians, we’re also saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). We’re called to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31) but also share the truth of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19). The kingdom of God has arrived on earth (Matthew 3:2) but it’s still not fully consummated (Revelation 21:1). The tension between these verses isn’t going to magically disappear nor are we ever going to be able to fully understand the mind of God on this side of heaven so don’t get caught in the trap of emphasizing one point of view at the expense of another. Be worshippers of the Word and doers the word. Live out every truth that is presented in Scripture because all of it comes from God (2 Timothy 3:16) and he tends to know what he’s talking about.
*-Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation, particularly as it relates to the Bible.
*-Exegesis is the explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly as it relates to the Bible.