I hope you read our Christmas article on the GraceLife Blog yesterday. It’s called The True Meaning of Christmas. Here’s how it started – “Christmas is not about gifts and toys and eating lots of food with family and friends.” Christians are in a battle … Continue reading The Battle for Christmas
We are currently looking at how Christian Church leaders dealt with heresies in the 4th century AD. The most challenging of the heresies was Arianism – the claim that there was a time when the Son of God “was not” and was a creation of God the Father.
Emperor Constantine I called hundreds of bishops together in the city of Nicene to debate this important doctrine. A vast majority of the bishops who attended voted against Arius (namesake of the doctrine of Arianism), excommunicated him and his followers, and wrote a creed known as the “original” Nicene Creed.
That decision in 325 AD did not end the debate or disagreement among leaders in the Church. We detailed some of what happened between the year 325 AD and the Council of Nicea in 325 and the year 381 AD and first Council of Constantinople. You can read that article here.
Before moving to the next stage of the Church’s battle with heresy in the 4th century, let’s take a closer look at what may be the most important aspect of the challenge of Arianism – a challenge still faced today.
In the last part of our series we looked at a serious disagreement in the North African Church between the Egyptian bishop (Alexander) and a Libyan presbyter (Arius). The issue concerned whether Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God or was a created being.
Arius claimed that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Arius believed and taught that God the Father created Jesus and that Jesus had a different nature and essence from God the Father. This became known as Arianism, named after Arius.
Alexander, along with his chief deacon and secretary Athanasius, responded about 320 AD –
“For who ever heard such assertions before? or who that hears them now is not astonished and does not stop his ears lest they should be defiled with such language? Who that has heard the words of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” will not denounce the saying of these men, that “there was a time when He was not?” Or who that has heard in the Gospel, “the Only-begotten Son,” and “by Him were all things made,” will not detest their declaration that He is “one of the things that were made.” For how can He be one of those things which were made by Himself? or how can He be the Only-begotten, when, according to them, He is counted as one among the rest, since He is Himself a creature and a work? And how can He be “made of things that were not,” when the Father saith, “My heart hath uttered a good Word,” and “Out of the womb I have begotten Thee before the morning star?” Or again, how is He “unlike in substance to the Father,” seeing He is the perfect “image” and “brightness” of the Father, and that He saith, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father?” And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom. And how is He “subject to change and variation,” Who says, by Himself, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me,” and “I and the Father are One;” and by the Prophet, “Behold Me, for I am, and I change not?” For although one may refer this expression to the Father, yet it may now be more aptly spoken of the Word, viz., that though He has been made man, He has not changed; but as the Apostle has said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And who can have persuaded them to say, that He was made for us, whereas Paul writes, “for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things?” Deposition of Arius
Alexander and almost a hundred bishops of Egypt and Libya agreed to “anathematize” Arius and his followers. However, that did not end the challenge to Christ’s eternal Deity.
Imagine that you were a Christian during the Great Persecution of 303-313 AD. Your pastor and most other leaders in your local church are in prison or have been executed. Biblical manuscripts and pastors’ sermons are destroyed. Church members are not allowed to meet on threat of arrest. The government confiscated your property. You lost your livelihood and have no way to earn a living. People you used to think were loyal friends have turned in Christians to save themselves from government persecution. You are always in fear of being hauled before a judge to face the charge of being a Christian. You have seen countless family members and friends arrested, imprisoned, tortured and many killed. The last ten years have been the toughest of your life. You may even wonder if Christianity will continue to exist with the Roman Empire doing its best to destroy it.
Now imagine that it’s 313 AD and you hear about the Edict of Milan. Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius agreed to grant all people freedom to worship any deity they chose. You find out that your legal rights are being returned to you, as well as the property taken from you during the Persecution. You can return to your home. You can go back to work to earn a living. You can raise your family in safety. You can worship God with other Christians openly. Church leaders can preach the Gospel of Christ without fear of arrest, torture and death.
What would you think about such an edict?
313 AD must have been a great time of relief for many Christians. It was also a challenging time with Christians trying to sort out what had happened to them during the Great Persecution. Who would lead local churches after so many bishops, pastors and deacons had been tortured and killed? How would faithful Christians deal with believers who had lapsed in their faith and turned other believers in to authorities to save themselves? It was a challenging and turbulent time for the Church.
We are looking at the writings of Christian apologists from the 2nd Century AD. Some were disciples of disciples of Christ’s Apostles. Irenaeus of Lyons was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. One of Irenaeus’ best known writings is the multi-book series, Against Heresies.
Irenaeus called out heretics by name in Against Heresies. They claimed to be Christians and teachers of the Gospel, but Irenaeus demonstrated with both Scripture and logic that they were not true to the Gospel of Christ.
Do you think that’s a good idea for Christians to do today? Should we name names? Why or why not? Let’s see what we can learn from one of the leading Christian apologists of the 2nd century as we ask God for wisdom in how to address modern heretics and their heresies.
We began this special series about A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists several months ago with these words –
Christian apologists must be thinkers. That means they must also be readers. Thinkers read. Readers think. The goal is to become a better thinker for the purpose of becoming a better truth communicator with both Christians and non-Christians. The goal is not to keep what you learn to yourself or amaze your friends with “feats” of knowledge. The goal has not changed since Jesus and His apostles told Christians what to do with the gifts the Lord gave them: 1. glorify God, 2. make disciples (teach them to obey Christ), and 3. equip the saints for their work of ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ (to name a few). Your passion for representing Jesus Christ to the world will drive what you read, how often you read, who you talk with, and what you tell them.
We are currently looking at the Apostolic Fathers in the 2nd, 3rd and early 4th centuries and how they fought many important battles for orthodox Christianity as passed to them from Jesus Christ through His Apostles and the disciples of the Apostles. The writings of these brave men are important for modern Christian apologists to read because the battles they fought are similar to what we fight today.
Irenaeus of Lyons was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus was a leading Christian apologist during the 2nd Century AD. We learn much about prominent heresies of the 2nd century from reading his multi-book series, Against Heresies.