THE HISTORY OF CHRISTOLOGY
In the written history of what’s called "the Church," the essence of Jesus is possibly the oldest and greatest debate on record. From the time Jesus became the central feature of history, man has been struggling with the question of who and what Jesus actually was and is. Unfortunately, where scripture has spoken clearly about Christ, the superstitious masses have sought mysticism, and church leaders have tried to fit Christ into pagan parameters.
In the second century A.D., Irenaeus (known as the earliest theological leader of distinction in the Catholic Church) said "The Son of God was with the Father from the beginning."
Thus, the earliest renowned theologian of the Catholic Church taught that Jesus was beside God. Thus, they were two beings – apparently co-equal.
Later in the 2nd century, after the time of Irenaeus, another leader by the name of Tertullian gained notoriety as a prominent theologian of the Church. From Walker’s HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, we read of Tertullian’s thinking concerning the essence of Christ and the Godhead. This set the stage for more confusing debates on how to describe "the Trinity":
All are of one, by unity of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; three, however…not in substance but in form; not in power but in appearance, for they are of one substance and one essence and one power, inasmuch as He is one God from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
"Trinity" is the Judeo-Christian title for God. They claim that God is a three-part entity. Trying to define it in comprehensible terms, however, has proven an insurmountable challenge.
The debate on this issue was expanded to include the question or the essence of the Catholic communion, or Eucharist: the bread and the wine. They couldn’t decide whether it was the actual blood and body of Jesus, or if the blood and body were only symbolized by those items. Those who believed they were eating the actual flesh and blood, then, had a further question: "Did the bread and the wine become Jesus’ flesh and blood at the instant the priest blessed it, or only after it was eaten?" Can you imagine an issue like this being argued for centuries?
Adding to this confusion was the Athanasion Creed, which described the Trinity this way (now see if you can follow this):
"The father incomprehensible, the son incomprehensible, and the holy ghost incomprehensible."
(OK so far? Keep reading.)
"The father eternal, the son eternal and the holy ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals but one eternal, as also there are not three uncreated, nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible."
You may want to read that one more time just to make sure you got it all. However, if it seems "incomprehensible" to you, don’t feel bad!
Less than a century later, the Catholic Church adopted an official statement of the Trinity doctrine, which described Jesus as one-third of a "Triune Godhead" comprised of "God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost." Today, most Judeo-Christians accept this Trinity doctrine without question.
In the 4th century, James Arius appeared on the scene as an antitrinitarian. He made a great impression on the established church, and was persecuted for his efforts. He is yet today considered possibly the greatest adversary of the orthodox Trinitarians. Arius taught that Yahweh created Jesus, and then Jesus created the earth. Therefore, he contended that Jesus was not co-eternal; not co-equal with Yahweh and not one-third of a so-called triune godhead made up of three equal components. Arius didn’t have it right either. However, his theories were a little more reasonable that the Trinitarians’.
There has never been an understandable explanation of the Trinity. However, Christians seem to be willing to accept things that they don’t understand. Thus, they cannot develop a true faith in something they cannot understand. So, in lieu of true faith, they set up a blind mystic acceptance of the unknown. That, in itself, is at the root of a lot of problems in Christendom.
Religion has made a science of using words in such a way as to render them meaningless, and then use them to scare you into compliance with their demands. Politicians have picked up on this double-talk and actually improved upon it. Thomas Jefferson, who had very little patience with priests or politicians, had this to say about mystic descriptions the churches had given to the controversial Trinity doctrine:
"It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend that they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one and that one is three."
During Jefferson’s day, a group who called themselves Unitarians organized to oppose Trinitarianism. When reading history relating to that era, keep in mind that Unitarians, back then, were not the same as what’s called the Unitarian Church today. They were simply people reacting against the Trinity doctrine. Unitarians said that God was one (i.e. a single unit). Trinitarians said that God was three. However, since that time, the Unitarian Church did evolve out of that beginning into an organization with other, less noble, goals.
Within the Catholic Church, the Trinity issue developed factions. Names were given to those on each side of the issue. Debates intensified. Confusion spread. Once they became confused about what or who Jesus was, everything connected with Jesus became convoluted.
There were two Greek words used to define, and divide, the two main factions. One side used the word "Homousion" and the other used "Homoiousion" – just a slight difference in spelling. One means "same as" and the other one means "similar to" – in reference to Jesus’ relationship to his Father. Those on one side believed Jesus was the same as the Father, and people on the other side believed He was similar to the Father. Being "similar" to the Father is a great deal different from being the "same as" the Father. Only two letters divide the words, but the concepts are worlds apart.
Jefferson’s assessment continues:
"But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should…follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition."
This statement appeals to me. How can we believe something that is unknown to us? I may say that I believe in something, but, in reality, ignorance of a thing prevents me from having faith in it. The true test of my faith in something is when I come up against a situation where I have to make a vital decision based upon my faith in that thing. At that point, if I can’t understand the thing, then it is very difficult for me to have faith in it because the decision cannot be based upon intelligent data. Words are cheap, and churches are purveyors of cheap words.
One does not need exhaustive knowledge of God in order to have enough intelligent data upon which to base reasonable faith. However, one must have at least SOME intelligent data from which to work. I certainly cannot fathom the depths of Yahweh’s wonders, but I do have a large body of evidence – both tangible and mental – upon which to base my belief in his laws. Therefore, while I do not fully understand all his wonders, ample proofs of his existence and purposes are open to me. Thus, He is not a mystery, although some people have tried to describe Him as such.
Recently, in a published rebuttal to my teaching on the manhood of Jesus, a minister quoted the famous Federalist (i.e. Centralist) lawyer, Daniel Webster, as a witness for the necessity of mystery concerning Jesus. Webster was quoted as saying:
"I could never believe in a Jesus whom I could understand!"
In other words, he claimed that Jesus was an unknowable mystery. Webster, and apparently the minister who quoted Webster, both agreed that their Christ must be unknowable in order to believe in Him. Thus, their love for mystery brought them both to the absurd conclusion that Jesus must be an enigma to be credible!
Obviously, mystery religions flourish yet today, often cloaked in "Christian" trappings.
Jesus said, "I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE!" Turn that into an unknowable mystery and it becomes patent nonsense!
Jesus rebuked the woman at the well for not knowing what she was worshipping (John 4:22). Paul warned the Corinthians to not be beguiled away from "the simplicity that is in Christ" (II Corinthians 11:3).
The Gospel, as described in I John 5:20, was that God was making Himself more known to men:The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, and his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eonian life.
(This is the Bible definition of "eonian life" – usually mistranslated "eternal life").
Again in John 17:These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him authority over all flesh, that he should give eonian life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is eonian life: *that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
*EONIAN LIFE: This phrase appears several times in the New Testament, and is usually mistranslated "eternal life" in most Bibles. However, an "eon" is an "age." Ages have beginnings and ends, and therefore are not eternal. "Eonian life" is correctly "life that accompanies an age," and in this case refers specifically to the new life in Christ which accompanies the New Covenant Age. "Eonian life" is defined in Romans 5:21; John 17:3; I John 5:20, and is not to be confused with the "immortality" which accompanies our future "life" when we are raised, incorruptible, from our physical graves.
In Acts 17, Paul publicly confronted the problem of worshipping MYSTERIOUS (unknowable) GODS.Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very demon-fearing. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you!"
Some claim that unless you confess that Jesus and Yahweh are ONE and the same you cannot be a Christian. However, James 2:19 says:Thou believest that there is ONE GOD; thou doest well: the devils (Judaizers) also believe, and tremble.
So much for that test!
Faithful Christians were executed as "heretics" by religious tyrants who ruled England and Rome not too long ago. These Christians were martyred for refusing to confess an "unknowable" god the church called THE TRINITY.
Do you have an "UNKNOWN GOD?" Jesus prayed to Yahweh, "And this is eonian life, that they might know thee, the only true God, AND Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Jesus says this understanding is equated with "LIFE." Forget this and we lose the light of Christ!
"But, it is impossible to fully understand God!" you may say. So what? Man has not fully understood anything! Try exhausting all knowledge about a common flower some day. Or smaller yet, try "knowing" all there is to know about a human cell – or smaller yet, DNA. Shall we class these things as "mysterious" (unknowable) along with "the unknown god"? You see, it means nothing to say that we can’t know all there is to know about God. That’s a given. So what’s the point?
The issue is whether or not God is knowable – not whether we can know him exhaustively! The simple, reasonable answer, is YES! God has made Himself knowable – not exhaustible, but knowable. In fact, Yahweh’s express purpose in creating Jesus was to reveal more of Himself to mankind!
Playwrights and magicians need mystery. Christians don’t.
Scriptures un-mysteriously show us principles of truth, which identify our Creator. We should focus on that portion of God, which has been revealed. It is this portion to which we can relate rationally. It is illogical and unproductive to focus upon any other. To focus upon those dimensions of God which we cannot understand is to give ourselves to blind speculation. It is like setting sail on a ship without a rudder and without a map. If you like mystery and mysticism, then have at it. You and your descendants will continue sailing in circles forever.
If your god is unknowable and you cannot identify him, then you don’t know what you are worshipping! If you cannot know him, how will you know when some serpent preacher slips the wrong god into your life? Or, has it already happened?
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