The argument at the council revolved around the person of Christ and thus the Council of Nicea in 325 AD addressed the question of – Is Christ Divine? (One of 5 other issues covered but by far the most important). They did not create the doctrine of the “deity of Christ” but merely affirmed it. Also, in this council they did not touch on the person of the Holy Spirit but that is simply because that was not the issue at the time
Some may want to argue that the actual subject of the Trinity was not dealt with at the Council of Nicea. But, while the issue of the Trinity itself was not directly dealt with, the nature of Christ was and that is integral to our understanding of the Trinity. What stirred up the need for a council in large part was that Arius, where the term the “Arian Controversy” came from, had proposed that Christ had been created and had not existed eternally so therefore was not divine as God the Father was. This view had found some supporters but arguments arose in the church to oppose such a doctrine. While Emperor Constantine himself was sympathetic to the beliefs of Arius he wanted to settle the dispute and have political and cultural unity, his main objective in much of what he did. This is one of the places we see God’s hand on the events as again Constantine would have liked to see Arius win the argument but it was not to be.
At the council there were actually three positions
o The homoousians – Who proclaimed that God and Christ were of the same substance
o The Arians – Who proclaimed that God and Christ were of different substances.
o The homoiousians – A group that sought to compromise by claiming Christ was “similar” to God.
The trouble that Arius had with the orthodox view of the nature of Christ’s “substance” was the same we see today. He, as many today that deny the Trinity, sought to mold scripture to make a doctrine that is not easily comprehended comprehensible. In doing that he had to mold scripture to fit his understanding of how he thought things should be.
Mark Noll has noted, “Arius’s appeal to what he considered the logic of monotheism illustrates a recurring tendency throughout Christian history to subject the facts of divine revelation to current conceptions of ‘the reasonable’.”
I share the above glimpse at history, there is much more to read and learn about the Council of Nicea, to show that this is not a new issue & is one that others have struggled through. But it is one where truth can be found. We are to not hold tightly to the Doctrine of the Trinity because of tradition or even because of the Council of Nicea and a vote in the past. But, we should listen to what was said since God was working then as now.
We are to hold tightly to the Doctrine of the Trinity because it is biblical and those that do not hold to it are denying the true nature of Christ. Thus we need to not sit by as some deny this doctrine like it is simply a matter of taste. No this is a matter of the nature of God and we need to defend this doctrine as tenaciously as Athanasius did if necessary who himself was exiled 5 times in his defense of the nature of God. Not because God cannot defend Himself. But, because all of scripture and the promises of God hinge on His nature. If God’s nature can be manipulated by man to fit his whims, as is often done today, then ones hope is in a false god that is not God at all.
Today the issue is not only that the Trinity is denied but that people are not passionate enough about it to defend it at whatever cost. Far too many people are willing to give up this important doctrine for the sake of unity. What I would say is a false unity.
Mathew Henry has said: "The way to preserve the peace of the church is to preserve its purity."
The purity he speaks of is not just the piety of its people but the purity of its doctrine. Thus it is not by forsaking doctrine but ensuring that the doctrine is pure and undefiled that unity is preserved. The area of the Doctrine of the Trinity is one of those areas we need to unify around. We are not to push it to the back to “just get along” but have a ready defense for who God and his nature, His Trinitarian nature.
Next in Part 3 we will look at some Historical heresies and in doing so you will see that not much has changed in 2000+ years as many of the heresies of the past are alive today.
Doctrine of the Trinity Series:
Sermon Series on The Doctrine of the Trinity: Part 1 and Part 2
(all verses used are from the ESV unless stated otherwise)