Results tagged “Arius” from Reformation21 Blog

Reciting the Creed

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Why do we recite the historic creeds of the church in our worship services? There are a few ways to answer this question. First, we believe these creeds are really just recitations of the content of Scripture. All we are doing is reading a summary of what the Bible says. Second, we believe recitation leads to memorization. It is very important that we understand the basics of Christianity, and there are just some things that we ought to have memorized. And third, when we recite the creeds, we are affirming that what we believe about the teaching of Scripture is the same as what the Church has believed throughout history.

In October our church will begin reciting the Nicene Creed. The council of Nicaea was the first of what we know as the ecumenical councils of the church, meaning that it was attended by representatives of the global church at that time. The purpose of the council was to deal with one of the greatest threats to the Gospel that had existed up until that point: The heretical teachings of Arius. Arius taught that there was a time when Jesus did not exist. Jesus was not God, but rather a created being. Alexander, a bishop in Alexandria, first took up the challenge of debating Arius, a responsibility that was eventually carried on by Athanasius.

In order to keep the church unified, the Emperor Constantine held the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The result of this council was, of course, known as the Creed of Nicaea, or The Nicene Creed (and also an agreement on when the church should celebrate Easter).

That's all fine, but why should we recite the Nicene Creed today? After all, this creed sounds pretty academic. Doesn't it make it seem as though the Christian faith is just a series of doctrinal affirmations? Isn't Christianity more about a relationship and experience with God? 

It's important to remember--as the Nicene Creed shows us--that orthodoxy and doxology were not always seen as at odds with one another. There was a time when Christians saw the truths we profess as being a source of worship and a reason to rejoice! When we recite and share together in the creeds of the church in a corporate way, we don't just affirm our unity with the universal church that came before; we're also saying aloud that these truths are a cause for worship, and should give rise to joyful songs!

There is another reason we should share in these creeds corporately, and it is a very practical reason: It helps us remember. I believe and hope that we have recited the Apostles' Creed for so long that many of us could recite it in our sleep. Now, if you were to memorize the Nicene Creed, you would be better prepared to help others understand the faith, or to face serious error the next time the Jehovah's Witnesses come to your door.

Perhaps you might ask, "Why would we recite the Nicene Creed when we already have the Apostles' Creed?" The Apostles' Creed has much to commend it. It is shorter, simpler, and easier to remember than some later creeds (the Athanasian Creed, for example). It is also truthful and accurate to Scripture.

But the Apostles' Creed is really the bare minimum of Christian teaching. It doesn't get very specific about the deity of Christ. It doesn't speak to the nature of God beyond the fact that he is the creator. It doesn't speak of the deity of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Apostles' Creed is so general that even a Mormon could affirm it. That doesn't mean the Apostles' Creed is a bad creed, but it does mean that more development was needed that made clearer what the Bible teaches.

I'd like to higlight just a few ways that the Nicene Creed more clearly presents the Bible's teaching. First, the Nicene Creed has a doctrine of the Holy Spirit! The Apostles' Creed simply says, "I believe in the Holy Spirit." The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, has more to say:

"[I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets."

Nicaea makes us aware that the Holy Spirit really is a person of the Godhead, not merely a tacked on formality or affirmation. All three persons are co-eternal and co-equal as God; it is proper that the Spirit receive a greater place of prominence than the Apostles' Creed ascribes to Him. In Nicaea we see the centrality of the Spirit to creation, to Christian worship, and to special revelation. 

Second, perhaps the most important passage in the Nicene Creed is this statement that the Son was of the "same substance" with the Father: 

"[We believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father."

At first glance this might sound like abstract theological jockeying, but it was actually profoundly important for the Christian faith. How is the Son related to the Father? The answer changes how you see all of the universe, how you understand salvation, and how you think about your own relationship to God when you trust in Jesus. When Jesus died was he able to bear the full penalty of sin against the Holy God? If we are united to Christ by faith are we fully united to God? Is it appropriate to worship Jesus just like we do the Father? If you get these questions wrong, you get the Christian faith wrong. 

Yet as Carl Trueman reminds us, this creed does not only help us to remember, affirm, and speak propositional truths; it unites us as well:

"In reciting the creeds, the purpose is not simply to declare a set of propositional truths. Rather, the action is somewhat richer than that: to state the obvious, in reciting the words of the creeds together, each member of the congregation publicly identifies with every other member in expressing a corporate unity of belief in a common gospel. They are also expressing their common belief with every other Christian throughout history who has used these words to witness to Christ. Further, they are reminding themselves and each other of who God is and what he has done. In other words, the creeds, in liturgical context, become a means of fulfilling the public declaration that Romans 10 demands of believers: the confession (a document) becomes a confession (an act of pointing toward Christ before the church and the world)" [The Creedal Imperative, p. 144].


Adam Parker is the pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (PCA), a regular contributor to Reformation 21, an adjunct professor at Belhaven University, and most importantly husband to Arryn and father of four.


Related Links

Our Glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download  ]

Knowing the Trinity by Ryan McGraw

Retrieving Eternal Generation, ed. by Fred Sanders and Scott Swain

Athanasius (Christian Biographies For Young Readers) by Simonetta Carr

Origins of the Creed

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If you were a Christian living in the great port city of Alexandria, Egypt in the year 320, your life would likely be full of excitement. Less than 10 years before, the great Emperor Constantine had defeated his enemies, ended Roman persecution of Christians, and granted Christianity the status of a favored religion. You no longer needed to fear arrest, torture or imprisonment simply for being a believer in Christ.

All across the city, the churches and the believers were emerging from the only life they had ever known--fear of opposition--and enjoying the fresh air of freedom. Alexandria was famous for its rich tradition of Christian thinkers; now more than ever, men were considering and expressing their faith. And so even if you were the humblest disciple in the city, you'd know something of the debates that soon began to swirl around the believing community. A highly-respected Presbyter--a mature, seasoned man who was an able preacher and popular pastor--was beginning to have a serious conflict with the city's Bishop.

The disagreement was doctrinal, and had everything to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The presbyter, Arius, used his popularity and abilities to spread his doctrine through the Christian population. One of the methods used among the people was a series of short choruses, sung or chanted by young and old, expressing Arius's particular doctrine. It was a brilliant method! The Scripture says that we are to teach one another in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs--and this is what the followers of Arius did.

One of their choruses is strikingly illustrative of their doctrine and method. Being a Greek speaking city, the chorus was in Greek, and consisted of only five words, only 7 total syllables (a perfect chorus). The first word and the last are the same, while the second and third words rhyme: "ην ποτε ὁτε ουχ ην" (ēn pote hote oukh ēn). You can hear that it is lyrical and simple. One author says that it was chanted over and over, in church and daily in the streets of the city by those who believed its doctrine.

What does it mean? It's somewhat difficult to render exactly into English, but it goes something like this: "There was when he was not." Repeatedly, in church and in the city, the huge community of the followers of Arius chanted this and similar choruses to teach, promote and strengthen their view.

The "he" is Jesus Christ--"There was when Christ was not." This small change in wording makes the chorus a little more startling, and perhaps easier for us to understand. In the doctrinal system of Arius and his followers, Jesus Christ, as great as he may be, is a created being, brought into existence by the power of the one true God. He is the firstborn of all creation--greater than all the rest for sure, but still--a created being--not deity. At some point in eternity, God created Jesus Christ. The chorus was a teaching tool, a piece of propaganda for Arius's doctrine.

As this teaching grew and spread, it was opposed by the bishop of Alexandria--Alexander (!). He understood the seriousness of the teaching and its implications, and so he held a public inquiry into the matter. This resulted in the suspension of Arius from his ministry. But that was only the beginning of the trouble... a trouble which would last for another 70 years!

Arius had powerful friends outside of Alexandria. In 324, when Constantine became sole ruler of West and East, he sought to develop favorable relationships with Christian leaders from the east. Among them were Arius's greatest supporters, who appealed to the Emperor to intervene and restore Arius to his position in the Alexandrian church. Feelings throughout the empire ran high. There was great debate, political maneuvering, and ecclesiastical disorder.

Seeing this, Constantine called a council, which would held at Nicaea in 325 under his personal control. With about 220 bishops in attendance, this has been called the first great council of the church. Through much debate, 218 of the bishops adopted a thoroughly orthodox creed, and Arianism--at least for the time--seemed to have been defeated.

There are two versions of this creed, a shorter and a longer. The Nicene Creed (proper) comes from the Council of Nicea in AD 325 and is the shorter version; a revised and expanded version (which is the more common creed today) comes from the Council of Constantinople in 381. The original form of the creed was intended to guard the deity to Christ; the second and expanded version speaks more directly to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

This creed is deeply rooted in the text of Scripture. The authors were committed to the authority of Scripture, and sought to mine its depths and express its doctrine carefully. Here is the revised Creed as found in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, 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; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and 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; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed is accepted by all branches of orthodox Christianity, and its doctrines are considered definitive. If any seemed to introduce a new doctrine, they were examined according to Scripture and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, and urged to conform to it.


James Renihan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is President and Professor of Historical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary, Mansfield, TX. His academic work has focused on the Second London Baptist Confession and its broader Puritan theological context. He has been published in many journals, and is the author of multiple books including Edification and Beauty, A Toolkit for Confessions, True Love, and Faith and Life for Baptists.


Related Links

Our Glorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download  ]

Knowing the Trinity by Ryan McGraw

Retrieving Eternal Generation, ed. by Fred Sanders and Scott Swain

Athanasius (Christian Biographies For Young Readers) by Simonetta Carr

On Fatherhood Divine and Human

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In my experience, one of the principal delights of growing older -- more than adequate compensation for hair loss, aches and pains, and other unpleasantries associated with the art -- is seeing one's family increase through the addition of children (and, presumably, grandchildren, though I'm far from that stage). Last Thursday morning I had the pleasure of holding in my arms for the very first time my newborn son Austin. Austin is our third child, and our first boy (not counting our dog, who bears a striking similarity to me, at least behaviorally, despite our lack of shared genetics).

Children, of course, provide numerous joys (and, to be fair, numerous anxieties). One of the more easily overlooked of those joys, I think, is -- at least for a Christian father -- deeper appreciation for the reality and depth of God's own fatherly love, both as such is realized in the immanent Triune life of God, and as such is realized in God's relationship to believers. Within the inner life of God, after all, there is (eternally) a Father and a Son, and God has revealed himself (in time) as the adoptive Father of those whose salvation has been purposed from eternity and accomplished in time through the Spirit's application to them of the Son's saving work (cf. Matt. 3.17 & Eph. 1.5). Becoming and being an earthly father, I believe, grants experiential insight into God's sentiments toward his adopted children as well as God the Father's sentiments toward his proper Son, and so also experiential insight into the profound sacrifice involved in God the Father's gift of his only-begotten Son for our salvation (John 3.16).

Scripture itself provides us some license to gauge the depth of God's (parental) love for us by taking stock of human (parental) love: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isa. 49.15). The truth posited in this verse is of course accessible to all, but the nursing mother will feel the point made in a particular way. Yet, it is possible to get a bit carried away in this regard. It is possible to start thinking God's relationship to his elect children, or even God the Father's relationship to God the Son, is itself somehow modeled upon the earthly phenomenon of fatherhood -- as if human fatherhood (and, correspondingly, human sonship) were the architectural plan to which the relationship between Father and Son in the Godhead must conform, however grander the actual building might be in comparison to the drawing.

The third-century Alexandrian priest Arius got carried away in just this regard, at least in terms of his rhetoric. Arius's basic thesis -- namely, that the Son of God is essentially a creature (rather than the Creator) -- stemmed from other considerations, but in the interest of defending his position, he explicitly appealed to the analogy between divine and human fatherhood. And, apparently, his argument struck a particular chord with certain parents. In his Four Discourses against the Arians, the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius tells us that Arius made it his habit to approach "silly women, and address them in turn in this womanish language: 'Had you a son before bearing? Now, as you had not, so neither was the Son of God before His generation.'" Arius's reasoning, in other words, was that since, say, Austin's birth occurred at a point in time (7:37 a.m. last Thursday, to be precise), and that since prior to his birth (or really conception) Austin was not, God's Son too must have been born (as it were) at some precise moment and, prior to that, not have been per se.

Athanasius reckoned that "words so silly and dull deserve no answer at all." Nevertheless, in addition to marshalling an impressive number of biblical texts and theological arguments in defense of Nicene orthodoxy (which judged the Son "true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father"), Athanasius responded to said words, largely out of concern for "the silly women who are so readily deceived by them."

In response to Arius's argument, Athanasius didn't shy away at all from the designation of the second person of the Trinity as "Son" or as "begotten." He simply pointed out, firstly, that human fatherhood is modeled upon divine fatherhood (rather than vice versa): "For God does not make man His pattern; but rather we men, because God is properly, and alone truly, Father of His Son, are also called fathers of our own children." Thus warning signs are posted along the pathway of attempts to elicit essential truths about the relation of God the Father to God the Son from the relation of human fathers to their sons.

But Athanasius goes further by, secondly, showing how the analogy between divine fatherhood and human fatherhood properly understood (i.e,. in conformity with catholic and biblical Christian truth) actually supports Scripture's broader identification of the Son as eternal and divine. "If they inquire of parents concerning their son," he writes, "let them consider ... the child which is begotten. For, granting the parent had not a son before his begetting, still, after having him, he had him, not as external or as foreign, but as from himself, and proper to his essence and his exact image, so that the former is beheld in the latter, and the latter is contemplated in the former." Athanasius's point is that sons, by the very nature of sonship, share in the nature of their fathers. Like begets like. Humans, who are temporal by nature, beget humans. Despite my younger daughter Geneva's earnest hope, revealed when asked before Austin's birth whether she anticipated a brother or sister, that "mommy's belly" had a "baby puppy" in it, my wife gave birth to a human being last Thursday. Austin was born at a point in time -- and so is, by definition, a temporal creature -- because his mother and father are themselves temporal creatures who were born at specific points in time.

What human sonship properly implies for non-human sonship, then, is not the temporality of the one born, but the begotten one's participation in (or possession of) the very same nature as the one who has begotten him. If an eternal (and divine) being begets, then, he necessarily begets an eternal (and divine) being; the begetting of a temporal being by an eternal being would be as implausible as the birth of a "baby puppy" to a daughter of Eve. And if the begotten One is himself eternal (like his Father), then his "birth" cannot have occurred at any moment; that birth itself is eternal (which is precisely what the Nicene Creed affirms).

The doctrine of the Son's eternal generation from the Father (and, correspondingly, the Father's eternal generating of the Son) has fallen on hard times of late. Several notable evangelicals have openly rejected the doctrine, suggesting that it lends itself to subordinationism (the position that the Son is ontologically inferior to the Father). Ironically, subordinationism is the very thing the Nicene doctrine of the Son's eternal generation, so well expressed and defended by Athanasius, was intended to subvert. Perhaps better awareness of historic debates surrounding Christianity's historic doctrines -- buttressed if necessary by some personal experience in fatherhood -- would generate (no pun intended) greater reservation in rejecting this and other creedal Christian truths.