The Turning Point of Christianity—The Council of Nicaea

April 14, 2017

Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning toa different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

What happened in the Church of God in Galatia at that time that made Apostle Paul use such strong words? After Jesus’ ascension, false doctrines appearedand many people were led away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. This problem became widespread following the death of Jesus and His Apostles and eventuallyreached its peak at the Council of Nicaea.

1. What is the Council of Nicaea?

In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea—the first worldwide religious council—was convened by Constantine I, the 57th emperor of the Roman Empire. The councilmarked an important point in Church history, where a public authority intervened and made decisions about the teachings of the gospel, resulting in a darkchapter in the history of Christianity and the world.

2. Why Was the Council of Nicaea Instituted?

The Council of Nicaea was convened mainly to settle the dispute over Arianism as well as the controversies surrounding the Passover.

A) Arianism Controversies

After surveying his new domains as the new emperor of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, Constantine found his new territories split by a conflictcaused by different beliefs of Jesus. The question that divided the population was to dominate the whole century and beyond: who is Jesus? The churchworshipped him as God and the New Testament called him God. How is Jesus and God related?

Arius, the elder of a church in Alexandria, tried to end the confusion and started a theological debate. Using the words of Apostle Paul in Colossians1:15, Arius founded a new doctrine, claiming that since Jesus is ‘the firstborn over all creation’, he is immeasurably greater, more glorious and more godlikethan creation, but a creation nonetheless. “Older than time, he is not as old as God; prior to all creation, he is not uncreated,” which simply means thatJesus was a creation of God. Arius still called Jesus God, but it reads like an honorary title.

B) Passover Controversies

Jesus kept the Passover at twilight on the 14th day of the first month by the sacred calendar, died on the cross on the Feast of the Unleavened Bread andwas resurrected on Sunday (the day of Firstfruits). So the early Church continued to keep the Passover on the evening of the 14th day of the first monthaccording to the will of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-26); the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Mark 2:19-20) on the 15th day; and the Resurrection Day on thefollowing Sunday by breaking bread (Acts 20:6-7; Luke 24:30-31).

After the death of Jesus and all His disciples, the church in Rome—the capital of the world at that time—began to influence all the other churches in theworld. They refused to have the Holy Supper on the Passover but had it on Sunday [Resurrection Day] after the Passover. They combined the two feasts—thePassover and the Resurrection Day—which are completely distinct and created a custom of having the Holy Supper on Sunday when Jesus was resurrected. Anicetusand Victor, the Bishops of Rome advocated the abolishment of the Passover but failed.

3. Decisions Made At the Council of Nicaea

A) Definition of Trinity—The Nicene Creed

At that moment, the doctrine of Origen from Alexandria (A.D. 185-254) which takes the mid-way of the 2 theories, seemed to have won: God exists in ahierarchy—Son and Spirit receiving their divinity from the Father, equally eternal and perfectly united.

When in A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine ultimately convened the Council of Nicaea in modern day Turkey, to decide who Jesus was. In order to dispose ofArius, Constantine commanded the 300 bishops who were present at the council to create an anti-Arian “creed” doctrine to kill off the heresy, basing it onOrigen’s theory, such that all of Christianity would follow and obey. This doctrine came to be called the “Nicene Creed”, which declared that God and JesusChrist are of the same substance.

Afterwards, the Nicene Creed was accepted as legitimate. This Nicene “Trinitarianism” was adopted as a basic formula of belief by the Roman Catholic Churchthat led the Dark Ages, and also by many Protestant churches that appeared after the Reformation. However, this creed did not approach the core of the“Trinity”, being still very vague. That is why many Christians and even theologians today, who claim to believe in the Trinity, cannot easily accept the factthat “Jesus Christ is God”, even though they acknowledge that “Jesus is the Son of God”.

B) Change of Passover Date—Establishment of Easter

Despite the failed efforts of Anicetus and Victor to abolish the Passover, the Passover controversy arose again in the 4th century at the Council ofNicaea. The religious assembly decided in favour of the church of Rome that they would abolish the Passover on the 14th day of the first month by the sacredcalendar, and instead celebrate the Holy Supper on the Resurrection Day.

However, since the Biblical standards to determine the date of this new “combined celebration” have been abolished, the first Sunday after the full moon ofthe vernal equinox, which is not from the Bible, was adopted to mark the Resurrection Day, or henceforth known as Easter Sunday.

4. Consequences on Modern-day Christianity

The Council of Nicaea is the most important event of the 4th century. The mercilessly scheming victory of a dangerous error is of far greater consequenceto the progress of true civilisation than all the bloody victories of Constantine and his successors. It forms an epoch in the history of doctrine, putting anend to all previous discussions on the deity of Christ and the Passover, and at the same time, regulating the further development of the modern theology forcenturies.

Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning toa different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

During the time of the early Church, the Apostle Paul severely rebuked the Christians in the Church of God in Galatia for turning away from the gospelteachings of Jesus and the Disciples and following a different gospel instead. Then what about the decisions made at the Council of Nicaea, which forms thebasis of modern-day Christian theology? Should we build our faith on the gospel of the early Church or on the verdict of the Council of Nicaea?