The more I grow as a Christian, again and again I am awestruck by the complexity of understanding the person and work of Christ. And why wouldn’t it be complex? God came and walked among us! That is one phenomenon sure to be plied with intricacies.
In reading the next section of Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin S. Holcomb, I was struck most by two issues: this complexity in understanding the person and work of Jesus, and that the task of discussing it with those who understand Him differently is a delicate one. With our faith being founded on a triune God revealed to us in Christ, this is a doctrine to work at grasping and graciously discussing what’s true.
Chapters three to seven cover a handful of the major creeds and councils of the early church, from the fifth through to the seventh century. At Ephesus, while the turbulence of politics muddied the waters of theological debate at each of the three councils, both sides were still ultimately committed to the pursuit of understanding Christ and how he saves humankind.
The council of Chalcedon then weighed the complexity of Jesus’ divine and human natures existing in the one person and in doing so, employed extra-biblical ideas and language to communicate what the council interpreted of scripture.
Next the Athanasian Creed was developed, primarily reiterating the decisions of the previous councils. It takes the trinity and one’s confession of it seriously, as Holcomb writes, ‘It is refreshingly straightforward in that it challenges the reader to believe these things or face eternal damnation.’
Following this, Holcomb covers the three councils of Constantinople, all of which were concerned with separate issues. ‘Different though they may be, a common thread of “generous orthodoxy” appears throughout the councils.’
There are some common threads to these creeds and councils that, for better or worse in their time, we can still learn from. A step back to consider these events in their context among one another speaks to those two striking questions – how are we to understand Jesus in all his facets, and what makes for a godly discussion of truth?
Where the councils of Ephesus are an example of problematic discussion among brothers, with political motives playing a part, the councils of Constantinople instead serve as a reminder about godly dialogue over doctrine. At the end of chapter six, Holcomb describes that, ‘For modern Christians, the councils can serve as a reminder to extend all possible charity to those who disagree with us, but also to maintain strong views in the face of opposition.’
But what does it mean to do this, to extend all possible charity in discussion about truth? Much like the principle of innocent until proven guilty, our discussions should begin from a place of seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ as rightly understanding Him, rather than presuming that they hold beliefs that can’t be reasoned. As at the councils of Constantinople, we want to prioritise the truth, but discuss it in a way that dignifies others as also being thoughtful and rational readers of Scripture, rather than presuming that their beliefs are unorthodox.
Perhaps something for you to keep working through, or discussing with friends if you’re reading this month’s book together, is how this can play out in your life, in the relationships in your sphere. How do you hear Jesus and the trinity represented by those around you? What traits of godliness should characterise your discussions about Jesus with those whose interpretation of scripture seems counter to what we hold as true?
About this month's contributor:
I’ve been a Sydney girl all twenty-four years of my life and have just moved from the leafy 'burbs of Northern Sydney to the narrow streets and terraces of Newtown.
I grew up being taught about Jesus from a young age, and while I always thought there was a God and that the God of the Bible seemed to be Him, it was in my early years of high school that I truly understood the Gospel and put my trust in Jesus.
In 2014 I started studying at Moore Theological College, in the hope of completing the Bachelor of Divinity. So far it has been thoroughly stretching my understanding of God, His Word, and how to bring it to bear on people’s lives. I’m also serving with the team at MTS as the Communications Officer (aka the kid with the Twitter password) and am part of the community at Summer Hill Church.
I’ve had a long-standing affinity for reading, writing and the English language, and I was able to indulge this for three years studying media and writing at Macquarie Uni before I started an MTS apprenticeship at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford. It’s a great gift to have access to the Bible and know God through it, and I love poring over it to soak up what it reveals about God and His plan for us in Jesus Christ. I also love reading novels and quirky short stories, and in recent times I’ve come to really appreciate the availability of good Christian books and their value in helping us understand the scriptures.
As well as this I love cooking, watching The Office (US, of course!), sewing, going out to see bands, and generally exploring the Inner West!