Today in Church History: May 20

In 325, the Council of Nicea convened on this date.  At issue was the nature of Jesus. Was He “of similar substance” to God the Father, or was He “of the same substance?” 

Why does that matter? J. Stephen Lang, in The Christian History Devotional, seems to be saying it doesn’t. That it was a nitpicky argument over a vowel (“similar substance” to the Father is the Greek word homoiousios;  “same substance” is homoousios):

This sounds to us like useless nitpicking. All Christians agreed that Christ was the divine Son of God and the Savior of man. Why was it important to determine if he was “like” or “same as” God? Had it only been a theological matter, Constantine could have ignored it. But there were actually fights breaking out between the supporters and opponents of Arius’s view. —Lang, Christian History Devotional, May 20 entry

 Lang leads off his entry for today with the admonition from 2 Timothy 2:23: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” The implication is that this argument over the nature of Jesus fits the category of foolish, ignorant controversy. But this verse applies to issues like the color of the carpet, or whether the youth should go to Six Flags or Cedarpoint this year. The Council of Nicea had slightly weightier matters on its agenda.  The Gospel Coalition does a good job getting to the essence (sorry!) of the issue with this infographic:


Does it matter? Absolutely it matters. On this day in Christian history, the lesson for me isn’t that we should “pick our battles,” but that there are matters of faith and doctrine that are worth zealous defense. I’m thankful for how God shaped Christian history through councils, creeds, confessions, and catechism!

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Author: jamesleejackson

I am a pastor in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, be a father to Caleb and Joshua. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

3 thoughts on “Today in Church History: May 20”

  1. Great post! It may seem like a “nit-picky” disagreement, but I’m reminded of the comment by G. K. Chesterton in his book on Aquinas: “upon this sharp pin-point of reality, [Aquinas] rears by long logical processes that have never really been successfully overthrown, the whole cosmic system of Christendom.” (Chesterton was referring to a different topic altogether, but I think it fits here. The debate at Nicea could be considered “a sharp pin-point of reality” around which “the whole cosmic system of Christendom” is established.

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  2. By that day it was made possible to have the division of those who really wanted to follow rabbi Jeshua, and wanted to keep to his God, the God of Israel Who is One and to make a clear difference between those who chose to go for the false doctrines of man and to keep to polytheism and the many pagan feasts and heathen teachings and rites.

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