The Church Councils, part 3
Aug 31, 2019
By viewing the soul as spiritual rather than fleshly (carnal), most early church leaders after the first century strayed from the apostle Paul’s understanding of the nature of man. This also interfered with their understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. John 3:6 says,
6 That which is born of flesh [i.e., natural childbirth] is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
All of us (in our flesh) were begotten by mortal, corruptible seed from our earthly fathers. Hence, we are in need of a second begetting from the Spirit, leading ultimately to a second birth through our New Covenant mother at the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus is unique in that He was not begotten naturally. He had no need for a second begetting. The rest of us must follow a two-step process in order to be “born again.”
Christians have always had difficulty understanding how to be children of God. Carnal religion has told them that as long as they are members in good standing in the community (by which they mean their particular denomination), they are “saved” and are genuine children of God. In other words, it is the organization that is saved, and we, as individuals, must join it to participate in that salvation. The problem is that denominational membership does little or nothing to change one’s heart. Neither can the church beget Christ in anyone, for it is fleshly and can only beget more flesh.
The church’s lack of understanding has produced countless soulish believers who remain in the image of Adam in his fallen state. By confusing soul and spirit, men continue in their soulish identity and thus attempt to be saved by flesh, by their own will, and by fleshly good works and religious rituals.
The fourth century church was caught up in the belief that salvation depended upon their adherence to the creeds passed by a majority vote in their Councils. These Councils were anything but spiritual. None of them advocated a spiritual rebirth. They divided believers from unbelievers, orthodox from unorthodox, according to the credal standard of the day. Hence, many people who were not begotten by the Spirit became religious leaders according to their mental and philosophical abilities as well as their ability to raise funds.
The Law of False Images of God
The Ten Commandments were given to the people by the direct voice of God coming from the Mount (Deuteronomy 4:11, 12, 13). However, the people were frightened by His voice and ran from it (Exodus 20:18, 19). They begged for a mediator to hear God and to then tell them what God had said. They were thus unable to be begotten by the word (davar, or logos) and received the rest of the law only through the mouth of Moses.
The pattern was thus set for the church, which received with trembling the Ten Commandments but which soon forgot the rest of the law. Few believers since then could remember even the next two laws that were given when Moses came down from the Mount. Exodus 20:21-23 says,
21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. 22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. 23 You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves’.”
This combines the first two commandments into one, forbidding the people to create gods in their own image (understanding, perception). Our view of God must be by revelation from Him, letting God reveal His own nature and character to us through His word. But when men build gods of silver and gold, they use their own creativity to express their opinions of His nature.
The problem is that one’s carnal soul is incapable of comprehending spiritual things on its own (1 Corinthians 2:14). The soul must receive its information by revelation from the spirit, which in turn is inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, let God speak for Himself. Let not our souls put words in His mouth, for that can only create another carnal religion.
The Law of Altar Building
The second law supplements the first, establishing true worship. Exodus 20:24, 25 says,
24 You shall make an altar of earth [adamah] for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. 25 And if you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield [nuwf, “shake up and down, wave, agitate”] your tool [chereb, “cutting instrument”] on it, you will profane it.
In a New Covenant context, your heart is your altar. The law above tells us that it is the place where God’s name is remembered. God’s name is now in our foreheads (Revelation 22:4), for we are now the temples of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) housing the presence of God. So this law establishes the proper way to build one’s own heart-altar so that one may worship Him and remember His name (i.e., know His nature and character).
An “altar of earth” is an altar of adamah, showing that the altar is adamic, or human. It is an earthly place of worship, a place of spiritual revelation coming into the earth, so that the earth might be a perfect image and double witness reflecting the glory of God.
If the altar is to be made of stones, they must be shaped naturally by God’s action, rather than hewn by men’s tools. The word translated “tool” is chereb, a cutting instrument, such as a sword, knife, or axe. Its root word is charab, “to desolate, lay waste, attack, slay, fight.” To use a carnal tool to shape altar stones into something outwardly beautiful only pollutes the altar. Man cannot shape the altar of his own heart without polluting it, for only the Holy Spirit has the power to change the heart.
So when Solomon built the temple, he instructed the workmen to shape all of the stones offsite. 1 Kings 6:7 says,
7 And the house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer [maqqabah] nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built.
This was an innovative interpretation and application of the law of building altars. One may question his wisdom and interpretation of the law, but in his early days, Solomon was indeed wise in the ways of God (1 Kings 4:29, 30, 31). So we must assume that his instructions were given according to the leading of the Spirit.
By shaping the stones at the quarry, and not on the temple site itself, the temple itself could be built of stone without looking rough. The inside of the sanctuary was cedarwood, overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:22), so that the outer stone walls could not be seen from the inside (1 Kings 6:18, 36). Hence, the stones provided stability without actually forming a part of the temple as viewed from the inside.
The altar of sacrifice in the outer court was of bronze (2 Chronicles 4:1), not stone.
The Altar Built by the Church
In practice, man-made worship attempts to change men’s hearts (and opinions) by the use of force. Those who do not comply with men’s religious viewpoints are then attacked and even killed for not submitting to man-made religion. This was precisely the problem seen in the fourth-century church when the Councils used their carnal tools to build the altars of the church. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to change men’s hearts, they attacked one another with every carnal tool at their disposal in order to force the opposing side to accept their religious views about the nature of God.
This was a clear violation of the law.
The Council of Nicea convened in 325 to settle the dispute between Arius and Alexander. The star of the show, however, was Alexander’s student, Athenasius, who was called “The Hammer of Orthodoxy.” Athenasius was known for his bad temper and forceful methods. In his character he was anything but a saint, but to the church he is revered as a hero, as this Catholic blog says:
True heroes never go up–no matter the odds stacked against them! Among the greatest heroes of the Christian faith is St. Athanasius. As bishop of Alexandria, he led the Catholic Church against the sinister and alluring heresy of Arianism in the 4th century A.D. Known as the “Father of Orthodoxy” for his unifying efforts during frequent death threats and five times being exiled, St. Athanasius is a saint that provides me hope amid stormy seasons of my life. The power of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through this sainted bishop’s timeless and ever relevant writings, especially his On the Incarnation of the Word.
More than anyone in that time, Athenasius truly represents a hammer being used to build the altar of God by which men might worship on the foundation of so-called “truth.” The problem was that he did not understand the law but thought that he could shape the altar-hearts of men by the tools of men. Political attacks, force, bribery, and threats of death and excommunication were accepted tools in those days to shape church doctrines.
The Hammer in those days succeeded in forcing Christians to worship at the polluted altar, and this has affected the church to this day.
Even prior to this, the Jews themselves had their own “hammer” who had set the precedent in the second century before Christ. The Hasmonean priests who first overthrew Syrians and then the Idumeans (Edomites) were known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word maqqabah, “hammer.” (See 1 Kings 6:7, quoted earlier.)
Their conquest of Edom resulted in the forcible conversion of the Edomites to Judaism. Their hearts were shaped by human tools, causing them to accept a religious viewpoint, but they still did not know the God of Israel. These Jewish Idumeans were at the forefront of the Jewish Revolt (67-73 A.D.), which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The revolt ended when Rome took Masada, the last Idumean stronghold, at Passover of 73 A.D.
Divine judgment thus fell upon Judaism. If the people had truly known God, they would have submitted to the Romans, whose rule had been prophesied by Daniel in terms of the “iron” kingdom. But their hearts were rebellious, and they grew impatient with God’s judgment. By not submitting to the ruling in the divine court, given through Jeremiah, there was needless death and destruction, disruption and exile, heartache and oppression.
Unfortunately, the church followed the same lawless path, for they too were ignorant of the law of building altars. Yet we are now at the dawn of a new era, where we have opportunity to build the Kingdom on new foundations. Let us be wise, following the instructions laid down by the law and the Master Builder Himself.
This is part 3 of a series titled "The Church Councils" To view all parts, click the link below.