Tuesday, Sept. 13
Arianism was by far the most serious threat to Christianity—greater than all the waves of persecution by the Roman Empire and all the Greek and Roman gods. It persisted longer—about five centuries—and was so widespread that it came close to taking over the Christian world. The struggle for Biblical truth (orthodoxy) was the chief focus of concern for the entire first five centuries. The whole thing stemmed from the “one God” doctrine of the Jews. The Jewish religion stood alone on this issue. Every other nation in the world had multiple gods. The whole Empire recognized this distinction. The incarnation seemed to destroy that doctrine, especially since Christianity stemmed from Judaism and embraced the Jewish Scriptures. Christian scholars did their best to resolve the problem without losing that “one God” doctrine. Arius was a priest in Alexandria. He taught that Christ had to emanate from the Father in order to maintain the unity of God, and supported it by the Greek word from which we get “begotten.” He coined the phrase “There was a time when Christ was not,” which became the crux of the Arian issue for the following centuries. This false doctrine, despite the sincerity of its author, is diabolical. Amidst all the other questionable doctrines, the impact of the religions of the day, and Greek philosophers, Arianism was the greatest threat to Christianity. If adopted by the Church, it would undermine the most fundamental doctrine of the Church, that God sent his son to redeem man, and which would seal the fate of Christianity. That seems kind of important! Obviously, Satan doesn’t give up easily. It took nearly four centuries for the Church to deal this doctrine a final knock out blow, but even then, the doctrine hung on in a few circles and is still hanging around today. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Mt. 16:18 that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. He was probably thinking of the Arians. The church would inevitably fail if this doctrine were to be accepted. And I think the early theologians were aware of that. They waged a long and costly fight to retain the truth. The next few blogs will deal with this doctrine. The fight involved some fine lines, a number of alternate side issues that had to be dealt with one by one, and a host of anathemas, condemnations, excommunications, rifts, and deaths. It’s amazing to me that the Church could embrace so many false practices such as dictatorial bishops, sainthood, and monasticism, while at the same time maintaining the critical doctrines of the Church. I guess God knows what is most important. It’s a fascinating story. Hang on!