Modern Arianism Is on the Rise: Here’s Why it Matters

Can I offer you a stiff drink of theology? Our topic is modern Arianism. (and then, at the end, tell you why)? The Arian controversy of the fourth century is widely regarded as one of the most significant in all of Christian history. Here we go: Modern Arianism Is on the Rise A man named…

Modern Arianism

Can I offer you a stiff drink of theology? Our topic is modern Arianism. (and then, at the end, tell you why)? The Arian controversy of the fourth century is widely regarded as one of the most significant in all of Christian history. Here we go:

Modern Arianism Is on the Rise

A man named Arius (who lived between 250-336) argued that the scriptural titles for Christ, which seemed to point to Christ’s equality with God, were merely courtesy titles. In truth, Arius said, Christ was to be seen as a creature—although the first among all creatures. So, while the son is not like any other creature, Arius argued that he is a creature, nonetheless. He even said that the son was a perfect creature and outranked all other creatures but was indeed created. Hence the phrase of Arius, “There was once when he was not.”

So much for the Trinity.

Arius was attempting to draw on a number of biblical passages. In John 14, you have Jesus saying that the Father is greater than He is. In Mark 13, Jesus says that no one knows when the second coming will be – not even Him – only the Father. So, Arius and his followers maintained that Jesus was similar to the Father in nature or essence, but not the same as the Father in nature or essence.

This received a swift and hostile reaction from many within the church who were able to marshal an impressive number of biblical passages (e.g., John 3:16, 14:9) – which form the basis of orthodox Christology to this day – to combat his ideas and point to the fundamental unity between the Father and the Son.

Also, the passages that the Arians used were shown to be misinterpreted, missing out on the subordination of the Son to the Father during the incarnation, and how His language reflected that state of subordination. In other words, in His incarnation, Jesus filled a different role. 

It was also argued that the divinity of Christ was of central importance to the Christian idea of salvation. If what Arius was maintaining was true, Christ could not save anyone, since no mere “creature” can save another creature. Only God can save and even Arius seemed to agree that, according to the New Testament, salvation was meant to come through Jesus.

The conclusion, affirmed at the famed Council of Nicea in 325, was that Jesus was God Himself in human form, the second Person of Trinity, and any other view was heresy of the highest order.

Specifically, it was determined that Jesus was homo (same) ousios (substance) – “one in being” or “one in substance” – with the Father. This was selected as opposed to homoiousios, which meant of “like substance” or “like being.” In Gibbon’s monumental work The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, he notes that never had there been so much energy spent on one vowel. But that vowel mattered because it defined the very person of Christ.

The Council of Nicea produced what would eventually become known as the Nicene Creed, which stated that Jesus Christ was of the same substance with the Father.

Okay, here’s why I put you through that technical – but critically important – bit of historical theology.

Here’s Why it Matters:

Modern Arianism on the rise.

According to the annual State of Theology survey, jointly conducted by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research, of the five most common mistaken beliefs held by evangelicals (yes, evangelicals, not the public at large), two are directly tied to modern Arianism. A whopping 73% agreed with the statement that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” and 43% affirmed that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” So much for “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Though outside of classical Arian theology, the Trinity seems particular in duress. Among the top five revelations from the study was that 60% believed that “the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.”

The report references Ligonier founder R. C. Sproul’s teaching that everyone’s a theologian. “However, Dr. Sproul would be quick to add that not everyone is a good theologian.”

No, they are not. 

 

This article on modern Arianism originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

 

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.