John Calvin, arguably the greatest post-biblical theologian who’s ever lived, died on this date in 1564, and was buried, according to his wishes, in a plain coffin in an unmarked grave. He didn’t want to have a “Calvin cult” spring up around his personality or teachings. How ironic that Calivinism (or even the accusation of it) has become such a divisive issue for the church today.
In 325, the Council of Nicea convened on this date. At issue was the nature of Jesus. Was He “of similar substance” to God the Father, or was He “of the same substance?”
Why does that matter? J. Stephen Lang, in The Christian History Devotional, seems to be saying it doesn’t. That it was a nitpicky argument over a vowel (“similar substance” to the Father is the Greek word homoiousios; “same substance” is homoousios):
This sounds to us like useless nitpicking. All Christians agreed that Christ was the divine Son of God and the Savior of man. Why was it important to determine if he was “like” or “same as” God? Had it only been a theological matter, Constantine could have ignored it. But there were actually fights breaking out between the supporters and opponents of Arius’s view. —Lang, Christian History Devotional, May 20 entry
Lang leads off his entry for today with the admonition from 2 Timothy 2:23: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” The implication is that this argument over the nature of Jesus fits the category of foolish, ignorant controversy. But this verse applies to issues like the color of the carpet, or whether the youth should go to Six Flags or Cedarpoint this year. The Council of Nicea had slightly weightier matters on its agenda. The Gospel Coalition does a good job getting to the essence (sorry!) of the issue with this infographic:
Does it matter? Absolutely it matters. On this day in Christian history, the lesson for me isn’t that we should “pick our battles,” but that there are matters of faith and doctrine that are worth zealous defense. I’m thankful for how God shaped Christian history through councils, creeds, confessions, and catechism!
On this date in 1963, AW Tozer died. Tozer, born in 1897, was a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a man with no formal theological training, yet one of the most-read pastors of the past century. Tozer was a man of simple lifestyle, and though he gained fame from his writings, he and his wife never even owned a car, doing their traveling by bus or train.
Tozer was known for his preaching as well as his books. He counseled preachers to remember in their sermons that they were speaking on behalf of God. A sermon is not designed to show off the preacher’s learning, wit, or eloquence but to change hearts. This influential but modest man has a simple tombstone: “A. W. Tozer—A Man of God.”
Excerpt from The Chrisian History Devotional by J Stephen Lang
How a Catholic priest demonstrated Christlike ministry.
40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’
Matthew 25: 40
Okay, aside from being Star Wars Day (If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand), today is a pretty cool day in Christian history as well. This was my gem from J. Stephen Lang’s Christian History Devotional for the day.
On this day in 1873, a Catholic priest named Father Damien won a free trip to Hawaii! That’s not as glamorous (nor as trivial) as it sounds. At that time, the island of Molokai, Hawaii, looked like the setting of a horror movie. It was home to a large leper colony. The church had asked for volunteers to minister to the lepers, knowing that the assignment would likely be a death sentence for anyone that volunteered. But the 33 year old Damien, a handsome, healthy Belgian, took the job. When he arrived on the island, he found the conditions to be literally inhuman. Not only was the disease rampant, but the lepers seemed to have forgotten they were human beings. Rape was pervasive, and stronger lepers were throwing the weaker ones out of their shelters and taking them over. In time, Damien helped them build new huts, a cemetery, schools and farms. Most importantly, he led many of them to Christ.
Inevitably, the priest contracted leprosy himself. But rather than heading back to the
mainland for treatment, he stepped up his activity, wanting to do as much as possible before he died in 1889. 120 years later, he was made a saint by the Catholic church.
The comparisons to Jesus don’t stop with the fact that Damien was 33 years old when he came to Molokai. Jesus stepped into our world and showed us a better way. He took our disease of sin upon Himself, and it killed Him. I am so challenged by Damien’s example of incarnational ministry.
This year, I’m using J. Stephen Lang’s The Christian History Devotional during my daily quiet time. Every so often, I’ll pass on some thoughts here.
On this date, in 373, Athanasius, one of the most influential shapers of Christianity outside the NT writers, died. We can thank Athanasius for the fact that we have 27 books in the New Testament; and that the Nicene Creed affirms Christ is the “same substance” as God. One of his most famous quotes, from On the Incarnation:
God became what we are that he might make us what he is.
All great reasons to remember him, even if he looks a lot like Saruman from “Lord of the Rings.”