Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard the phrase “essential workers” quite a bit. As we assessed the landscape, the fact we were dealing with a respiratory virus led authorities to keep human contact to a minimum. Who are the “essential personnel” from: defense, medical, agriculture, waste management and grocery stores who keep the infrastructure of our shared life going? We wanted only the people with emergencies going to the hospital. With the surge of COVID-19 patients, the availability of staff and resources was under real threat. Imagine a world where you’re in a car accident and you can’t go to the nearest hospital because there are no available beds, or enough doctors and nurses to support them.
Of course, as the pandemic went on, we had time to re-assess and strategize the placement of our resources so we could treat the virus alongside the regular predictable health needs. We moved out of crisis mode.
In the first centuries of the church, Christians were developing the basics of their faith in something called “the rule of faith” or “the symbol of faith”. These were early creeds written by the likes of Irenaeus in the east (177 AD) and Tertullian in the west (200 AD). These two Christian leaders never met, that we know of. They lived in different parts of the world, and yet they came up with strikingly similar results. Around this time, there developed teachings that were not similar. They were spreading through word of mouth. As the church came up against these other teachings they set about to write down and communicate their “essential beliefs”. If they did not, there was a real risk that Christianity could look very different.
You may have heard by now, the phrase…
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”
The church set about to address the essentials of faith, the things we needed to be unified on: 1) God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Trinity), 2) The Incarnation of Jesus (Jesus is God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, and put on flesh for us and for our salvation) and 3) Salvation is by Grace alone. These are the “essentials” doing all the heavy lifting. They inform all the other parts of our faith. If we get these wrong, other parts of the faith can quickly fall apart like a house of cards.
The church, led by the Holy Spirit, affirmed, and codified what they agreed on as “essential” in a series of ecumenical council meetings. Seven are recognized by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and most protestant branches of the Christian church, the Body of Christ.
For our discussion, we will look at the first four Ecumenical councils and the synod of Orange. As protestants, we have a little different relationship to the councils than do Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics. With our ecumenical brothers and sisters, we affirm that no new doctrines were created at these councils, only existing truth from scripture was elucidated.
Here is a brief snapshot of what they are, what they looked at and why it matters:
I. First Council of Nicaea 325 A.D.
The relationship between God and Jesus
Why is it important to you that Jesus and God be of the same substance?
II. First Council of Constantinople 381 A.D.
Why is it important to you that God remain mysterious,
rather than rationally understandable?
III. Council of Ephesus 431 A.D.
The “Hypostatic Union” and the “Four Fences”
Why is it important that Jesus be Fully human and fully divine?
IV. Council of Chalcedon 451 A.D.
Grace and Works
What for you is the relationship between grace and good works?
V. Second Council of Constantinople 553 A.D.
Nestorianism and Monophysitism
How many natures does Jesus have as true God and true Man?
VI. Third Council of Constantinople 680 A.D
How many wills does Jesus have as true God and true Man?
VII. Second Council of Nicaea 787 A.D.
What are the rules concerning religious images within the life of the
…and the Synod of Orange
Free Will and Sin nature
Why is it important for you to believe that humans have free will?
At the heart of what is considered “essential” is what we understand from scripture about God. What can we say about one God known as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit?
God appears to be THE essential worker.