Saturday, January 26, 2013

On Predestination

Predestination is a perennial favorite among protestant theologians who, since Calvin and Arminius, have failed to definitively resolve the debate. We have a few words to say on the subject affirming predestination, but also recasting the explanation in a new light.

It seems that theologians are torn over the extent of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will – the latter an a priori supposition if ever there were one. The idea is to maintain man’s accountability, invest his response towards God with genuineness, and to preserve God’s sinlessness.
Scripture commands man to do certain things which without free will the commands are superfluous. How can a man without free will be accountable for his actions or subject to the commands in the first place? And if man is a marionette, what is the meaning of anything he does?
If man does not have free will, then how can his love or hatred for God be considered the responsible act of a consenting adult?
And finally, if God is absolutely sovereign, then how can he avoid being the author of sin, to say nothing about the fount of evil>
Tangled in the foregoing discussion is the undefined notion of free will. I consider it the unconditioned freedom to make any decision at any time without regard to any other actor or incident. That is the only way to properly consider free will for that is the sense in which God’ free will operates.
As such, man does not have free will. It is an illusion. God must direct man in specific ways to accomplish his plans; otherwise man could thwart the will of God. Of course there are those who argue that man can do just that, but God clearly asserts that he controls all events.
Regarding God’s authorship of sin, we can deny that, but he states emphatically that he is the source of evil. We must be careful not to equate evil with sin per se, but God declares that he sends evil to man.
If God sends evil, then how can he be a good God who loves mankind? At this point we must exercise a bit of scholasticism to rescue the apparent contradiction. If God sends evil, and he is a good God, then his acts must be interpreted as instructive. And this is precisely what we find him saying in Hebrews when Paul states that God chastens for a season all whom he calls sons.
There is also the matter of foreknowledge. Does God’s foreknowledge stem from his clairvoyance or his sovereignty? Most theologians attribute it to his clairvoyance or cleverness. The universe is so mechanical, they say, that God can compute all actions and reactions to predict what will happen at any given moment.
The middle way theologians – those who deny both predestination and Arminianism – introduce the deus ex machina of eternity from which God can handily manage all time based events with ease in the timelessness of eternity. This is all speculation and fails to address the scriptural statements declaring God’s control of human events to be without recourse to any other power or actor. Deferring his decision making to a vacuum does not excuse God from his sovereign decrees.
If we step back from the trees to see the forest, scripture teaches that God is a story teller. The Old Testament is replete with stories. These stories require an author just as any novel or movie does. It is from this insight that we can make two sweeping statements.
First, God is the author of human history and is telling his story which in turn requires full directorial control. While there are indeed statements, even by Jesus, that had some event occurred, certain men would believe the Gospel – something which was not intended to occur. This leaves open the idea that each event has multiple outcomes, but also forecloses that eventuality because God intervenes to realize a specific one. That requires full control of events and denial of human free if even such an artifact is real.
The other statement follows from the foregoing – namely that life is like a movie – albeit an exceedingly complex one which may have taken God eons to figure out. This movie requires many actors and production staff – some visible; others invisible. Each of us is given a role to play and we may not deviate from the script. Perhaps we have latitude to play the role with certain passion or conviction or lack thereof, but we will say our lines and say them on cue.
But this reduces man to a robot – a cipher. Yes it does, and that is the divine goal. God really doesn’t care what we wish to do at this point in our human career. He is trying to teach us things. One cannot fully know God without feeling. Unless you feel something, you really don’t know it. I shudder to think what this means to the learning of differential equations, but the principle is valid.
Thus God doesn’t need your free will in order for you to know him. Your soul can feel him without such volition. And that is why we are commanded to stand still and wait on the Lord. Our purpose in this life is learn and feel God.
Perhaps in the eschaton God wil grant us our elusive free will but if he doesn’t it does not matter. If God is a good God, then we must entrust our psychological development and state to him. We are in no way diminished by the lack of free will in this present Age. Things may well be different in the Age to come after we have learned the lessons of this age.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Continental Divide at Nicaea

The Council of Nicaea is regarded as a watershed in Christian history, and rightly so, we might add, but it doomed Apostolic Christianity for the profit of Babylonian religion. Christianity would never be the same after the 318 bishops met in 325.

The Council is a hotly contested event – among those knowledgeable about its primary issues – down to the present time, if for no other reason than its wispy evidence leaves much to speculation. The chief reason for its controversial nature is that loss of the high ground by its defenders would threaten to undo the past 18 centuries of ecclesiastical and doctrinal development.
Our view is that the Council transformed Christianity from a practical religion of the heart into an intellectual one of the νους wherein the Babylonian concerns of power and glory predominate. This attitude was present at the council itself where many writers reported the famous slapping of Arius by Nicholas of Myra – the man after whom is patterned St. Nick – Santa Claus. The reports characterize the defendants as turning the other cheek or at least not returning evil for evil.
The aftermath of the Council reinforced the power politics of the assembly particularly as it relates to the vitriolic language of the anathema issued against Arius by Constantine which in part reads:

Now this also I ordain,
that if any one shall be found secreting
any writing composed by Arius,
and shall not forthwith deliver up
and burn it with fire,
his punishment shall be death;
for as soon as he is caught in this
he shall suffer capital punishment
by beheading without delay.

The anathema certainly does not evoke much tolerance to say nothing of the Sermon on the Mount. But this threat against conscience and assertion of mind control was only the beginning. Constantine set out on a murdering spree to rid himself of his enemies - mostly of the political and military variety - after the conclusion of the Council.
To top it all off, the emperor threw the party of the century after the convocation which lasted for months. Now we can assure you that it was not like a Baptist Sunday School ice cream social. It was more like Studio 54 on steroids. It is for reasons such as this that Constantine deferred baptism until the very bitter end of his life.
Now if Constantine were a theologian of conviction, we might expect him to insist upon baptism by a Trinitarian bishop; that was not to be. He called upon Eusebius of Nicomedia, leader of the Arians, to administer baptismal rites, having spent much effort re-establishing Arians prior to his death. It seems then, that the Council was an exercise in showmanship. But it went further than that.
Constantine used considerable calculation to impress and intimidate the bishops. He moved the conference to Nicaea where his opulent palace shocked and awed the attendees. If that were not sufficiently impressive, his armed guards stood ready to arrest dissenters, which indeed it did.
But why was such force necessary in the first place among harmless bishops? Well it appears that the Trinitarian faction was a distinct minority. So much so that even after the delegates signed the confession under threat of anathema, exile, or  death, the majority of bishops recanted their consent and returned to their Arian or semi-Arian ways once on safer ground in their home districts.
Our suspicion is that the controversy surrounding Arius was more of a contrivance of a cabal of ambitious power hungry bishops to introduce false doctrines into the church and to aggrandize themselves. The emperor faced a somewhat serious dilemma. With 90% of the empire officially Christian, and an empire east and west held tenuously together by armed force, the last thing Constantine needed was a religious split to ignite new centripetal tendencies.
Thus the pagan Christians under Hosius of Cordova found a ready collaborator in Constantine who, regardless of the theological merits of the Trinitarians, wanted a statement of unity. So by armed guards, intimidation from imperial power, and threat of life, the Trinitarians managed to shove the Nicene Creed down the throats of the attendees.
Contestants on both sides of the debate regarding Constantine’s influence over the proceedings divide sharply over his true understanding of the theological language and matters up for discussion. It seems to us that a man spending lavishly to erect gigantic statues of himself, murdering enemies, pursuing wars, and maintaining a grip on a once divided empire had little time for mastering theology – especially the arcana related to Arianism.
We suspect that Hosius was the power behind the throne feeding the emperor the necessary verbiage to move the debate to its preordained conclusion. And the conclusion was even more important for the establishment of a civil clerical administration which furthered the power of the state and that of the Pontifex Maximus. The Trinitarians strongly supported hierarchical religious structures, a desire which fed directly into Constantine’s need to pacify the populace.
We should also note that we do not use the term pagan Christian lightly when speaking of Hosius and his cabal. He and his confreres introduced many distinctly pagan ideas into the Church including the celibacy of priests, the Alexandrian trinity cult of Serapis-Isis-Horus, candle burning, and the pagan influenced priestly garments which in time became part and parcel of the Roman Church.
Even though we have favored the Arian cause in this ecclesiastical episode, one should not assume that we are Arians. Indeed the Arians held significant errors as did the Trinitarians. That discussion we save for another post.
In Search of the Loving God, Mark Mason,
Post-Nicene Era: A.D. 325-451; Council of Nicea to the Council of Chalcedon,
The Council of Nicaea (Nicene Council) ,
How The Church Hierarchy Allowed Emperor Constantine To Act As a Pope And The Price That Had To Be Paid,
The Council of Nicaea,
The Unitarian/Trinitarian Wars, Wade Cox