Archive for March 20th, 2019

Note: This is a guest post since presently I am overseas.  This is by “hemadeusalive.” She can be found blogging here.

Arianism: Heresy that Lead to Clarification of Trinitarian Doctrine

The subject of Church history may seem vast and largely unlearnable to the majority of Christians— and to a certain extent, it is. There will always be lost sources, perspectives never read, and subjects a person will never fully grasp. However, this is not to say that one should neglect this rich subject in its entirety. While it should not replace the Bible in the slightest manner, learning Church history does provide a myriad of benefits to the believer. We gain knowledge about how and why certain doctrines were formed, and we are able to see how God has worked throughout history even after John’s prophecy in the book of Revelation (c. 95 A.D.) One particularly encouraging instance where we can see God’s providence is in the way the heretical doctrine of Arianism was handled by the Early Church.

Arius, born in 250 AD, was a priest in Alexandria. As he grew theologically, he was greatly influenced by another priest, Lucian of Antioch. Lucian of Antioch’s view about the deity of Christ was very similar to that of Justin Martyr’s; they both thought that the Son was unequal to the Father and that He held the position of being ‘second in rank’. Arius expanded on this idea, popularized it, and it became commonly known as the founder of this anti-trinitarian heresy. Arius specifically stated that Jesus was the first being created by God, using verses like John 14:28 and Proverbs 8:22 to support his claim.

At the time of its origin, Arius’s doctrine wasn’t necessarily considered heretical. However, Arianism became more popular in the early fourth century and theologians of the day began to dispute its claims about the deity of Christ and His relation to the Father (most specifically whether He was a created being and was, therefore, subordinate to the Father). One of these theologians was Athanasius of Alexandria, who defended Trinitarianism with great fervor. He routinely asserted that the Father and the Son are of the same essence (homoousios in Ancient Greek). This conflict between Arianism and Trinitarianism respectively spanned across the Roman Empire, which had endorsed Christianity in 312 AD.

In 325 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great called together the First Ecumenical Council to settle this dispute once and for all. There was a great deal of concern about unity within the church, which prompted this decision made by the Emperor. This First Council at Nicaea was formed specifically to clarify doctrine concerning the Trinity, with Arius and Athanasius both presenting their respective viewpoints. Please note that the Trinity was not made up on the spot at this Council—in fact, the Trinity is well displayed throughout Scripture itself. It is especially important to use the word clarification when discussing these matters, since the Trinity has, is, and will be around forevermore. These clarifications do not make up our theology, but rather are orchestrated by God to make it known plainly.

Furthermore, there were two notable results that came out of this ecumenical council: the first orthodox Christian doctrine (Nicene Creed) and the condemnation of Arianism as heresy. The Nicene Creed was the first written statement expressing orthodox belief, which would and continues to aid Christians all over the world. The condemnation of Arianism as heresy started the long and complicated process of its eradication throughout Europe.

What does this mean for the modern day reader? We can see how God’s providence has worked throughout the ages by preserving his Word and this prevailing doctrine. This is an amazing thing that we should not take for granted! As the Bible says, our God is a living God, and we can actually see this when observing Church history.  We can also see evidence of Arianism today within the cult of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They also believe that Jesus was the first created being, often citing Colossians 1. In this instance, we can read about this account and be encouraged to strengthen our apologetics and faith so that we may share the gospel with those who affirm Arian doctrine. While it is indeed the Lord who saves, it is the believer’s duty to obey the call of Matthew 28:18-20.

If you are interested in learning more about Arianism, the Council at Nicaea, or Church history in general, I would recommend Dr. James White’s Church History Sermons. These can be found on SermonAudio and Youtube, and go from the Apostolic Fathers to the ministry of John Calvin. He goes into further detail and is able to explain events in a comprehensive way while giving God the glory. My hope is that you are encouraged to learn more!

Read Full Post »