Thursday, January 12, 2012

Christian Believer: Week Twelve {Jesus Christ}

 Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.
["Fairest Lord Jesus", Muster Gesangbuch]

I took a big long break from these, but I have a few to catch up on before we start back meeting on Wednesday nights.  The topic of lesson twelve was "Jesus Christ: Human/Divine" (Fully Human Fully Divine).  It was an interesting, though complex, topic.

We started out with the video.  It started out by stating the Doctrine of Incarnation- "God became embodied in a human being (incarnated)" and went on to say that Jesus was human in all ways except that he was without sin. It then talked about Docetists, who were people who said that Christ only seemed human.  They said that he appeared out of nowhere and that either the divine spirit escaped before he was crucified or there was some mix up and someone else died in place of him.  Then it discussed how many early Christians thought that Christ was divine, but not fully God.  This was probably due largely to the Greek culture with its many divine and semi divine beings.  One of these people was a man named Arius, who lived around the year 300, and said that Christ was a lesser divine being who was sent to do God's work.  Another teacher, Athanasius insisted that this was a fallacy, as this would mean we weren't actually saved by God and that when we encountered Christ we were only encountering a lesser being and God was remaining hidden.  Anthanasius (and the church) maintained that Christ was really God and used two terms for Christ: the Son and the Word.  Both terms emphasized the closeness of the relationship with God- both children and words come from us, just as Christ came from God.

The video continued to articulate some important doctrine.  While Jesus is distinct from the Father (for example, he prays to the Father), he is much more than a mere emissary.  He is of the same substance (or "Godness") as the Father and he didn't become God's son at Jesus' birth.  He has always been in relationship with the Father. Finally, it is amazing that we all share in the human nature that was brought together with divinity in Christ.  "Know your worth, oh Christian," said Augustine, "you were made a partner in the divine nature." Compared with that all our human distinctions seem much less significant. 

The reading in the workbook was interesting.  The first thing I thought was really fascinating was that there are four new books published about Jesus every DAY.  Wow.  It then talked about Jesus' life- when he died there were about one hundred and twenty persons loyal to him.  Secular history doesn't say much, which probably reflects how little attention he was paid at the time. It focused on how the most oft used title of Jesus for himself was Son of Man and how that he probably used it because it described the sense of unity he had with the human race.  It went on to note that when unclean spirits shouted he was the Son of God, he quieted them and also told his disciples not to share with others that he was the Messiah. Until the last days of his life he seemed content to let people think what they would about him.

It then discussed the doctrine of "the preexistance of Christ" which states that Christ existed eternally and that he was god incarnate when he came as Jesus of Nazareth. The early believers took very seriously his "equality with God", so much so that sometimes they began to see him as exclusively divine, which was the first real heresy.  ["Heresy is denying as doctrine of the church or holding any belief that does not agree with the official teaching of the church. Medieval cannon law defined different levels of heresy as marital heresy (wrong belief without blame, as when one has not been taught right belief) and formal heresy (persisting in wrong belief after having been taught correctly."] It went on to further discuss heresies, councils and creeds.  The first creed was a simple statement "Jesus is Lord".  After that came the symbol of the fish, icthus- an acrostic in which the Greek letters stood for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior". Later came the Roman Creed, the Apostles' Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

One thing the book said that I thought was interesting was that conflict in the early church often arose "more in matters of emphasis than in points of contradiction, but of course what begins as a difference in emphasis easily becomes an issue of truth." How true is that even today? Another factor in these conflicts was that communication took so long and churches became isolated from the "larger body of Christendom and its unifying influence on beliefs".

The first Christological issue faced was denying the humanity of Jesus, which lead to gnoticism.  This philosophy focused on trying to gain secret knowledge, declaring all matter evil, and thus stating that Jesus wasn't really human, because being matter, human bodies are evil. More sophisticated issues arose after that. Modalism, Sabellianism, or Patripassianism centered on the nature of Christ. Sabellius taught that God is "one nature and one person" with three names. Modalism is the belief that God was revealed in different ways at different times, in three unique "modes" of appearance. Arianism, named for the theologian Arius, held that Jesus was the greatest created being, but was not of the same substance as the Father. However, the church concluded that if he were something that was created, it would be wrong to worship him, as he would be a creature rather than the Creator. Where Modalism had stated that Jesus and the Father were one, Arianism taught that the Son is of "different substance" than the Father. The Council of Nicaea confirmed that God the Father and Jesus were, in fact, of the same substance.

Later, Apollinarius raised another issue by trying to say Jesus didn't really have a human soul. Then the Nestorians declared that Jesus had tow natures and two persons. Finally, the Monophysites explained that Jesus had two natures and two persons.  All of these views were condemned as heretical and the Council oat Chalcedon agreed that Jesus Christ is one person in two natures.

The book then stated how Jesus says he is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6)- "We seek for the turth because the truth invested in us at our creation is passionate to find itself.  We seek the way because we know we are not meaningless vagabonds, we are made to reach a destination.  We seek for life because we were made for eternal life."

There was one more exert I really liked toward the end of the reading- "He doesn't allow us the privilege of trivializing him.  We can accept him at his own recognizance, which is a grand step of faith; or we can reject his own self-description.  But we really can't say his the greatest teacher who ever lived (a quite unsupportable opinion) or that he is an utterly fine human being, perhaps the best the world has ever known.  because, of course, if he is not what he said he is, he is a quite irresponsible teacher and an unscrupulous human being."

Here are some passages from Scripture and the text readings that I really liked:

" The people walking in darkness have seen a great light." -Isaiah 9:2

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." -Isaiah 9:6

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed." -Isaiah 53:5

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." -John 1:14

"...the property of each nature is so wholly preserved, that the Spirit on the one hand did all things in Jesus suitable to Itself, such as miracles, and mighty deeds an wonders; and the Flesh, on the other hand, exhibited the affections which belong to it.  It was hungry under the devil's temptation, thirsty with the Samaritan woman, wept over Lazarus, and was troubled even unto death, and at last actually died." -Tertullian

"...he raised the dead, healed all by the word, and also changed water into wine.  These were not the acts of a human being.  But as a human being, he felt thirst and tiredness, and he suffered pain.  These experiences are not appropriate to a deity...And yet these are not events occurring without any connection, distinguished according to their quality, so that one class may be ascribed to the body, apart from the divinity, and the other to the divinity, apart from the body...He spat in human fashion, but his spittle had divine power, for by it he restored sight to the eyes of the man blind from birth. -Anthanasius

"For he was not first born an ordinary man of the holy Virgin, and then the Word descended upon Him, but having been made one with the flesh from the very womb itself, He is said to have submitted to a birth according to the flesh, as appropriating and making his own the birth of his own flesh." -Cyril of Alexandria

"The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; if He is only God, the He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life.  It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that man should believe rightly the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ." -Dorothy L. Sayers

It was a great lesson and the two that followed were also really good.  Be looking for those posts in the next week or so!

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