Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

St. Nick’s more famous accomplishment

In western Christianity, today is the commonly-celebrated day for the feast of St. Nicholas – the guy who brought you Santa Claus.

Well, sort of.  The Santa Claus we know today, visually at least, is said to be a creation of the Coca-Cola Company.  But the notion of a benevolent figure who brings gifts certainly conjures notions of Nicholas of Myra, a bishop whose fourth-century dealings with poor women’s dowries is the stuff of legend.

Believe it or not, though, that’s not what Nicholas was most famous for.

He lived through the time of the early church’s Council of Nicaea, which in AD 325 formulated the doctrine of the Trinity:  One God, Three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And Nicholas is said to have played a role in articulating a truth Christians hold dear today:  that God the Father and God the Son are of one substance.  (This same application was made to the role of the Holy Spirit later on.)

That might seem like a bunch of tiny theologians dancing on the head of a pin, but it’s actually really important for the historic Christian faith.  For if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were merely of a similar substance to the Father, Jesus could not be God, and could therefore not have been the final, perfect sacrifice for our sins.

In fact, without being of one substance with the Father, Jesus would just be another dude…a righteous dude, to be sure, but just another dude.

On St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6, some cultures celebrate their gift-giving in honour of St. Nick himself.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But let me encourage you likewise to remember the gift of St. Nicholas as a theologian, who helped shape the church’s understanding of the mystery of the Triune God, upholding Jesus as of one substance with the Father.

Small though it may seem, it makes a big difference.  For if Jesus were not God, there would be no reason for the season.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1.1-3, NLT

Biblical Messages

Christmas morning: Differs not by one iota

Merry Christmas!  At our Christmas morning service, I did a very short review of our journey (so far) in the Gospel of John (by reading 1.1-14) and reviewed an important theological point that was posted on this blog a few weeks ago.  Listen to, or watch, this brief message below.

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Encouragement From The Word

One Iota

There are memes-a-plenty on the Internet around this time of year, especially as we approach December 6, which is the Feast of St. Nicholas – the day when St. Nicholas is celebrated in many churches.  While we have translated St. Nicholas into “Santa Claus” with his trips down the world’s chimneys, leaving of gifts, and eating of sundry snacks left behind by enthusiastic children, the real St. Nicholas did more than give gifts.  He helped keep young women from being enslaved to men, for one thing, and he also was an ardent defender of biblical Christianity.  This is seen in one key way.

He defended the faith against Arianism, the notion that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.  In the early church, when theological issues arose, a council of the church’s greatest leaders was called to debate, discern, and ensure that the church was remaining faithful to the truth as set out in Scripture.  Thus, in Nicholas’ time, with Arianism holding sway over the church, the leadership (in the name of Emperor Constantine) called a council, which met in Nicaea, a place in what is now Turkey.  It was called the Council of Nicaea, and one of the principal doctrines it tackled was the very idea of whether Jesus was subordinate to the Father, or was equal to the Father.

At issue was one little Greek word:  homoousios.  Or was it homoiousios?  That was the question.  The word homoousios means “of the same substance”, while homoiousios means “of a similar substance”.  To make a long story short, the church affirmed that the Son was homoousios with the Father – of the same substance.  Anyone, like the Arians, who believed that the Son was homoiousios – of a similar substance – was deemed heretical and in need of correction.

That’s why, today, we have the English idiom, when two things are the same, that they differ “not by one iota”.  Iota is the Greek letter that we call “i”.  The only difference between doctrinal truth and error, on the issue of the substance of the Son of God, is one iota, between homoousios and homoiousios.

It doesn’t take much to be off significantly in doctrine.  And while this might seem like ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’, it actually is a very important issue for the church, because if Jesus were only of similar substance to the Father, he was not technically God, and therefore could not atone for our sins perfectly.  If Jesus isn’t God, in other words, we’re still dead in our sins.  And that wouldn’t be good news.

It’s amazing what one letter can do.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1.15, NLT).