Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ephesians 2:20 part two

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone - Ephesians 2:20

In ancient times, the corner stone was the first stone placed in the construction of a building. All the angles and other measurements were made from that one stone, ensuring the proper plumb line of the entire structure.

In the last lesson we looked at the foundation of the spiritual building God calls His Church. Let's now look at the cornerstone of that building -- the stone which Scripture calls Jesus Christ.

The "plumb line" of the Church is the doctrine of Jesus' full deity and full humanity in the form of a man. That truth runs throughout Scriptures. For only a few of those examples, see Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14; Daniel 7:9-14; John 1:1-3, 14; Hebrews 1:2-3.

Because of the cornerstone's critical importance to the structure of God's Church, it is not surprising that Christ's full deity and full humanity has been under attack ever since the earliest days of the Church. For example, an ancient form of gnosticism (2nd century) claimed Jesus was not fully human. The Arian heresy of the 4th century claimed Jesus was not fully God. Monophysites (5th C) believed Christ had a human nature that evolved into the divine nature. Apollinarinism (4th century) believed Jesus' human spirit was taken over by the divine "Logos" Spirit.

Those earlier philosophies, judged heresies by orthodox Christianity through the early Church Councils, persist today. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the Arian heresy and deny Jesus is fully God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) believe Jesus is God in the same way as all good Mormons will one day become gods. (Mormons also teach that God the Father was at one time just as we are, and we will one day be just as He is).

It is very important that we take a moment to recognize the impact heresies and anti-Christ philosophies can have on the eternal destinies of their adherents. False concepts of Christ can pull people away from the only narrow path that Jesus said leads to eternal salvation. False doctrines about Christ can result in the eternal loss of one's soul.

And that is precisely why the Father gave us the Church -- to protect us from those falsehoods and erroneous philosophies about salvation, sin and judgment (for example, see here, here and here).

Indeed, it was the early Church Councils (such as Nicea, Ephesus, Constantinople and Chalcedon) that handed down to the 21st century Church what is still considered the orthodox Christian faith -- much of which is illustrated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

It cannot be stressed enough how important is God's Cornerstone. Jesus -- God's cornerstone -- died a bloody, torturous death to ensure the spiritual house of God would remain solid and unmovable from its base, that all of its angles and lines would derive from the true plumb line.

Let's close this section of our study in Ephesians with a look at an excerpt from my book, We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed. I hope the excerpt makes the point, one more time, why it is so very important to our eternal souls that we build our lives around God's cornerstone.
Creed Statement: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God . . .

I remember Dr. Thomas. He was one of my college teachers who helped his class prepare for scheduled exams. He used to walk the aisles between our desks and review the information he expected us to know. As he spoke, he’d sometimes pause, clear his throat or make some other gesture to indicate what he’d just read was important. He never actually said, “This will be on the test,” but everyone knew, when Dr. Thomas gestured, we should pay attention.

Well, almost everyone. There were always a few students with other things on their minds – and they’d get the question wrong.

In 325 A.D., Church leaders met in council in Nicea (modern-dayTurkey) to deal with the Arian heresy. The Council leaders knew that the wrong answer to the question of Jesus’ deity would inevitably spread through the Church’s understanding of sin, salvation, atonement, and forgiveness. Humanity’s eternal destiny was at stake.

To help the Church get the right answer, the Nicene Council responded in what I like to think of as the equivalent of clearing their throats. In this case, however, they also clapped their hands and blew a trumpet in a rising crescendo, as if to say, "Hey! Pay attention! This is really important."

So we couldn’t miss the point, the Fathers gave us the correct answer seven times in one sentence, proclaiming Jesus is: The only son of God; eternally begotten from the Father; God from God; Light from light; True God from True God; begotten, not made; one in being with the Father.

Yet, despite the seven-fold response, some got it wrong. Some still do.

Who is Jesus? That’s an easy one, if we pay attention to the pillar and support of truth when it tells us who He is.

That's one test question we don’t want to get wrong.

(end of excerpt)
Questions for Reflection:
1. Many of the early heresies about Jesus were supported by their proponents from Bible texts (taken out of context). How can you be certain your faith in Jesus is rooted in truth, and not set astray by an insidious and subtle falsehood?

2. St. Jerome warned his followers, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." What are you doing to increase your knowledge of Scripture?


Paul Pavao said...

You wrote: >>False concepts of Christ can pull people away from the only narrow path that Jesus said leads to eternal salvation. False doctrines about Christ can result in the eternal loss of one's soul.<<

I completely agree with the doctrine espoused by Nicea, though I interpret it slightly different from Roman Catholics.

However, nailing down the doctrine of the Trinity at Nicea did not help with the purposes you listed here. If anything, the councils led to more people leaving the narrow path.

After all, the time from a century or two after Nicea to the Renaissance is known as "The Dark Ages." During that time pagan superstition was the norm in Europe, corruption was widespread in the priesthood, and people were burned to death for giving the Scriptures and preaching in the vernacular.

So, it appears that even true doctrines about Christ can lead to deviation from the narrow path and loss of men's souls.

I don't mean to be cruel or mean, but we do need to be realistic.

Richard Maffeo said...

Paul, you have an interesting website, and I recommend it to my readers:

I agree with your comment that "even true doctrines about Christ can lead to deviation from the narrow path. . . " In fact, that was a point I was trying to make (albeit insufficiently, I admit) in my post.

Jeremiah told us, "The heart of man is deceitful above all else, and is desperately sick" (Jer 17). So it is not a surprise that people can honestly believe they are right, yet be wrong.

As you point out, even the most vocal supporters of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed varied (in degrees) in their understanding of what is now generally considered orthodox Christianity. And one of the reasons, I believe, the Church today is divided into so many splinters is we tend to interpret so many of the same scriptures differently.

That was my point about the Church being the "deposit" of the faith handed down by the apostles. And the reason I am a Catholic Christian is because I believe (based on my interpretation of passages such as Mt 16:17-20 and 1 Timothy 3:15) Jesus established the Church to protect His sheep.

The undeniable facts related to the sins of many leaders in Church history does not, in my mind, negate the promise of Christ any more than the sins of many kings of Judah caused God to alter His covenant with His people. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."

The subject you bring up is certainly worthy of in depth discussion, though. That is why I recommend your website. The more Christians know of our history, the more likely we are to understand why each group believes as we do. And THAT understanding will go a long way toward unifying the Body of Christ, for which our Lord prayed in John 17.