47: The Rise of Arianism

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:4

One of the most dangerous yet subtle temptations to befall the Church, throughout the centuries, has been to mistake educational attainments, natural ability and force of personality as being synonymous with the leading of the Holy Spirit. It was on these very grounds that the Church of Christ almost lost her faith in in the 4th Century.

The problem began less than ten years after Constantine granted Christians their freedom; its a challenge that the Church continues to face today under the name of Arianism.

It all began in the Alexandrian Church, which is no major surprise, because this was the spiritual home of Clement and Origen whose writings and ideas became a breeding ground for falsehoods.

A Presbyter arose in the Alexandrian Church called Arius, a gifted, articulate and scholarly individual whose ideas had ramifications far beyond his immediate sphere of ministry. The controversy began when Arius challenged the Trinitarian theology of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, by insisting that Christ was a creature created by God and was not truly divine. In 321 AD the controversy was examined by 100 Egyptian and Libyan Bishops who removed Arius from office, excommunicating him in the process.

Not to be undaunted, Arius took to writing and travelling. Very soon the Church across the Empire was bitterly divided with some bishops even siding with his views.

Until this juncture the Church adopted a Trinitarian position but the subject, in this manner, was never debated and defined. It placed the Church at a cross-roads. The future course that Christianity was at stake because the person of Christ lies at the heart of the Gospel.

It would take two Church Councils at Nicea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD) before the matter was resolved. Between these two pivotal councils there were fifty years of strife which impacts our theology to the present.

Arianism was finally driven to the extremities with the Trinitarian position adopted as orthodox thinking for perpetuity. It lingers, however, in heretical versions of Christianity which continue to subvert the person of Christ. The Jehovah Witnesses are a modern example of a cult which advocates this position. Presbyterians who refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession also became polluted with this false doctrine.

This entire saga urges upon us the importance of watching, of clinging to the old faith and defending the precious person of Christ with vigour as He is presented in Scripture.

What think ye of Christ? is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him;
As Jesus appears in your view,
As he is beloved or not,
So God is disposed to you,
And mercy, or wrath are your lot.

Some take him a creature to be,
A man, or an angel at most:
Sure these have not feelings like me,
Nor know themselves wretched, and lost;
So guilty, so helpless, am I,
I durst not confide in his blood;
Nor on his protection rely,
Unless I were sure he is God.

John Newton

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