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Episode 23 - Health-Giving Words


Date: November 14, 2018
Run Time: 13:46
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Prof. Justin Holcomb
From the Series: The Trip Wire of Tradition

Program Notes

Heresy is poison. If something is heresy, it annihilates hope because it contradicts the Good News. Join us as Dr. Justin Holcomb shares with us his insights on:

  • The Nicene Creed as an antidote to heresy
  • Orthodox theology and the cost to Athanasius
  • The Creed of creeds
  • How confessions color in the lines of belief

This week we recommend: Thirdmill’s series on The Apostles' Creed and Dr. Justin Holcomb's books, Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics, published by Zondervan.

This month, we have the pleasure of conversing with Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida and the author of two volumes in the Know Series published by Zondervan — Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, speak regularly to offer hope and healing to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and have co-authored Rid of My Disgrace and Is it My Fault? as well as the children's book, God Made All of Me. For more information about Dr. Holcomb, visit justinholcomb.com.

Related Materials

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 23: Health-Giving Words
Guest: Dr. Justin Holcomb

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.


Welcome back everyone. Justin, last time you helped us understand the importance of the word “heresy” and that it’s a word we shouldn’t throw around, because heresy causes real harm. We should take care to use it only when the real thing shows up. This time, however, we want to focus less on the disease and more on the remedy, or the antidote. In fact, Paul even uses this language in 2 Timothy 1. He talks about “sound doctrine” — it’s actually the word we get hygiene from — of healthy words, right? Or health-giving words. I think that’s a beautiful picture of, really, the function of sound doctrine, that it’s both an antidote and it’s nourishment. It’s what we need. Now, some of our listeners will have recited the Nicene Creed in their corporate worship experience, but the Nicene Creed is responding to something. Give us a brief account of why the Creed is an antidote or a healthy teaching. What was it combatting?

Justin: I love the fact that you’re… because in the last conversation we did talk about minimizing how the “heresy” word is used. But it’s really helpful that you’re bringing this up because heresy is danger and poison. It counters the good news that is life giving, that’s our only hope. So it actually annihilates hope. So some of these bad teachings that aren’t heretical, they don’t annihilate hope. They’re just wrong. But something that’s heresy is actually saying God’s not who God said he was, Jesus isn’t who the Bible says he is, and Jesus didn’t accomplish what he said he accomplished. You are pulling out the rug of hope and forgiveness of sins if you mess with orthodoxy. So that’s why heresy is so important, and the Creed.
So, the antidote, the Nicene Creed, the gift of the Nicene… it’s technically called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed because it’s actually from the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople because there are a few things added toward the end that’s actually in the final form that we say. So, just to be super technical, the Creed is actually the gift of both of those councils. So what you have is usually, in the history of the church, there is a heretic that emerges and teaches a false teaching. Arius is the story. Arius is a minister who…

He’s the bad guy.

Justin: He’s saying Jesus is really, really important, but he’s not the same essence of God; he’s not the same “stuff” of God. He’s like the essence. And there’s a specific word, and just for all the people who know the word, the difference between homoousios — same substance — and homoiousios — similar or like substance. And he was saying Jesus is not God; there was a time when Jesus was not. Jesus was the first thing created, and through him everything else was created. This is exactly what Jehovah's Witnesses actually teach about Jesus — a very high view of Jesus. Arius had a high, high view of Jesus, just a heretical high view of Jesus. So what’s the big deal? I mean, come on. I know people who’d say they’re Christians who would basically say the same thing, not knowing the significance of it. Well, if Jesus isn’t God… you need Jesus to be fully God and fully man. And this is what Anselm talked about in Why the God-Man? This is what Athanasius… Athanasius was the pastor, theologian, scholar who responded to Arius. If Jesus isn’t God, then we’re basically left in our sins. We need a human to represent humanity before God because humans have sinned. So we actually need a representative who can go before God's holiness and fix the problem of our sin and our rebellion. But we also need Jesus to be powerful like God to conquer our enemy of Satan, sin, hell, death and the grave. So, it’s a huge thing to say salvation — it sounds dramatic, and I mean to be as dramatic as this — salvation depends on Jesus being fully God and fully man. That’s what was at stake.

We need a God-man don’t we, to be a mediator?

Justin: To mediate between God and man because left to our own we cannot mediate. And so that’s why so much of the Nicene Creed, you’ll notice, is about Jesus, our only Lord, who, “very God of very God,” “Light of Light,” and “begotten, not made.” So he was begotten but not made. All of that is responding to Arius’ heresy, or Arianism is the word for it. And that’s why you have the Council — Nicea and Constantinople said, yeah Arius’ teaching is heretical. And Athanasius was writing about orthodox theology and saying why this is so important. They agreed, and then they wrote a creed to summarize what the council had said, and we’ve been repeating it ever since.


But this was really costly for Athanasius because even though they adopted his view, politically it seems that Constantine, he restored Arius, right?

Justin: He sure did.

So tell us a little bit about the cost to Athanasius.

Justin: Athanasius got exiled basically. Arius was famous. I mean, the problem with heretics is they ask really good questions. The question of, “Is Jesus really fully God? How is he fully God because he was born?”

As a human being, right.

Justin: That’s not a stupid question. It’s, again, the choice to dig in your heels against what Scripture is saying. Great questions, but it’s when you have the sustained rebellion against the teaching of the church and Scriptures. So what happened was Arius was famous because a lot of people thought Arius is finally making sense of what I’m reading in the Bible. People loved him. He ends up getting restored, and Athanasius ends up being exiled because he didn’t have the political blessings, and some people weren’t thrilled with him. So it was very costly for Athanasius.

So the view that orthodoxy is just sort of political power, the exercise of political power in the church, is really not accurate.

Justin: Yeah, that’s a simplistic misunderstanding. And I’ve heard it a few times, “Oh yes, the people in power, of course they’re going to win.”

They’re making orthodoxy.

Justin: Yeah, they’re developing, they’re creating orthodoxy when frequently… And this is a story where it’s actually not the case. The person who was on the side of truth was not on the side of power eventually.


But the Nicene Creed isn’t the oldest creed?

Justin: No it’s not.

Phillip Schaff, he’s a famous church historian, he identifies another as “the Creed of creeds,” but which one? What does its name mean, and how is its original purpose more constructive than combative, say?

Justin: So it’s the Apostles’ Creed. And there was a little legend that each one of the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed came from an apostle. That’s a legend. That did not happen. This is a post-apostolic document. But the reason it’s called the Apostles' Creed is because it summarizes the clear teaching of the apostles. The Apostles' Creed historically has usually been used for preparing people for baptism because it summarizes the character and nature of God, Jesus and the gospel story, and that Jesus is going to do something. He’s done something — the forgiveness of sins — and he’s coming back to judge the world. It really is a nutshell encapsulation of the gospel story.

It seems to me if like if you’re living in the third century and not a lot of people read during that time, and you’ve got the whole Bible, it’s like, what do you believe? You need a short summary, don’t you, to sort of confess your faith?

Justin: Well, the three things you get from the Apostles' Creed: Who is God and what is God like? What in the world is going on with Jesus being so important with all these Christians? Who is he and what did he do? And what’s happening in the future? What’s our hope? That he’s going to come back for the resurrection and to judge the living and the dead. So you get the biggest… I really like your description because the Nicene Creed is drawing a boundary and saying beyond this boundary is heresy. If you’re inside of this, you’re a Christian. But the Nicene Creed has its eye over the boundary. It’s looking at the people over there going, “Don’t believe that; believe this.” The Apostles' Creed doesn’t even… the purpose of it isn’t to even look beyond the boundary. It is giving a boundary but it’s saying, “Hey, if you believe this, then welcome. You’re in the family. This is what Christians believe. You should believe this.” So it’s more offering it as a gift and a celebration of the hope that they have. And so the energy is focused toward the goodness of what’s there, not necessarily the boundary beyond it.


Right, right. Now, last time you made a really helpful distinction, Justin, between heresy and heterodox teachings. I think in your book on the creeds and the councils, you also make a very helpful distinction between the creeds and confessions. Some of our listeners are familiar with the 39 articles in the Episcopal Church, or the Westminster Confession of Faith that Presbyterian and Reformed people, many are familiar with that.

Justin: London Baptist Confession.

The London Baptist Confession. So help us out here. What’s the difference between a creed and a confession and what is their purpose?

Justin: Well, the original title of that book was going to be Know the Creeds, Councils, Confessions and Catechisms.

That sounds like a long book.

Justin: But they wisely didn’t let me get my way. Now broadly, creeds are the larger scope. That’s the circle around… that’s defining Christianity and non-Christianity. If you say and believe the Nicene, Apostles’ Creed, Chalcedonian Creed (and don’t cross your fingers; you don’t monkey with it; you actually believe what’s there), that’s Christian faith. Beyond it is non-Christian faith. Confessions color in the lines within that.

So get into some particulars of what different denominational views are and spelling those out in greater detail. Like a Presbyterian form of government even. Or things like that.

Justin: Absolutely. Also on mode of sacraments — who is baptized? Now, of course you have Christians that believe the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed who are going to say, “You know what, I think only believers should be baptized.” Well, the Westminster Confession in the 39th article says infants can be baptized. Well, who gets baptized? That’s an important thing. I mean it’s so important that I had my children baptized, frankly. I really believe this is important. Now, is that an essential? Absolutely not. That’s a distinctive inside… it’s we’re on the team, and we wear different colored uniforms on the team. That’s the Baptist team, that’s the Lutheran team, that’s the Presbyterian team, the Anglican team, the charismatic team.

But we can all confess the Nicene Creed.

Justin: All confess Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds together. And the Chalcedonian Creed. Those are the three big ones for me. That’s what brings our… that’s a summary of our unity and then we can joyfully… And that’s what’s really fun is when you can actually get Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist and other denominations together, what you end up finding is there’s a lot more we actually agree on than disagree on.

Thank you, Justin. I think many of our listeners have been surprised by the practicality of creeds both as antidotes to false teaching, but also as really helpful, healthy summaries of words of life from Scripture.

Now, next time we’re going to be focusing on that part of the year that perhaps we’re most aware of tradition — the Christmas season. And, Justin, I think we’re going to talk a little bit about how traditions of Christmas can be used to focus more clearly on the coming of Christ, both his first arrival and his expected return. So come and join us next time on 4 the World.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God’s Word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin, and our director of communications is Darlene Perry. Production assistance is provided by David Zoeller and John Cook, and I’m your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Our guest for this series is Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Learn more about Dr. Holcomb at justinholcomb.com where you can access his books, including Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics from the Know series published by Zondervan. And join us next week as we continue our conversations 4 the World.