“The Advent of Controversy”
Why is Christmas such a big deal? Let’s put it this way—why do groups like the ACLU, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State invest time, money, and energy to fight any vestige of religious meaning to the holiday?
I remember what Christian commentator Janice Crouse, formerly with Concerned Women for America, told our listeners when I interviewed her for a TV special hosted by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. The special was “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?,” based on our book.
Crouse said, “When you see the atheist attack manger scenes, you might think, ‘This is an innocuous kind of thing. What do they have against a manger scene for crying out loud?’ It gives you some idea of how powerful Jesus Christ is. If He were not powerful, what would they care?”
For the last generation or so, there has been a fascination with UFOs and with speculations of life out there on some other planet. But what if ours is what J. B. Phillips once called “the visited planet”? That is, what if at one time God Himself visited our planet—beginning as a baby?
That’s precisely what the controversy over Christmas is all about. We believe, as Paul said to the Galatians, in the fullness of time, God sent His one and only Son. He came to die for our offenses against a holy God. He died so we don’t have to. Those who knowingly reject Him will be punished for their own sins. Their pride blinds them to their need for the Savior who came.
This baby in the manger was fully God and yet fully human. As the Nicene Creed (325 AD) declares about Jesus: that He is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, One in being with the Father…”
For a father to be a father, he has to have a child. Christians believe God the Father—the eternal Father—has always been the Father of Jesus Christ—the eternal Son. And the Spirit is divine. If Christ were not divine, how could He be our Savior? But how so also if He were not human?
Jesus is God? A few years ago, millions of Americans read the novel by Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code. The novel made some rather novel claims about who Jesus was. That book tries to make the claim that Christ’s divinity was not held by the early church until decreed by the Council of Nicea because of the Roman emperor Constantine—and at that, it was a close vote.
Here are some quotes from the book: “‘My dear,’ Teabing declared, ‘until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.'”
The character goes on to say: “Jesus’s establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea….A relatively close vote at that.”
And he adds: “Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable.”
There are so many historical errors here that it’s amazing. Let me adjust one or two. First of all, that vote wasn’t close at all. The vote was 318 to 2. Secondly, Christians were worshiping Jesus as God from the very beginning. The New Testament, completed before 100 AD, is full of instances that reveal the divinity of Christ.
One of them comes from the opening of John’s Gospel, which declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It says He was the Co-Creator.
From secular history, we can also see Jesus was worshiped as divine. Here’s just one example. Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator in an area in what is now Turkey, wrote to the Emperor Trajan around the year 115 and explained how he had gotten some information about the Christians by torturing a couple of deaconesses.
Pliny found out that the Christians worshiped on the first day of the week (Sunday), that they made a commitment to obey the Ten Commandments, and that they sang hymns and worshiped Christ as God. So it’s totally inaccurate to say this was just created by the Nicene Council.
The third point is in reference to Constantine. He gets a bad rap these days—even from Christians. Let me just say that when he became a Christian, it was a God-send to the Christian Church. After centuries of persecution, he gave the Christians freedom. It was a later emperor (Theodosius) who declared the empire “Christian,” while it still contained many pagans.
If Jesus were divine, is it hard to believe He could turn water into wine, walk on water, and rise from the dead? We’re still talking about these things 2000 years later.
Former skeptic and Oxford/Cambridge professor C. S. Lewis said: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this….In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into TIME and space, down into humanity…down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.”
So why the opposition to Jesus, at Christmastime or otherwise? Jesus summed it up in one sentence: “Light has come into the world, but men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil.”