The Turning Point of Christianity—The Council of Nicaea

April 14, 2017

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a 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.

Galatians 1:6-7 

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 appeared and many people were led away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. This problem became widespread following the death of Jesus and His Apostles and eventually reached 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 council marked an important point in Church history, where a public authority intervened and made decisions about the teachings of the gospel, resulting in a dark chapter 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 conflict caused by different beliefs of Jesus. The question that divided the population was to dominate the whole century and beyond: who is Jesus? The church worshipped 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 Colossians 1:15, Arius founded a new doctrine, claiming that since Jesus is ‘the firstborn over all creation’, he is immeasurably greater, more glorious and more godlike than 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 that Jesus 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 and was 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 month according 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 the following 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 the world. 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—the Passover and the Resurrection Day—which are completely distinct and created a custom of having the Holy Supper on Sunday when Jesus was resurrected. Anicetus and 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 a hierarchy—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 of Arius, 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 on Origen’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 Jesus Christ 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 Church that 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 fact that “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 of Nicaea. 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 sacred calendar, 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 of the 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 consequence to 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 an end 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 for centuries.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a 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.

Galatians 1:6-7 

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 gospel teachings of Jesus and the Disciples and following a different gospel instead. Then what about the decisions made at the Council of Nicaea, which forms the basis 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?