Updated: Mar 22
If you were to ask me what I enjoy most about being a pastor, I would have a ready answer for you. These days it's leading our Sunday morning Bible class — Life with God. This is the most fun that I've had teaching since starting in the ministry back in 1996.
Over the past fifteen months we've studied The Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. We've done so using Luther's Large Catechism as our guide. We've also studied the book of Nehemiah, one chapter per Sunday. This year, we've been looking at, and discussing, early Church history.
I can't speak for the group, but for me, our time together flies by. As a matter of fact, I've had to remind myself to glance at my watch to make sure that the class doesn't run long. I've been very pleased by the attendance at Life with God; we average anywhere from one-third to almost one-half of our worshipers staying for it.
Yesterday morning we looked at the lives of four early Christians. At least, that was the plan. (Because of a discussion we got into, we never made to the fourth.) We started off Life with God by reading about, and discussing, Justin Martyr. We then did the same with Perpetua, another martyr. For the rest of the hour, we looked at the life of Athanasius, one of the most influential theologians of the early Church.
Athanasius lived during the height of what became known as the Christological controversies. These theological disputes arose as the Church struggled with the two natures of Christ — his divine nature and his human nature.
At great cost to himself personally, Athanasius defended the full divinity of Christ against Arius and his followers.
Arius, like Athanasius, was a leader in the church in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius and his followers contended that: "If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not." This lead Arius to conclude that Jesus was inferior to the Father.
Athanasius whole-heartedly disagreed, even though it cost him dearly. Five times during his ministry, Athanasius was exiled for refusing to compromise with the Arians.
Athanasius was willing to go it alone, if need be. This is summed up by a Latin phrase, Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world).
This leads me back to yesterday's Bible class. A simple question was asked: What does it mean to say that Jesus was begotten of the Father?
The dispute between Arius and Athanasius over how to answer this question almost tore the Church apart. It took decades of often vehement theological argument for the Church to settle the issue. This understanding remains vital today. Why is this? It's because not just any Jesus can save us. Only the Christ revealed to us in Holy Scripture can save us.
Nothing less than our salvation was at stake in the Christological controversies of old. These controversies are still around today. For instance, the Jesus of the Mormons, and of the Jehovah's Witnesses, is not the same Christ that you and I worship and follow.
The orthodox (right) answer to the question of what does Scripture mean when it says that Jesus is begotten of the Father led to the development of two of our most basic confessions of faith: The Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds.
Getting back to what happened yesterday at Bible class, I'm glad that we've moved into the deep waters of theology in Life with God. Why is this? It's because a shallow knowledge of God, Christ, and Scripture are dangerous. We need to have deep roots in Christ and his Word in order that we do not fall, or drift away, from the One who is our life.
Next Sunday, we will continue to look at some of the great mysteries (revelations) of the Christian faith:
1) The relationship between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2) The Incarnation and the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ.
3) The Lutheran teaching that when Christ died, God died on the cross.
At our Life with God class next weekend, we will begin by reviewing what the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds have to say about these matters. We will also look at what the Formula of Concord (a foundational Lutheran confessional document) says about the death of Christ/God.
Finally, we will begin looking at a great, and very personal, essay entitled: The God Who Suffers.
I have just one more thing to share with you today.
Earlier this month, I started a second blog; a mini-blog, if you will. I've entitled it: Know Wonder.
Here is a link in case you're interested in checking it out: