April 25, 2015

Europe: Christian Influence is Declining

The Pew Research Center has determined, through interviews and a projection of current trends, the number of European citizens * who identify themselves as Christian will drop from 75.4 percent of the population in 2010 to 67.4 percent in 2050.  The absolute number of Christians will decrease from 513,390,000 in 2010 to 422,940,000 in 2050. The number of Muslims will increase from 6.0 to 10.1 percent of the population, and the number of “non-religious” citizens will increase from 18.0 to 21.6 percent of the population.


*Data excludes the United Kingdom, but includes Russia

April 19, 2015

United States: Christian Influence is Declining

The Pew Research Center has determined, through interviews and a projection of current trends, the number of U. S. citizens who identify themselves as Christian will drop from 78.3 percent of the population in 2010 to 66.4 percent in 2050.  The absolute number of Christians will increase from 243,060,000 in 2010 to 261,960,000 in 2050. The number of Muslims will increase from .89 to 2.1 percent of the population, and the number of “non-religious” citizens will increase from 16.4 to 25.6 percent of the population. During this time the number of Americans who identify with a folk religion will increase by 229%, but will account for only .52 percent of the population in 2050.


April 17, 2015

United Kingdom: Christianity is Declining

The Pew Research Center has determined, through interviews and a projection of current trends, the number of U.K. citizens who identify themselves as Christian will drop from 64.3 percent of the population in 2010 to 45.4 percent in 2050.  The number of Muslims will increase from 4.8 to 11.3 percent of the population, and the number of “non-religious” citizens will increase from 27.8 to 38.9 percent of the population.


April 12, 2015

Separation of Church and State: The Freedom to Believe

The Constitution was intended to be an inclusive document. We were a loose collection of colonies struggling to establish a national unity while retaining a local identity. The framers did not wish to eliminate the participation of any group based on their religious affiliation.

Although most of the Framers were Christians, they believed that individual Americans should have the right to characterize "God" according to their adopted system of religious beliefs. They were painfully aware of the political disasters that had occurred in Europe and the Mediterranean area when zealous piety was combined with secular power. The quest for religious freedom had been a primary stimulus for America's growth and they were determined that to avoid any loss of this precious right. The First Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on December 15, 1791, makes this very clear:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.

The framer's institutional neutrality has been confirmed in many ways. One of the more interesting was the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797. In this document,  the United States assured the  government of Tripoli it would not seek to impose the religious opinions of Christianity on any Muslim nation:    

" ARTICLE 11. As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."  

 This Treaty was drafted by the Administration of George Washington, passed unanimously by the Senate, and signed into law by John Adams. The religious neutrality of the United States was again expressed in a subsequent Treaty of Tripoli in 1806:

"ARTICLE XIV. AS the government of the United States of America has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Mussulmen, …. it is declared by the contracting parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two nations. And the consuls and agents of both nations respectively shall have liberty to exercise his religion in his own house. …. "  

In other words, the U. S. had no intention of conducting a religious war against the Muslims of Tripoli.

These two treaties give us an example of the religious neutrality of the United States, are evidence the government of the United States had no established religion, and show that religion or religious opinion were not to be considered as a basis for interrupting the harmony of International affairs. However, these treaties also support the concept that in United States  religious conviction was - in fact - a customary practice.

The Framers believed that Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Pilgrims, Anglicans, Baptists, Muslims, Hindus or any other group with its own system of religious beliefs could have its own unique characterization of "God".  Furthermore, "God" could also be called Yahweh, Jehovah, Lord, Allah, divine Providence, the way, Nature's God, supreme truth or - in a modern philosophical context - "the Force". 

There is a clear difference, however, between a recognition of a religious entity and the practice of the spiritual beliefs. As a practical matter, the framers of our Constitution would generally use the term "religion" when they were referring to a specific organized human institution that practiced a specific system of religious beliefs.  They did not, however, envision that freedom of religion would be equated with freedom from religion.  In the cultural environment within which our Constitution was created, it was assumed that all good men, women and children practiced some form of religion and believed in a spiritual Divinity - "God" - however defined by one's conscience.

This cultural framework appears in the references made to God in the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.  In part, it reads:

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- ….

WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Our Founding Fathers left us an abundance of quotes that reflect their Christian convictions.  It was assumed there is a divine Providence to which America would entrust its fortunes.  Thus, although they were careful to separate the influence of organized Religious institutions from the affairs of state, they never-the-less firmly believed all human activity – including government – was conducted under the watchful eye of our creator. 

Hence the term: “In God We Trust”.   That is also why you will find the “all seeing eye of god” on a one dollar bill.


America Was Created As A Christian Nation

The men and women created our nation had a profound respect for Christian values. 

We have an obligation to maintain, protect and apply them.


Is Christianity The Moral Foundation of Democracy?

Our founding fathers understood the moral importance of Christianity. This video explains the relationship in a great way.

And it is by a Harvard Professor.

It takes just 90 seconds.

April 04, 2015

Jesus Christ

Ignatius writes in his letter to the Ephesians
"our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God,
conceived in the womb by Mary,
of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.”


Interpreting History
It is amazing.  Curious.  Jesus is one of the most important humans ever to walk on the face of our planet, yet nobody seems to have had the presence of mind to write down the dates of his birth, ministry or death. Although there are many historical and Biblical references to his life and work, there are only vague references to tell us when these events occurred.

It is therefore impossible to establish accurate dates for the birth, ministry and death of either John the Baptist or Jesus. Biblical references are subject to interpretation, and the Roman historian Flavius Josephus – who does mention both men in his texts – may have been more interested in the narrative he was writing than accurate historical information. Apparently John and Jesus were born sometime between 6 and 4 B.C. It would appear John was born sometime in March or April. Jesus was born about six months later in September or October. John started his ministry between 26 and 28 A.D. Jesus began his mission between 27 and 29 A.D. John was imprisoned in the spring, and beheaded in August, of 29 A.D. Based on the Hebrew rituals that occurred at the time of his death, it could be argued that Jesus was crucified in either 30 or 33 A.D. It should be noted the popular date of birth we observe for Jesus, December 25, was established by the Catholic Church in 336 A.D. (Julian calendar) in order to replace a pagan Roman holiday (Saturnalia) with a Christian holiday. Ironically, this is also the date when Romans gave tributes to the Sun God. It is also an interesting irony it is possible Jesus was actually conceived on December 25.

To further confuse the date issues, we should note the calculation of years and months in the Hebrew calendar does not match the calculation of these time spans in the Julian (old Christian) calendar, and the Hebrew New Year may have actually started between the birth of John (in March) and the Birth of Jesus (in September). And finally, there is no year zero.

So, what can we do? In the absence of better information, we can establish a reasonable, logical, and credible time line that may, or may not, be entirely accurate, but does give us a way to lay out the events that shaped the lives of these two men. The dates are an interesting way to visualize history, but in the final analysis what matters to us is that both men existed and both men had an incredible influence on human history.

Jesus was born in 5 B.C.
So here goes. Tradition tells us our Christian calendar starts on the date Jesus was born. That would be at the beginning of the first year A.D. But the date of his birth was accidentally miscalculated when Dionysius Exiguus developed a new calendar in the 6th century A.D. Dionysius naturally wanted to use the year Jesus was born at the beginning of year 1 A.D. He knew Jesus was born in the last days of Herod the Great, the pro-Roman Jewish King of the State where Jesus was born. Dionysius Exiguus calculated his date for the birth of Jesus using the existing Roman and Hebrew calendars. He counted backward to the death of Herod to establish the date Jesus was born. Unfortunately, the dating algorithms of the Hebrew calendar were different from those used to calculate dates for the Roman calendar. These led him to miscalculate the date that Herod died. We now know it was, with corrections, 4 B.C.

In our scenario, John was born in the month of March of 5 B.C. Based on the way we calculate the Gregorian calendar, Jesus was born in September of 5 B.C. According to the Hebrew calendar, however, Jesus may have been born after the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah in 4 B.C. For purposes of simplicity, let’s use the Gregorian calendar dates.

Jesus was baptized in 27 A.D.
He would have been 30. John the Baptist had begun his own Ministry in 26 A.D. and by the time Jesus went to see him at the Jordan river, John had already accumulated a number of apostles and followers. John knew Jesus because they were cousins. Over the prior 4 years the two men had pursued the study of similar religious philosophies. As Jesus walked toward him down the gentle slope to the river, John immediately recognized Jesus was destined to have a significant ministry. John believed Jesus had become the Messiah, the savior of mankind described in ancient prophesies. The baptism occurred in the Jordan River where a shallow ford permits travelers on the road between Jerusalem and Amman to cross the river.

Jesus began his own Ministry in March of that same year, 27 A.D. (dated from the time he arrived in Capernaum).

Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D.
When word of John’s beheading reached Jesus in late 29 A.D., he was at the peak of his public work. But Jesus knew his own Ministry would soon be over. He was encountering the same opposition that had ended John’s work. Thereafter, Jesus spent more personal time with his disciples in order to prepare them for their own individual ministries. Jesus brought his Ministry to a close with his entry into Jerusalem in 30 A.D. When he died, Jesus was 33.

There has been much debate about these dates. There is a line of thought, for example, that Jesus died in 33 A.D. But there are two problems with this conclusion:

Neither Biblical nor historical records reveal reliable dates. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were written to present a narrative of personalities, events and doctrine from the viewpoint of the respective authors. The timeline was less important than the story. In like manner, the only other records of this period and place we have reflect the cultural perspective of the author.

Both John and Jesus would have been characterized as rebels. Think about it: They were critical of government power, and frequently censured religious behavior. This was an era when challenges to established authority were regarded as a way to commit suicide. It is unlikely their activities would have been allowed to go on for more than two or three years. John was arrested because he had the audacity to denounce Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Perea and Galilee, for the ruler’s adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias, wife of his half-brother Philip. Although it is apparent the Romans were not particularly worried about and Jesus, the priests who ran the affairs of the temples were furious. Jesus was more popular, and drew larger crowds. Not only was he challenging temple authority, he was even criticizing institutional morality. His demise came when he triumphantly rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. For temple priests, that had to be the last straw. It would appear John’s ministry lasted about 34 months before he was imprisoned. Jesus was active about 35 months before he was arrested.

But in the final analysis, we should not be overly concerned about the chronology of his life. Why? Think about it. Jesus brought us a message that is timeless. His resurrection is about everlasting life. If we do not know the exact dates, perhaps it is because God wants us to focus our thoughts on the significance of what Jesus is teaching. Not a point in time and space.

His Life

God’s Purpose
Before we explore the life and work of Jesus, we need to understand the answer to one simple question: What did God want to accomplish? Its obvious God had a purpose for the birth, life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. God focused a great deal of attention on this single human life. Jesus was given a mission. His ministry was a spectacular success. His death provided us with eternal inspiration. What did God want to accomplish?

We humans are naturally quarrelsome. Fifty thousand years of struggling for survival has made most of us organically cautious, apprehensive, confrontational, and aggressive. We are too quick to judge, frequently hostile, and prone to animosity. Over the last ~ 5,000 years we have acquired a thin veneer of civilized behavior, easily broken, frequently ignored, and often the source of oppressive social rules.

God wanted to modify our behavior by embracing and observing his commandments. Jesus would communicate God’s message with instruction and inspiration. The message would seek to elevate our collective moral character, reinforce our belief in God’s existence, teach us about God’s love, inspire us to love God, encourage us to love one another, and show us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. God wanted to confirm to us that immortality is possible if we strive to be trustworthy in all we do or say.

God has often sent a message to us through a chosen human messenger. For example, God’s instruction to Moses resulted in the Ten Commandments. The story of Daniel in the den of lions teaches us to trust in the Lord. And so on. There are multiple Biblical stories of men and women who were inspired to do extraordinary things because God instructed them to do so. And God continues to communicate with us: we humans all over this planet. We need only listen to understand.

With this background, we can understand God’s purpose. But why select the unborn child of a young Jewish couple? Why not pick a nice couple from China, or Egypt, or perhaps Central America?

The answer, of course, lies in the Biblical history of Hebrew culture and its existing views about God. This culture had already developed a complex system of theology. Old Testament teaching and tradition was an integral part of this belief system. The Jews already believed there is only one God and had a spiritual relationship with God. The message Jesus was destined to deliver would be a natural extension (with some modification) of these traditions and beliefs.

Becoming God’s Messenger
His mother was a bright, compassionate, and intensely devout 15 year old young woman named Mary. She epitomizes the ideals of spiritual purity and maternal grace. Because of her character, the mother of Jesus holds a special place in Christian theology, ritual, and history. She has been venerated in music, art, poetry, text, and countless sermons. Her story can be found in both Christian and Muslim literature. The veneration is well deserved.

Mary (also Mariam, or the Virgin Mary) apparently lived from ~20 B.C. to ~39 A.D. According to tradition, she and her husband Joseph were selected to become the parents of a very special baby boy who was to be called Jesus. Mary would have just turned 15 when she gave birth to Jesus. From the 2nd to the 19th centuries, most Christians believed God caused (or seeded) her pregnancy, and for many Christians she is known as the “the mother of God”.

Mary played a key role in the life of Jesus. She is considered to be the perfection of motherhood, and an outstanding example of a life dedicated to God’s work on earth. It is likely Mary is the one who made sure Jesus knew Jewish law and customs. During his ministry, Mary was always close to Jesus with her love and support. As a mother and a friend, she was devoted to her son, his mission, and his message. In many ways, we may choose to think of Mary as the first Christian.

Over the years, millions of Christians (especially women) have addressed their prayers to Mary, seeking the comfort and compassion of a woman they can trust. For them, she is the feminine presence of God.

His father, Joseph, was a quiet, conservative, and thoughtful young man of 16. Already an established carpenter by trade, he conveys an image of spiritual strength and personal responsibility. Jesus would learn to be a man, the traditions his culture, and a trade from his father. He would learn Hebrew law and religious customs from his mother. God made sure Jesus was born a healthy child, and sent an angel to watch over Jesus until he became a man.

Like other Jewish boys, Jesus was challenged to learn the law before age 13. He could then join the men of his community in prayers. From his father, he learned how to work with wood and stone. Jesus was a carpenter by the age of 12, and a recognized artisan by the age of 18. He would continue to follow his trade until he was between 27 and 30 years of age. Jesus had brothers and sisters. His brother James was destined to become the leader of a Christian group in Jerusalem. For his entire lifetime, Galilee and Judea – including his home in Nazareth - were under the rule of a Roman dictatorship.

Sometime between age 27 and 30, it would appear Jesus had an intensely spiritual experience that led to his conscious unification with God. It was then he learned God’s purpose and the message he was to deliver. When he was 30, God told Jesus “It is Time. Now is the hour for you to begin your ministry. You have been well prepared to deliver my message.” It was a very solemn moment. Jesus decided to witness his dedication to God’s work with a baptism of renewal. He went looking for John who had, by now, earned the name “John the Baptist”. When Jesus arrived at the river Jordan, John immediately understood: here is a man who has a very special relationship with God. After John completed the baptism, God spoke: "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

For the record, most modern scholars consider the story of baptism to be a historical fact.

Jesus met Mary of Magdala right after his baptism. Wealthy in her own right, she was attracted to Jesus because of his intense charisma, quiet grace, wonderful knowledge of the spiritual, and compassion for everyone he met. Mary of Magdala would be with Jesus for the rest of his ministry.

Jesus first went back to Nazareth to preach. Although only modestly successful, this experience gave him the practice he needed to be an effective orator. He decided to carry out his mission in Capernaum, where the population of this relatively prosperous trading town would be more receptive to new ideas, and where he could find old friends. In Capernaum Jesus began to assemble a core group of 12 disciples. He traveled to nearby towns, teaching the message God had given to him. As his popularity grew, he was able to add more than 100 others to his list of faithful followers.

As the months passed, word of Jesus and his popularity became a cause of concern among the rabbis. Many were hostile because they viewed his teaching and healing as being outside the conventions of established beliefs. They were both jealous and fearful of Jesus. Although more passive, the Romans viewed Jesus as a potential threat to their political authority. These two forces constituted the “establishment” that ruled Judea. The work of Jesus eventually became much too disruptive to the established order. He had to be stopped.

Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified in the spring of 30 A.D.

March 13, 2015

The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds

We are unsure who wrote the original version of the Nicene Creed. The Coptic Church traditionally believes it was written by Pope Athanasius of Alexandria. It could also have been the local creed of Christians in Caesarea, or perhaps it was a baptismal creed recorded by Eusebius. In any event, it was adopted to forge a uniform statement of belief among early Christians at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. At that point in time, some Christian groups had chosen to believe that although Jesus was divine, he had been created by God. Called the Arian controversy, this meant that Jesus was not co-equal with God. The clergy who attended the First Council of Nicaea were determined to make a firm statement of faith that would reflect their views.

In order to put the Arian controversy to rest, the original version of the Nicene Creed made it very clear that Jesus was of the same substance as God and the Holy Spirit.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.

- Source: Wikipedia

The First Council of Constantinople adopted a different version of the Nicene Creed in 381 A.D. The longer version which follows is now generally recognized as the formally adopted Nicene Creed. A literal translation of the original Greek text with Western liturgical changes emphasizes the power of God, and that God is three persons (The Holy Trinity): there is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Ghost (Spirit).

We believe (I believe) in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. (God of God) light of light, true God of true God. Begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary and was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried; and the third day rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, of whose Kingdom there shall be no end. And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and glorified, who spoke by the Prophets. And one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We confess (I confess) one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for (I look for) the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."

- Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia

A third statement of beliefs can be found in the Apostles’ Creed that apparently originated in the second or third century. Although similar in text to the Nicene Creed, the basis of the Apostles’ Creed was the theology of the Canonical Gospels. Broadly accepted in the West, it avoids any explicit statements about the divinity of Jesus. Its use can be found in Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches. The English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) adopted a formal English version in 1988:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Neither version of the Nicene Creed, nor the Apostles’ Creed, can be found in the Bible as integral texts. One can, however, find passages in the Bible to support the convictions expressed by these statements of belief. Early Church fathers brought these passages together as an interpretation of the theology found in the Bible. The phrase “who for us men” has been the source of some controversy, because it appears to mean women and children are not able to receive salvation. Alternative versions of the Nicene Creed use the term “for us and for our salvation” in order to avoid this controversy. There is also some doubt whether or not Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion. It is thought, by many, that Jesus arose to be with God after his crucifixion. He then reappeared on the third day to console and inspire his followers. These are among the metaphysical points that philosophers, theologians, and academics love to argue about.

Prepared by the International Consultation on English Texts, this version is used by many mainline communions in the United States and other English-speaking countries.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. 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, one in Being with the Father. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

There are fragmentary references to the concept of a trinity in the scriptures and early church fathers apparently brought these together to express the meaning of the scripture in a form that would support their beliefs. As adopted in 381 A.D, the Nicene Creed became widely is accepted by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and many Protestant churches as a statement of Christian faith.

The Apostles’ Creed is more likely to be used in Western Christian Churches. Some evangelical and other Christian congregations consider the Nicene Creed to be helpful, but not authoritative – a designation they reserve for the Bible. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with some other Christian congregations, reject some of the statements in the Nicene Creed.

Paul the Apostle believed Jesus existed before his conception and should be referred to as Lord (God). But it would appear Paul did not think of God in a Trinitarian sense. The source and creation of the Nicene Creeds and the emphasis on the Trinity can be discovered by analyzing the history of the early Church.

Arius (c. 250 – 336), who was a cleric in Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Jesus was not co-eternal with his father and is therefore distinct from the Father. Arius also argued that Jesus was created at a specific point in time. This belief is different from the concept of Sabellianism (or modalism) which characterizes the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as being three aspects of one God, rather than three different persons. If the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are different aspects of the same God, then it was an aspect of God who was born a man, suffered on the cross and experienced resurrection. Arianism was based on the Gospel of John 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." and Colossians 1:15 where Paul proclaims —"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." Popular during the 300s, the teachings of Arius (Arianism) were deemed heretical by the First Council of Nicaea (325). Although Arius was exonerated in 335, he was again pronounced a heretic at the Ecumenical First Council of Constantinople in 381. Arianism virtually disappeared as a principle by the late 600s.

Constantine (c. 272? – 337). Much of this debate and activity was influenced by Emperor Constantine (also known as Constantine the Great, or Saint Constantine) who was the supreme civil leader and authority of the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 A.D. He was acutely aware there was a growing interest in Christianity within the Empire. Constantine’s first edict about the Christians has been lost. His second edict in 313 A.D. granted them the freedom of religious worship and the recognition of the State. In his political role he also summoned the bishops of the western provinces to Arelate (Arles) in A.D. 314, where they attempted to resolve a split that had occurred within the church in Africa called Donatist schism.

Constantine reasoned that if Christians were unified in their beliefs, then Christianity could act as a religious force to unify the far flung regions of his domain. Constantine surveyed the political landscape and determined Athanism had stronger support. In order to bring theological order to Christianity, Constantine needed to eliminate competing visions of doctrine (and constant bickering among the bishops). Constantine therefore welcomed the development of the Nicene Creed as a unified statement of beliefs. The bishops who gathered together in 325 at Nicaea were able to agree on the nature and relationship of Jesus as the son of God, establish a common date for the celebration of Easter, and issue the first unified profession of Christian faith. The use of peaceful (if sometimes contentious) debate to resolve theological issues shows us one side of Constantine’s nature. On the other hand, he often used brutal methods to enforce these agreements against anyone (including Christians) who didn’t like them.

Flavius Valentinianus (c. 371 – 392), also known as Valentinian II, was Roman Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from A.D. 375 to 392.  Valentinian II was influenced by his Arian mother, the Empress Justina, to oppose the Nicean party. This, of course, infuriated Aurelius Ambrosius (Saint Ambrose) who was archbishop of Milan and a supporter of Nicene Christianity.

Theodosius I (c. 347 – 395), who is also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. After the death of Valentinian II in 392, Theodosius became the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. The cohesive forces which had held the Roman Empire together were in decline. The Roman top down slave labor economic model was being replaced by a feudal system of economic and social organization. Feudalism brought with it a long period of intellectual rigidity, and the emergence of the Catholic Church as the primary source of doctrinal belief. In order to promote the religious cohesion of his domain, Theodosius made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 (the edict of Thessalonica), defeated any opposition to his decision, and ordered the destruction of several pagan temples.

Constantine had organized the First Council of Nicaea in 325. But a lesser known Council at Rimini in 359 supported the Arian position, and a Council of Constantinople in 360 tried to make a compromise between Arian and the Athanistic views. But bickering continued. In 381, it became clear the early Church was still embroiled in heated debate over the nature of Christ (known as Christology). Opinions ranged from those who believed he was human; to a substantial number of Christians who wanted to believe Jesus was entirely divine. The most persistent confrontation was between Athanism which viewed the Father and the son as being one and eternal; and the Arian view that the Father and the son are similar, but that the Father created the son and is therefore greater.

It was Emperor Theodosius I who was compelled to call the bishops together for the Council of Constantinople in 381. He again firmly supported the Nicene view of Christ, and rejected the Arian position. A new version of the Nicene Creed was crafted to ensure there was no doubt that Jesus, the Father, and The Holy Ghost was of one “substance”. He supported the Athanism (Nicene) view even though, ironically, he was baptized on his deathbed by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia.

It should also be pointed out that neither a local council at Constantinople in 382, nor the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431, mention the revised version of the Nicene Creed. Instead, the Ephesus council reiterated the original 325 version of the creed in their denouncement of Nestorianism.

Explicit mention of the 381 A. D. version first appears in the records of the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The Council of Chalcedon issued the view that Christ is a being of two natures, one human and one divine - “united with neither confusion nor division.” Called the doctrine of hypostatic union, Chalcedonian orthodoxy is still the official conviction in many Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Justinian I (c. 482 – 565) known as Justinian the Great, was a Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. He tried to restore the Roman Empire by reconquering former Roman territory from Italy to the Atlantic. His generals succeeded in taking the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa, Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy (including Rome), and most of southern Iberia (Spania). Justinian I regulated everything, both in religion and in law. He firmly believed the unity of the Empire was interdependent with the unconditional unity of Christianity. His solution was to strictly enforce orthodox Nicean Christology. He established Roman state control over all doctrine, theological opinion, and details of worship. Justinian I established Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem as primary centers of Imperial Church leadership. Unfortunately for Justinian, the restored Empire soon began to crumble, weakened by a terrifying outbreak of bubonic plague in the early 540s, and outright rejection of the Emperor’s authority.

Muslim conquests, beginning in the 600s, converted most of North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, and Spain to Islam, further weakening the Byzantine Empire. Churches of the Oriental Orthodoxy seceded from the Byzantine State Church. Because of the fragmented structure of feudalism, Churches within Europe were likely to be loyal to local rulers. When Charlemagne was crowned as Emperor of the Romans by his ally Pope Leo III in 800 A.D, the split between the western and eastern churches became irrevocable. The Great Schism resulted in the mutual excommunication of both Roman and Constantinople Popes in 1054 A.D.

Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) provided a systematic Christology to resolve existing issues, and assert the Christ’s human attributes were perfect in every possible way. He believed Jesus was divine and not just a human male. Jesus did, however, have a (rational) human soul and hence there was a duality of divine and human characteristics that existed simultaneously in his human body. Aquinas wrote that God had a three part nature: God the Father, God the Son as knowledge of self (God is aware of himself), and the Holy Spirit which is the love that binds God’s self-knowledge and God. The perception is, therefore, of three persons perfectly united and perfectly interrelated within the essence of God. Aquinas believed God assumed the nature of man so that man might become God.

Some evangelical Christians reject the Nicene Creed, not for its content, but simply because it is not found in the Bible. Sola Scriptura ("by Scripture alone") is the doctrine that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of belief. Only those doctrines found directly within the scriptures, or can be indirectly discovered by using logical deduction from the scriptures, are valid Christian beliefs.

Surveys of American adults indicate many do not believe (or know) the content of the Nicene Creed. When Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University conducted a poll of 1007 adults and asked the question: "Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” 54 percent said no, 35 percent replied yes, and the rest were undecided. On the other hand, 90 percent of American adults believe in God or a Supreme Being, 65 percent are absolutely certain God exists, 72 percent believe in an afterlife in which they will have "some sort of consciousness," 63 percent are absolutely certain Jesus died and physically arose from the dead, and 60 percent believe Mary was a virgin mother. It would appear that roughly half of all people who have attended church recently believe in a personal physical resurrection. This percentage drops to 25 percent for non-church goers.

- Source: Most Americans doubt the resurrection of the body. Scripps Howard News Service, Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll, 2006

The scriptures never reveal the Trinity as a theological concept. Instead the roles of Jesus and God are clearly separate and distinct. Jesus prays to God and calls Him father. For example, there is only one “true God” described in John 17:1-26 when Jesus the son is praying to God the Father. In John 20:17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In John 14: 27-28 Jesus says Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, ‘I go away and come again unto you.’ If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice because I said, ‘I go unto the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” In John 7:33 Jesus said, "I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me.” And In Matthew 27:46 Jesus cried with a loud voice, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" just as he was dying on the cross.

There are other examples of a clear distinction between Jesus as a man, and God as the Father. It is troubling (for some) this distinction would appear to contradict the concept that Jesus is God, or of the same substance as God. What should we believe? Our basic problem is that the Bible is a very large text. It is possible to prove most anything by quoting separate passages out of context (as we have done here). And then there is this eternal question: Is Jesus God?

Every organization, including political, religious, or corporate entities, needs to have a statement of purpose in order to focus member or employee activity on a set of common objectives. These statements frequently include ethical and procedural references, and emphasize what members or employees are expected to believe. The early church was no different. Christian doctrine was not clearly established. Theological controversies were common and often divisive. Christianity needed a universally accepted creed in order to establish the bedrock upon which the church could build its theology. Church elders would have been compelled to proclaim a core set of beliefs in order to unify local congregations, and there must have been many different statements of belief by the time the first council was held in Nicaea. One must concede, however, the circumstances of these councils were primarily motivated by political considerations. The Roman Emperors were struggling to maintain social and political cohesion among far flung and often contentious subject domains. Uniform religious beliefs and practices were (and still are) an integral component of social order.

The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds were created in response to the need for a uniform statement of Christian beliefs. As we may expect, they mirror contemporary fourth-century theology concerning the nature of God, Jesus, and the elements of faith. They have been the source of continuing debate and occasionally derisive comment – even in the 21st century. Some of the concepts are difficult to understand (and believe). For example, it is hard to accept the idea Jesus is God when he so obviously was born and lived his life as a man. In addition, the relationship of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit continue to be the source of controversy. One can reasonably ask: Was it necessary for Jesus to be (called) a God in order to give him the status of a legitimate King (Pontifex Maximus – Latin for "Greatest Pontiff") who could be superior to the pagan gods of Rome? And is a virgin birth a necessary requisite for Jesus to be born a King? Detractors sometimes refer to these beliefs as a mix of pagan and ancient Greek mythology.

For most Christians, both Creeds continue to express the core of Christian theology. We must never lose the moral compass Jesus brought to us. The Nicene Creed is very relevant for those Christians who choose to believe Jesus is an incarnation of God on earth in human form, and the Apostles’ Creed continues to provide a statement of faith for Christians who like to think of Jesus as being a divine human. Both Creeds affirm there is only one God who is maker of heaven and earth, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilot, and on the third day after his death He arose to be with his father. These statements of faith have provided comfort and confidence for millions of Christians, and they will continue to do so.

As Christians we should be willing to recognize and respect other systems of spiritual faith. Those who seek a closer relationship with God (by whatever name that is familiar to them) may choose to follow the testaments of other theologies (Buddhist or Hindu, for example). In addition, we must recognize and respect the fact that belief systems are not static. The accumulation of human knowledge will always act to transform theology and philosophy.

Twenty-first century Christians may choose to have alternative beliefs about the nature of God, the importance of spiritual connection in prayer and meditation, and the divinity of Jesus Christ. We may choose to believe God is an unseen - but ever present - spiritual force with whom we are able to connect through meditation and prayer, and we may be more comfortable with the concept God is actually a unity of Father, Mother and Holy Spirit. Given the historical circumstances, it is logical to believe Jesus was born a human, was influenced by the presence of God throughout his entire life, thought of God as a father (who art in heaven), and became one with the conscious power (energy) of God through prayer and meditation – a path we seek to follow.

No matter what one may choose to believe, in the end we are drawn to meditate on the spirit behind these theological beliefs. We are created as individuals. The beliefs of one may not be right for another. We are, each one of us, challenged to find our own way to God. As my father has said, “Seek and Ye shall find.” If we want to find God, and his son, we must look for them through prayer and meditation.

It is worth the effort.


February 21, 2015

Was Jesus the Son of God?

Virgin Birth

For most Christians, the birth of Christ to a Virgin Mary is a wonderfully uplifting and spiritually thrilling story. It represents the excitement of new life, the promise of renewed confidence, and a living proof of God’s love. It is perfectly logical. If God can create heaven and earth, he certainly can create a pregnancy.

But there are doubts about Matthew’s story.

It is only found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The concept of a virgin birth does not appear in Mark, considered by scholars to be the first Gospel to be written, nor does it appear in John, which focuses on the theology of Christ’s mission. In the older Masoretic text Mary is simply referred to as a “young woman”. Paul tells us Jesus was “born of a woman” (not a virgin), and “born under the law” (that means Paul believed the birth of Jesus complied with contemporary Jewish custom and was the result of natural human copulation). The original text of Isaiah uses the word ‘almah” to describe a young woman who might or might not be a virgin. A later Greek version of the New Testament translated the word almah into parthenos, the Greek word for "virgin". We may never know the source or purpose of this translation.

Matthew’s story creates a conundrum. If the quasi biological son of God comes into our physical universe, lives here for 33 years, suffers the humiliation and suffering of crucifixion, and proves his superiority by resurrection, then what does that prove? It proves that the son of God can go back to heaven. It does not prove that man can enter the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, if a loving God adopts Jesus the man and brings him back to life through the miracle of resurrection, then one cannot deny the truth and resounding power of his message. It proves there is a path to heaven for ordinary mortals.

Then there is the biological argument. Sorry guys, the female egg is more important than a male sperm in the process of creation. Embryos develop from a single cell called a zygote, which is created when the sperm fuses with an egg. Human male sperm contributes 23 chromosomes (packets of genetic material), including the chromosome that will determine the sex of the baby, its centrioles, and a half nucleus. The female egg contributes Bottom of Formmost of the organelles, 23 chromosomes, half the nucleus, and the material to support the development of the zygote into a fetus.

This raises two interesting speculative questions:

  1.        If God wanted to create a son within the womb of a human woman, would he implant the egg, the sperm, or both?
  2.        If God wanted to make sure Mary would give birth to a perfect son, why wouldn’t he implant a perfectly formed fetus into Mary’s womb?
If God furnishes the sperm, he can ensure the result will be a male, but he cannot by this action guarantee a perfect fetus. If God provides the egg, he can make sure the elements are there to support the creation of a healthy zygote, but he still cannot be sure conception will lead to a perfect fetus. The only way God can guarantee perfection is to implant a healthy fetus into Mary’s womb.

And two more questions:

  1.        Is Matthew’s fertilization thesis driven by the contemporary cultural demand that a powerful king must have a virgin mother and a God for a father?  
  2.        And what was God’s objective?
Matthew was definitely a man on a mission. His devotion and love of Christ resonates throughout his text. He wants us to believe and he did a marvelous job. The story of the virgin birth has been the inspirational source for several million prayers, lines of text, and sermons; thousands of paintings and graphic representations; and hundreds of songs and poems. The concept of a virgin birth has become a fundamental construct of traditional Christian theology.

Despite this success however, there remains the nagging suspicion that Matthew created the story of the Virgin Birth in order to elevate Jesus above other kings and emperors.  We have to admit this was a very common practice in ancient Rome. The intent was to extoll the superiority of a ruler over the value of the rabble in a highly structured class system. Should we believe Jesus would have been appalled by the sweeping claims of Matthew’s narrative?

The Adoption Thesis

We can choose to believe the story of a virgin birth. By eliminating the confusion of Mathew’s claim Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, it is perfectly credible. However, there is an alternative description of his birth. Called the adoption thesis, it tells us Jesus became so close to God, the Holy Spirit felt compelled to “adopt” him as a son. It is both a credible and natural explanation of his life. We must remember, the term “begotten son”, which implies physical fatherhood, was an invention of early Church fathers. Jesus never said he was the son of God in the physical sense. Instead he made the point God is our spiritual father (who art in heaven), and the creator of all life.

The New Testament fails to describe anything about the life of Jesus from the time he was 12 or 13 to the beginning of his ministry at age ~ 30. Called the unknown years, the silent years, or the missing years, there has been considerable speculation about what happened to him during this period. Did he travel? Did he work in another country? Did he study other religions? Or was he, as the Bible appears to tell us, a simple carpenter all his adult life? And if this is the case, what were the events that changed this ordinary carpenter into God’s passionate messenger?

It does not seem probable his god/man status could be kept a secret for 30 years through all the adventures of childhood, the challenges of being a pre-teen, growing up as a teenager, and then becoming a recognized member of the community. Are we to believe he was oblivious to the lure of hormone driven sex or the temptation to use his powers in a fit of human frustration? Or is it more logical Jesus lived the life of a mortal boy, grew up to be a man, matured intellectually, gained in wisdom, and then developed a very close relationship with God?

We do not acquire the passion of personal commitment as the result of a sterile intellectual exercise. A genuine compassion for others is seldom the result of an indifferent analysis of human circumstances. We become passionate about our mission and compassionate in our understanding of human character by experiencing both in our one-on-one encounters with family, friends, and community. If we are the sum of all our experiences, then our attitudes and energies will be shaped by our participation in this thing we call human life.

God had a simple objective. He wanted to create a man who would carry His message to humanity. By guiding and watching over Jesus throughout his childhood and adult life, God brought forth a man of vision and integrity.  We can believe Jesus was both passionate about his mission and compassionate toward others because he led a very human life with all its joys, sorrows, triumphs, and tragedies. His ministry was that of a man who had experienced the breadth of human life. He had an absolute empathy for the people of Judea. He became the man who would carry God’s message to humanity.

The Connection

We will never know if God caused Mary to become pregnant or if Jesus was simply a man who developed an extraordinary relationship with God. Whether by birth or adoption, we do know God regarded Jesus as his son. God made Jesus his messenger to humanity, and gave him unusual powers. Jesus became an independent, charismatic, passionate and very intelligent man who was comfortable in almost any gathering. His disciples obviously viewed him as a leader. His character was not that of a recluse. He had a strong and commanding persona. His demeanor, teaching, and beliefs obviously placed him next to God.

In Chapter 2, Consciousness and Connection, we examined how it is possible to make a spiritual connection with God. Jesus the man made this connection when he conversed with the Holy Father. The depth of the connection surpasses anything most humans ever hope to achieve.

Whether one chooses to believe the traditional story of a virgin birth, or feels more comfortable with the adoption thesis, we know there is only one God, a remarkable divine person, who reveals himself in many ways, including as father, son and Holy Spirit. When Jesus ascended to the Kingdom of God for the last time, he became one with the Holy Spirit in both form and intellect. Thereafter, Jesus was God and God was Jesus. But he is not lost to us. As many have experienced, one can summon the presence of Jesus in human form through earnest prayer. The Holy Spirit is able to reveal himself as Jesus, a prophet, a deceased friend or relative, a respected person, and even as a spiritual force whose presence we are able to sense but not see. We need only to seek a spiritual union with the divine. God will respond with wisdom, love and compassion.