In the next several posts, I want to grapple with what is necessary for the preservation of a local church or any Christian institution i.e. , adhering to a Biblical doctrinal statement. I will eventually discuss Fuller Theological Seminary which slowly abandoned its doctrinal statement and also slowly moved to its present theologically liberal state. Possessing a Biblical doctrinal statement is only one necessary step to preserving a local church or Christian institution. If the solid doctrinal statement is not adhered to, it is a worthless piece of paper. I would like to survey the inspiring and disappointing history of doctrinal statements and creeds to substantiate my thesis.
Driscoll has a good overview of the major creeds entitled The Concise History of Creeds and Confessions.
The First Two Great Church Councils
The two great ecumenical councils of the fourth century were The Council of Nicaea (325) and The Council of Constantinople (381). The first great controversy that patristic preachers faced was Arianism. Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria who believed in subordinationalism or the denial of the eternal generation of the Son of God. This view contends that the three persons of the Trinity are not of the same essence. Arius believed that the Son was “begotten” of the Father, that is, made or created or as Arius phrased his belief, “there was when he was not.” Because Christ was God’s first creation, the Son was not of the same essence of the Father, Arius advocated. Arius was actually a forerunner of Jehovah Witnesses.
Bishop Alexander of Alexandria fiercely disagreed. Constantine convened the first ecumenical council on June 19, 325 to resolve the conflict in Nicaea in Bithynia. Prior to the council, Arius had the backing of the church’s first historian, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, who had been excommunicated earlier by a synod at Antioch because of his Arian sympathies. At the Council of Nicaea, however, Eusebius introduced a doctrinal statement that he helped forge that included the word homoousios which declared the Son to be of the same essence as the Father and was accepted by Constantine and the Council. The Nicene Creed was the product of the church’s first council and defended the deity of the Son of God. The Nicene Creed or, more properly, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, because of the influence of the Council of Constantinople in 381, reads as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures: he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Impact of Athanasius
One pastor in particular battled Arianism. Athanasius almost singlehandedly battled for the truth of the Trinity in the fourth century and was exiled five times for 17 years for his relentless stand. Largely because of the influence of Athanasius the Council Nicaea met in 325 A.D. with 318 Christian leaders and declared Jesus “of one substance with the Father.” We should not take doctrinal truth for granted but teach and preach doctrine no matter what the outcome.
Read Justin Holcomb on The Nicene Creed.
Does your church have a doctrinal statement? Do you know the content of the doctrinal statement of your church? Do you agree with the doctrinal statement of your church? Do new members have to read and agree to the doctrinal statement of your church?