It has been said that those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat the errors of history. While this concept is generally applied to political or economic history it may perhaps be applied to the history of Christendom as well.
By the term Christendom in this context I mean all churches and their members who believe the Gospel with Jesus Christ as their Savior as drawn from the Holy Scriptures. A new issue which I shall term "the new Arianism" has arisen to plague Christendom in much the same fashion that the old Arianism plagued the early Christian Church during the fourth century A.D.
May I point out that the Arianism to which your attention is directed, is spelled ARIANISM named after the fourth century theologian Arius and is not to be confused with Aryanism spelled ARYANISM, a racist concept promoted by the Nazis.
The old Arianism consisted principally in declaring that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father and therefore He was not God. This ultimately developed into the notion that redemption by Jesus Christ was questionable since He was a created being instead of being Unoriginate like the Father.
The new Arianism may be defined as the concept that the Bible contains the Word of God along with other material not worthy of belief. This position contrasts with the historic orthodox belief that the Bible intrinsically is the Word of God in its entirety, from beginning to end.
Since there are so many parallels between the old and the new Arianism, perhaps a study of these parallels, and how the early Christians finally resolved their controversy may give us some clues as to how the current controversy may be resolved in out generation.
The basic issue of the old Arianism was the Divine origin and nature of Jesus Christ. The basic issue of the new Arianism today is the Divine origin and nature of Holy Scriptures.
The source of the old controversy was the application of humanistic rationalism to the origin and nature of Jesus Christ. The source of today's controversy is the application of humanistic rationalism and relativism to the origin and nature of Holy Scriptures.
The old heresy originated, not among the laity, missionaries or working parish pastors, but with the highly educated theologians.
Most laymen did not for a long time truly understand the nature of the old Arianism as it was promulgated largely by use of standard orthodox terminology. At first laymen understood this language in the original orthodox sense, although Arians had redefined it as meaning something quite different, particularly when speaking among themselves.
Athanasius roundly condemned such double talk by quoting 1 Timothy 3, 8: "Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued . . ." And such double thinking by quoting James 1, 8: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways".
Again - we have a parallel today with the new Arianism. Our modern heresy has not originated with laymen, missionaries or with working parish pastors, but with highly educated seminary theologians
The double thinking and double talk of which Athanasius so bitterly complained is with us today, too. For example, when a liberal today speaks of the Holy Scriptures as God's Word he readily can and usually does mean that the Bible merely contains God's Word, not that it intrinsically is the Word of God; - thereby reserving to himself the prerogative of relegating the creation, fall of man, Jonah, the virgin birth, Jesus; miracles etc. as myth or fable.
The danger of the old Arianism lay not so much in the denial of the Trinity, but rather in its consequences to the doctrine of redemption, as Athanasius never tired of pointing out. So today, the danger in attacking the inerrancy of Holy Scriptures lies not in denial of its origin and nature, but in its consequences to the doctrine of redemption. How can the Gospel as recorded in the Bible be reliable if the truthfulness of all other aspects of Holy Scriptures are to be and open question?
The leading defender of the Nicene position against the old Arianism was Athanasuius. To him the core of the controversy was the salvation of men which the old Arianism eroded with a theology of doubt instead of theology of faith.
So too today, a theology of doubt as to the credibility of Holy Scriptures must eventually lead to and erosion of faith in Jesus; redemption.
In the years before the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., many if not most laymen did not understand what was troubling their clergy. Although Emperor Constantine called and presided at the Council of Nicea to settle the matter, even he did not originally seem to have a clear idea of the basic issue. As the months dragged on the nature of the issue was apparently clarified in his mind as he is credited with giving currency to the two words which became the cutting edge dividing the Arians and the Athanasians.
These two Greek words were homoousian, meaning the same substance as held by the Athanasians as contrasted with homoiousian, meaning similar but not the same substance, as held by the Arians.
So today, many if not most laymen do not clearly understand the current issue although most now realize that it is somehow concerned with the credibility of the Bible.
It may be noted that
originally Athanasius approached the Arian
heresy, not as a theologian, but as a believing soul in need of a
Perhaps it would be well for us today to approach the veracity of Holy Scriptures in the same way, - not as theologians, but as believing souls in need of salvation.
To show further parallels may I quote an excerpt from the Prolegomena to Writings and Letters of Athanasius, published by William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company describing the Council of Nicea: "Page XVlll (3)
Between the convinced Arians and their reasoned opponents lay the great mass of bishops, 200 and more, nearly all from Syria and Asia Minor, who wished for nothing more than that they might hand on to those who came after them the faith they had received at baptism, and had learned from their predecessors. These were the "conservatives", or middle party, composed of all those who, for whatever reason, while untainted with Arianism,. yet either failed to feel its urgent danger to the church, or else to hold steadily in view the necessity of an adequate test if it was to be banished. Simple shepherds like Spyridon of Cyprus; men of the world who were more interested in their libelli than in the magnitude of the doctrinal issue; theologians, a numerous class, "who on the basis of half-understood orgenist ideas were prepared to recognize in Christ only the Mediator appointed between God and the world"; men who in the best of faith yet failed from lack of intellectual clearsightedness to grasp the questions for them selves; a few, possibly, who were inclined to think Arius was hardly used and might be right after all; such were the main elements which made up the mass of the council, and upon whose indefiniteness, sympathy, or unwillingness to impose any effective test, the Arian party based their hopes".
This description of the Council of Nicea has amazing parallels with the position of liberals and the orthodox today, as well as the great uncommitted middle party who are unwilling or unable to understand the issue.
The Arians assented to language at early meetings of the council which meant something different to them than to the Athanasians.
For example; describing Jesus "like unto the Father in all things", was accepted with the later reservation that man as such "is in the image and glory of God".
"The power of God" was accepted with the later explanation that the host of Israel and even locusts and caterpillars are called "the power of God" by Holy Scriptures.
The eternity of the Son was later countered by the text "We that live are alway . . ." 2 Corinthians 4, 11.
The old Arians
declared that the divinity of Christ is acquired,
not original; relative, not absolute; in His character, not in His
He was the instrument intermediate between God and all else but was not
equal to God.
The new Arians of today declare that the divine nature of Holy Scripture is contained, not intrinsic; relative, not absolute; in the Gospel only, not in the rest of its historical or factual assertions.
Our new Arians of today declare that the Bible may contain the Word of God to those who are adept at picking out these occasional kernels, but they do not accept the Bible as intrinsically to be the Word of God from beginning to end.
Just as the illogicality of the old Arianism by starting with the Sonship of Jesus, ultimately would up denying his Sonship, so the new Arianism by starting with the Gospel ultimately winds up denying the Gospel.
If the facticity and historicity of the rest of the Bible aside from the Gospel, are open questions, how can the new Arians ultimately prevent the Gospel itself from becoming an open question?
The Nicene Creed proclaimed by the Council of Nicea after many months of discussion emphasized the unity of the Godhead in three persons as opposed to the Arian division of the Son from the Father.
So today we need a definitive creed as a test or formula to emphasize the unity of the divine and human origin of Holy Scriptures to refute the liberal division of the human from the divine origin of Holy Scriptures.
The Council of Nicea in refuting Arianism with the Nicene Creed was not so much concerned with saying "yes" to fresh truths or forms of consciousness, as to say "no" to untrue or misleading modes of shaping and stating Christian truth.
A similar short creedal statement reaffirming our belief in the divine origin and nature of Holy Scriptures is needed today. We must remember that today just as was the case in 325 A.D. at Nicea, the revelation of Christ and the Holy Scriptures is addressed to the will, not to the intellect. Its appeal is to faith, not to theology. Of what value is any theology which does not edify, but which rather erodes and thereby eventually destroys faith?
There are many other parallels that may be drawn between the old and the new Arianism showing that the difference is principally one of subject matter. Today, it is the divine origin and nature of Holy Scriptures, whereas then it was the divine origin and nature of Jesus Christ.
Since our problem today has many similarities with that of ancient Arianism, perhaps we can get help in resolving this issue by studying how our ancient Christian brothers worked out their solution.
Although the Nicene Creed was pronounced in 325 A.D., the issue became political to such a degree that the Arians managed to have Athanasius, the principal defender of orthodoxy, exiled on five separate occasions over the next 40 years before the Arian heresy was finally put down both politically and theologically.
We have similar parallels today, particularly in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod with which I am most familiar. Trinity Lutheran Church of New Haven, Missouri and its pastor, the Rev. Herman Otten, have taken a forthright, polemic stand against the new Arianism similar to what Athanasius did in his day.
This congregation was exiled from the Missouri Synod by political machinations of its district officials. After arduous and expensive appeals this congregation was at long last reinstated, but its pastor does not to this day appear on the clergy roster of the synod.
A power struggle is currently going on in LCMS between those who consider the Bible to be absolute truth versus those who consider it to be relative truth as will be demonstrated at the forthcoming Synodical Convention in New Orleans this summer.
Similar circumstances may be related in many other Christian denominations. We may as well acknowledge that this struggle, which began over a hundred years ago will probably continue for the rest of the lifetime of most of us present here today.
Chant singing was very popular in the Christian churches of the fourth century. The Arians had developed three chants, the words of which were the following:
1. Glory to the
Father, by the Son, and in the Holy Ghost.
2. Glory to the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost.
3. Glory to the Father in the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Please note that while at first glance these chants appear to recognize the Trinity, none of them give the three Persons equal position in the Godhead.
It was not until two devout and active laymen named Flavianus and Diodorus of Antioch who were attached to the Nicene faith, developed a new chant, whose catchy tune became quite popular, that laymen of that day genuinely understood the basic issue. The words of this chant were, "Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost", making all three members of the Trinity equal whereas the other chants mentioned above did not give them this equality.
We still confirm our Athanasian heritage and deny the Arian heresy today each time we begin our worship services with "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost".
One error of the old Arians was that they eroded the divinity of Jesus by placing his human nature on the same level as our human nature instead of emphasizing that his human nature was perfect because of his divine nature.
The new Arians of today are using the human nature of the Bible to erode its divine nature, whereas the emphasis should be turned around by demonstrating that the divine nature of Holy Scriptures edifies its human nature into perfection.
Those who attack the veracity of Holy Scriptures begin with three presuppositions or premises.
1. Rationalism -
whatever cannot be understood is not to be
2. Humanism - there is no divine or supernatural intervention in the operation of the laws of preservation of the
universe, thus making miracles recorded in the Bible out to be myths or fables.
3. Relativism - there is no absolute truth; truth changes as time changes.
An examination of the attacks on Holy Scriptures will show that they usually begin with one or more of the above presuppositions or premises. It is possible to refute such attacks on their own ground by using one or more of the following premises.
1. The mind of man is capable of understanding and rationalizing only the finite. The infinite must be accepted by faith rather than by reason. The mind God gave us is limited to understanding only the finite, not the infinite. The church has learned from bitter experience that it is usually better to admit it doesn't know how something took place than to offer specious explanations which later may prove to be embarrassingly wrong; e.g., the embarrassment of causing Galileo to retract when he was correct.
2. An omniscient and omnipotent Creator used one set of laws for creation and established another set of laws for preservation. This circumstance gives him the prerogative of intervening or changing the laws of preservation any time He sees fit.
3. Just as God is absolute, so is truth absolute. Since our understanding of God is relative, so also man's understanding of truth is relative. The fact that man's understanding of truth may be relative in no way diminishes the absoluteness of truth itself.
Those who would attack and attempt to destroy the veracity of Holy Scriptures are applying the knowledge explosion to buttress their irreligious presuppositions of rationalism, humanism and relativism.
On the other hand Christians such as those supporting the Creation Research Society and the Bible Science Association are using the knowledge explosion to undergird and reaffirm the veracity of Holy Scriptures, but such men and women are largely isolated from each other.
While scientific information supporting the truthfulness of the Bible is available in scattered form, the force of such facts would be far more effective if a Christian oriented science institute were available where such information could be gathered, correlated and evaluated.
When attacks on the veracity of the Bible are made, responsible authorities and scientific data could then be made more readily available to refute such attacks.
Such an institute could be used to study and verify various phenomena mentioned in the Bible in much the same way that the state of Israel has been studying the Bible to uncover various natural resources.
Such an organization would necessarily begin in a small humble way, but with God's blessing it could become a tremendous influence by witnessing for the veracity of Holy Scriptures, and thereby for the Gospel itself.
We Lutherans have a precedent for making a success of this kind of venture. The University of Wittenberg was a rather obscure institution when Martin Luther began to teach there but it soon became one of the great if not the most prestigious university in all Europe by the time he passed from the scene. It is interesting to note from a scientific viewpoint that a mathematician at the University of Wittenberg encouraged Copernicus in the development of his thesis on which modern astronomy is based.
A nucleus of scientific Christian minds is already available through the Creation Research society. What a joy it would be for all Bible believing Christians to have a library or an institute to which we could refer when some incident or attack on God's Holy Word needs refutation so as to preserve a weak Christian's faith.
Such an institute could not only help to add to scientific knowledge, but would be edifying to God's Word by reaffirming its veracity.
In conclusion may I remind you that as a result of the old Arian heresy, two of the great ecumenical creeds were adopted, namely the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.
The Council of Nicea did not however give us the Nicene Creed in the form we have it today, The original Nicene Creed ended with the confession "I believe in the Holy Ghost".
The Nicene Creed became such an effective weapon against Arianism that the Arians developed some 30 creeds of their own, all of which eventually were ineffective as none are remembered today.
In the course of time, the deity of the Holy Ghost was also attacked by the Arians using much of the same reasoning as was used to attack the deity of Jesus Christ.
They claimed that the third person also was not of the same substance as the Father and was therefore a secondary created being along with Jesus Christ.
As a consequence, a codicil was added to the Nicene Creed covering the third member of the Trinity as being equal to the deity of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. This is the form in which we confess the Creed today.
The practical value of the ecumenical creeds is that by repetition, their truths infuse the mind and heart of even the weak Christian so that he instinctively is inclined to accept and defend them.
WE need a definitive creedal confession similar to the three great ecumenical creeds, reaffirming the divine origin and nature of Holy Scriptures, and thereby reaffirming their divine authority.
Such a creedal statement could then be used as a test of those who denigrate the divine authority of Holy Scriptures, just as the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed were used as a test for those who denied that the Son and Holy Spirit were equal to the Father in the Trinity.
This could be an
independent creedal confession or it could
be added as a codicil to one of the other creeds in the same way the
was added to the Nicene Creed so as to cover the deity of the Holy
For purposes of discussion and consideration may I humbly offer my own
statement of belief:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father; And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one holy Christian and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, And I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Universal Christian faith.
Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Christian faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.
Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal.
As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by Himself to be God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Christian religion to say, There be three Gods or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are coeternal together coequal,together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.
He, there, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood;
Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ:
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead;
He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.