I've begun a series of blog posts talking about the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. As a guide, I've been looking at the Nicean Creed to formulate the basic beliefs that define the Christian faith. One clear aspect of the Christian faith is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Right on the heels of declaring monotheism, the church fathers also declare that Jesus is God:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
Jesus is equal with the FatherNotice that the emphasis on this part of the creed is to place the Son on equal footing with the Father. That's why the repetition of "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God" is used. In the early days of Christianity there were several heresies that cropped up trying to claim that Jesus is in some way lesser than God the Father. The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses, held that Jesus was God's first creation. Jesus is a "mighty god" but not "Almighty God."
Christians had long held that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God. He claimed the honors afforded to God and the attributes ascribed to God. He forgave sins only God would and received worship that is reserved for God alone.1 Robert Wilken writes that the Greek philosopher Celsus was offended by the Christian view of God even in the second century. In discussing his views, Wilken says Celsus is fine with those who would hold Jesus in some type of divine status, such as that reserved for the Caesars. Celsus wasn't convinced that Jesus even deserved this level of honor, but as long as those worshippers recognize the "high God" as greater than lesser deities, it would be OK. Wilken then writes, "The Christians, however, made even more extravagant claims: they said that Jesus was unique among the gods and that he should be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods. To Celsus such excessive adoration set up Jesus as a rival to God and undercut the worship of the one God." 2
Jesus is different from the FatherWhile Christians recognize Jesus as being fully God, equal with the Father, they recognize that Jesus is not the same person as the Father. He is not the Father, but the Son. In scripture, we see Jesus coming from the Father (Jn. 5:37, 12:49), He prays to the Father (Mt. 26:39, Lk 23:34,Jn 17:1), He obeys the Father (Lk 22:42, Jn 6:38), and He humbles Himself before the Father (Phil 2:4-8). Jesus is distinct from the Father but both He and the Father are recognized as God.
The Arian view of Jesus was the motivating issue that caused the church fathers to gather from across the globe and convene the first church council in Nicea. The formulation of the Nicean Creed was the result. Its purpose was to clearly establish the equality of Jesus with God the Father while still maintaining the concept of a single God. The church fathers did this by distinguishing between the concept of personhood and being. Next time, I'll unpack the teaching of the Trinity a bit more. For now, recognize that one must believe that Jesus is God in order to be a Christian.
2. Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 120.