On Creeds & Christ

Why Are We Still Battling the Arian Heresy?

The Art of Dialectic

The Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. was precipitated by bitter controversy within the Christian community spawned by two priests in Alexandria. Arius contended that Christ was created by the Father against Athanasius who preached that Jesus was with the Father from the beginning. Emperor Constantine who evidenced a deep respect for the church convened the first ecumenical council to restore peace to the church. Constantine himself was not a Christian, but his devotion to those of the church was clear. “In the closing hours of the conference, Constantine, moved by the heroism of those who had suffered for Christ under his pagan predecessors, is said to have caressed their wounds and kissed their empty eye sockets.” (Christian History Institute, Issue #88).

I see no reason to continue to debate the conclusions of the council as nearly three hundred of the 312 bishops attending agreed outright and all but three agreed under threat. What concerns me is the atmosphere in which the debate erupted and became contentious. There was rioting between rival Christian factions and the violent altercations spilled into the council itself. Both sides believed fervently in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Both sides felt firmly justified by the written Word. The problem stems from an essential imbalance in the Greco-Roman approach. Teaching and creedal affirmations were highly elevated at the expense of the other four aspects of Christian ministry. Indeed Athanasius was elevated to Bishop of Alexandria shortly following his triumph over Arius, (www.essene.com, note: this site has a lot of information but is Nazarene, i.e. Arian; the particular work sited has been withdrawn). Anyone who has spent time in the academic world is familiar with this imbalance and this especially includes seminaries. Although modern schools attempt to keep disagreements dignified, success is not always achieved. Most schools of higher learning are rife with political intrigue. Indeed many well accepted theories reign because of political weight, not because of intellectual probity. I am reminded of a recent report on a leading researcher whose research had closed the book on several medical studies and had gone unchallenged for decades, but was based on findings which were falsified. His actual findings proved him wrong.

fighting error with inadequate tools

I am not anti-intellectual. My point is that intellectual pursuit in spiritual matters, without equal fervor in the pursuit of God through prayer, humility, submission and self-denial yields unrighteous fruit. The tree that started the mess that is human history is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we strive to know what is right and good without becoming fully broken disciples, we yield the fruit of contention and controversy. Jesus faced this, the apostles faced this and the bishops at Nicea were facing this.

The creedalists then argue that it is their job to set the record strait. Because of false teachers, Hilary, ardent opponent of Arianism argues, "We must strain the poor resources of out language to express thoughts too great  for words. The error of others compels us to err in daring to embody in human terms truths which ought to be hidden in the silence veneration of the heart. (Hilary of Poitiers. On the Trinity 2.1 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, 9 pp.52-53. Cited in Hall, 2002, pp.31-32). But my statement above still stands. If those defending tradition, the Bible, orthodoxy, etc. are not fully yoked to Jesus Christ such that they are broken in spirit, they become advocates of a “truth” that they do not understand and therefore have no business defending. They create a pharisaical orthodoxy white and gleaming on the outside, but full of dead men's bones.

“When many began to gather and observe these disputations with interest, a simple man of unsophisticated understanding stood out from the crowd and rebuked the contestants, telling them that Christ did not teach the art of dialectic but simplicity of mind, which should be preserved by faith and good works.” (Dean Dudley. History of the First Council of Nicea. NY: Peter Eckler Publishing Co., 1925. P.60. Cited on the above Nazarene website). Christian maturity requires a balance. Excessive reliance on faith, works or intellect can all become soulish. A mature Christian must develop a relationship with God by putting to death any reliance on the soul. They are constantly in prayer, leaning forward to hear the voice of God, and leaning away from the cares of this world. So Nicea established a doctrine, a standard of “right” doctrine, which was unfortunately necessary, but Nicea did not expose the dark core of the controversy. So many of us are trying to be the most important spokesman for Christ. So few of us are truly serving Christ.


Golden Calves & Golden Moments

Exodus 32:1   ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us’
Exodus 32:4-5   He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.’
Exodus 20:20   Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’

The two quotes above have to do with the golden calf that Aaron makes while Moses is on the mountain of God. In verse one and verse four the word “god” or “gods” depending upon your translation is “Elohim” the familiar Hebrew word denoting God. This could refer to other gods. But if we look at verse five, Aaron says “we shall feast to the ‘LORD’”. The LORD in all caps you should recognize as the standard replacement for the Hebrew word “Jehovah”; i.e. the golden calf which so infuriates God that He is ready to annihilate Israel (Exodus 32:9-10) is in fact a crude attempt to represent God.

The people, move by the power of presumption, have chosen to represent God according to their own imaginations. The people are fully aware that they are not to create idols, not even of that which is in heaven (Exodus 20:4). The offense created by vain imagination immediately dulls their hearts to the living God.

Look at Exodus 20:20, this 20:20 passage immediately follows a passage in which God Himself speaks the ten commandments and the people draw back in fear. Moses makes a very strange statement, “Do not fear God... that the fear of God may be in you”. The first instance of fear is masculine, the second feminine. I don't know if that is significant. John Gill's Exposition of the Bible seems to make the best sense of it: Fear not, i.e. “be not afraid of God with a slavish fear” in order that His fear will be in you, i.e. “not a slavish fear of death... but a reverence of the divine Majesty, an awe of his greatness and glory, a serious regard to his commands, delivered in so grand a manner, and a carefulness to offend him by disobeying them”. While Moses is drawn to God, the people step back out of fear. David Wilkerson in a sermon entitled “The Fire of God” makes it clear, if you do not fear God enough to approach the fire, you will retreat and become religious. This is what the children of Israel have done. Rather than stand in awe at the foot of the mountain, they step away and recreate God in a familiar form remembered from their Hittite forbears. They believe that they are worshipping God, but by backing away from the mountain burning with His presence they disassociating themselves with the living presence of God.

Balaam's Error

Balaam symbolizes the spirit of compromise with the world around. Balaam compromises based on corrupt desire… he is seeking wealth, comfort, and social status. Dario Parish (Continental Missionary Crusade) makes the strong point that Balaam has a running conversation with God, that he had a proven ability to extend blessings and curses, and therefore Balaam has all the giftings to make one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, Balaam's interest in power, prestige and wealth proved too much for him. His legacy is that he helped seduce Israel into the worship of Molech.

Walk Softly & Ask for the Big Stick

I believe that the same thing tends to happen when we are presented a difficult theological challenge. Our first inclination, mine as well, is to grab all the resources readily at hand and tackle it using the intellect and learning that God has given. Occasionally we realize that the answer we need requires fresh manna. Only then do we assemble our resources, place them before God and pray.

God wants us to quit launching out into our own ‘godly’ efforts and seek His voice up front. This is not a call to quit doing anything or to sit and wait. It is a call keep doing what seems most in keeping with God's desires, while fervently seeking God's face, God's wisdom, God's leading. Theologically this means to walk softly and ask for the big stick.

Walking softly means to put forward your best understanding of scripture, as clearly and concisely as possible, but using care not to be abusive or demeaning to other theological positions. This doesn't mean to accept all theology as just another way to God, as some have reasoned. This means to treat the opposite viewpoint with respect, take the time to understand it, respond with calm reasoning, look for cause of contention. When Jacob Arminius attempted to reform Calvinism, he took a strong stance against the predestinarian views of his colleges. Following his death, his followers formalized his thoughts in the Five Articles of the Remonstrants. The response of the Calvinists was to meet at the Synod of Dort, who countered with the Five Points of Calvinism. Because of the antagonistic nature of the remonstrants and the response, a hardening of theological lines appeared. I do not think that either side got it all right, despite being committed Christians. Neither side has been accused of heresy, and yet the bitter dispute created new animosity within the Protestant community.

Most heartening is to see George Whitefield, a Calvinist, collaborating with and entrusting many new converts to John and Charles Wesley, committed Arminians. Unfortunately the quarrels between Arminians and Calvinist caused many of those Christians won by Whitfield to turn against him under the teaching of the Wesleys. Whitfield had traveled to the American colonies with great success. “When he returned, in early 1741, he found that ‘many of my spiritual children… will neither hear, see, nor give me the least assistance: Yes, some of them send threatening letters that God will speedily destroy me.’ ” (“Wesley Vs. Whitefield”, J.D. Walsh, ChristianHistory.net, 1993, Issue 38). It is sad to see a believer of such stature scorned by those who should respect him more than any, and all over a doctrinal dispute which most contemporary believers don't understand. I suspect that most Christians today would have a difficult time telling you whether they were Arminian or Reformed, and even fewer could say why.

Ask for the big stick, means seek the Lord. Theology that is based all on book learning cannot breath the life of the Spirit. Moreover it easily derailed into unimportant argumentation, vain doctrinal pomp and cultural bias. Face to face with God is where golden moments happen.

*All Bible quotes are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated.
Wm.W.Wells – March 28, 2005

Copyright © 2005 Wm.W.Wells. May be freely copied without alteration.