ARANISM AND ITS INFLUENCES IN THE MODERN CHURCH
Arianism is an ancient heresy which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Arianism is the idea that Jesus Christ is not equal to the Father by nature, but He is the first creation of God. The founder of Arianism was Arius who died in 336. His ideas would have a tremendous impact on the early Church by causing it to define orthodoxy with a number of creeds. However, his impact continues to this present day with such groups as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result of their convictions, these modern-day Arians produce a number of Biblical arguments to support their contention that Jesus is not God. Though Arianism is false Biblically, its doctrines force the Church throughout all generations to define what she believes regarding the person and nature of Christ.
One of the greatest of the heretics in all of Church history was Arius of Alexandria. He lived from about AD 280 until 336 and had a profound influence upon the Church.Arius was a presbyter (member of the governing body) of the Alexandrian Church and he taught that doctrine must be completely reasonable to the human mind or it was not biblical. When human reason becomes the criterion for Biblical doctrine, limitations are placed upon God who is infinite and His Word via man’s finite mind. Therefore, if a certain doctrine is found to be unreasonable in Man’s understanding, it would follow that it would also be unscriptural.
The doctrine of Christ had already been responsible for considerable agitation of the Church. Before Arius came on the scene, heresy had already played a major role in forcing the Church to express definite views of doctrine. Beginning toward the end of the first century and especially into the second and third centuries, Gnosticism pressured the Church fathers into defining and defending some of the major doctrines of Christianity; particularly concerning Christology (the person, nature, and work of Christ).
The teachings of Arius in the fourth century had the same results. In fact, the greatest theological works and statements of faith produced in the early church were a direct result of answering heretics. So what was it in Arius’ doctrine of Christ that made it heresy?
Arius said: “We must either suppose two divine original essences, without beginning and independent of each other, we must substitute a dyarchy for a monarchy, or we must not shrink from asserting that the logos had a beginning of his existence – that there was when he was not (Albert Newman, A Manual of Church History, p. 326).
This action resulted in a schism of the Alexandrian Church which spread quickly throughout the rest of the Church. It eventually led to the Nicene Council where Athanasius, one of the greatest thinkers in Church history, championed Orthodoxy and the Nicene Creed was drafted.
This creed says in part, “We believe …in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only begotten, that is from the substance of the Father… begotten not made, of one substance with the Father…” (Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, p. 328).
There is no doubt that the closing statement of the creed had Arius in mind as it reads:
“But as for those who say, there was when He was not, and, before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different… substance, or is created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic [that is, Universal] Church anathematizes,” (Ibid).
A summary of the Arian view follows:
1. The son was created out of nothing; hence, he is different in essence from the Father; that he is Logos, Wisdom, Son of God, is only of grace. He is not so in himself.
2. There was, when he was not; i.e., he is a finite being.
3. He was created before everything else, and through him the universe was created and is administered.
4. In the historical Christ the human element is merely the material; the soul is the Logos. The historical Christ, therefore, had no human soul….
5. The Arians held, that although the incarnate Logos is finite, and hence not God, he is to be worshipped, as being unspeakably exalted above all other Creatures, the immediate Creator and Governor of the universe, and the Redeemer of man.
6. The Arians adhered to the Scriptures, and were willing to employ as their own any scriptural statements of doctrine. (A Manual for Church History, p. 327).
From the foregoing, who, then, would be the modern-day counterparts to Arius?
It is the organization which claims that Abel was the first of their number and then proceeds to claim the rest of the men of God mentioned in the Bible were ancestors to their organization.
Then, beginning with Jesus, they give the remaining line of their ancestors as follows:
“(1) Jesus to Paul, (2) Paul to Arius, (3) Arius to Waldo, (4) Waldo to Wycliff, (5) Wycliff to Luther, and (6) Luther to Charles Taze Russell (Gruss, ?Apostles of Denialo, p. 9).
Modern Arianism shares the ancient belief that Jesus was not (and thus is not) divine, but goes much further — reducing Jesus to “just a guy”. Influenced perhaps by Naturalism and Materialism, and thus uncomfortable with any supernatural elements, modern Arianism advocates that Jesus was a good and wise man, perhaps even a prophet, but certainly not divine.
It could be argued that such an extreme view has gone beyond heresy to apostasy, thus changing Arianism from a church problem to a mission problem. The views are so widely taught and embraced among liberal churches and seminaries, however, that it is probably unrealistic to dismiss them so easily.
ARIANISM TODAY AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE MODERN CHURCH
Jehovah’s Witnesses are often referred to as “modern-day Arians” or sometimes “Semi-Arians”, usually by their opponents. While there are some significant similarities in theology and doctrine, the Witnesses differ from Arians by saying that the Son can fully know the Father (something Arius himself denied), and by their denial of personality to the Holy Spirit. Arius considered the Holy Spirit to be a person or a high-ranking angel, which had a beginning as a creature, whereas the Witnesses consider the Holy Spirit to be God’s “active force” or “energy”, which had no beginning, and is not an actual person. The original Arians also generally prayed directly to Jesus, whereas the Witnesses pray to God, through Jesus as a mediator.
CONCLUSION–THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ARIANISM
Arianism did not simply influence several theologians in the early centuries of Christianity; its impact affected the emergence of Orthodoxy. Brown comments that Arianism gave “the church the first standard by which orthodoxy could be reliably measured.” The Arian controversy was the first controversy to be decided by an ecumenical council. This impact continues today with groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny the deity of Christ. However, despite their best efforts, their arguments do not square with the Biblical evidence. Instead, their Jesus lacks the power to save. Metzger rightly points out the effects of the Witnesses view, “While he was on earth he was nothing more than a man, and therefore the atoning effect of his death can have no more significance that that of a perfect human being.” Further, “. . . if a sect’s basic orientation regarding Jesus Christ be errant, it must be seriously doubted whether the name ‘Christian’ can rightly be applied to such a system.” However, despite the negative evaluation the Christian “has the joyous confidence that his divine Lord’s mediatorial work is sufficient to bring into heaven itself not only 144,000, but a great multitude which no man can number.”
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