Whether the answer to these three words is yes or no is hugely important. If we say yes, our answer is orthodox (widely held by the church universal to be true). If we say no, then the flow of church history judges us as heretical (that is, opposed to Christian teaching).
Recently Ligonier Ministries, a Reformed Christian organization, partnered with LifeWay Research to conduct a survey of what Americans believe, theologically.
The survey asked 3000 people a series of questions that included this one about whether Jesus is God. Of the 3000 people, 581, or 32%, were identified as evangelicals by a standard definition.
Here’s how the question referenced above was presented in the survey: “Either Jesus is God or Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. Which is it?”
Seventy–eight percent of the evangelicals chose the latter of the two answers.
Christianity Today then asked 10 evangelical scholars to comment on the responses of these 581. All four were surprised, because 78% of evangelicals had supported what has been widely held for two thousand years of church history as an heretical view.
The struggle between the options can be traced as far back as the third and fourth centuries A.D., having been settled with the answer “Jesus is God” from that time to the present, 1700 years later.
In 325 A.D. the Emperor Constantine called church leaders to gather at Nicaea in what is today the country of Turkey. He was concerned that division on this question between different groups of Christians would be harmful to the Empire. It was an enormous gathering. Some say there were as many as 600 bishops in attendance.
For many years after the Council of Nicaea, with the divinity of Jesus upheld, the heresy that he was a created being continued to surface here and there. It is called Arianism after Arius, a scholar from Alexandria, Egypt. His was a strong voice in the debate. He argued that Jesus was like God but not really God; Jesus was exceedingly great but nevertheless a created being. His major opponent in the struggle was Athanasius, also from Alexandria. He argued that Jesus was in every respect God.
Arius lost at Nicaea but the heresy of Arianism went on broadly debated and the question was not fully resolved until a further church council was called to meet in Constantinople in 381 A.D.
At that council the issue was again resolved and the answer recognized as proceeding from Holy Scripture and the witness of the Apostles and other early church leaders. The affirmation that Jesus is God is also codified in statements of faith such as the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. All statements attempt to say what orthodox believers must hold to be true about Jesus, Son of God, our Lord and only Savior.
It is surprising that the question was not more quickly dealt with back then by referring to such passages as the introductory paragraph to John’s Gospel account. John says of Jesus, the Word:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
In John’s introduction he tells us that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God, that he existed before creation, that he is one with God and at the same time in his person distinct from God as a member of the Trinity. John also tells us that Jesus is the very agent of creation, and that he is the light that shines in the darkness of our fallen world for all humankind to see.
Yes! Jesus is God! And Jesus is Lord!
Photo credit: (Alberto G. via flickr.com)