In our last installment in this department of early New Testament church history, we called your attention to the rise of the Arian doctrine which denied the divinity of Christ. We called your attention to the fact that this doctrine denied one of the indispensable requisites for our salvation. If Christ is not very God as well as very man, we have no salvation. He is not able to save us. Thus this Arian doctrine must be thoroughly rejected. It is our purpose now to show you how the church dealt with this heresy which troubled the early New Testament church in the beginning of the fourth century.
A Synod was called in the year 321 which condemned this doctrine and called for the deposition of Arius, the founder and mouthpiece for this evil doctrine. As could be expected, Arius sought to defend himself after his deposition. He appealed to many of his friends who were famous bishops. He also resorted to ingenious methods of spreading his false views. We think that singing commercials are something rather modern. But historians tell us that Arius made use of popular songs to spread his views abroad. In parenthesis we might drop the remark here that countless numbers of hymns today are so extremely dangerous because they are the instruments of those who teach false doctrines. Arius was certainly aware of the fact that a thought brought into the mind on the wings of a song is not easily put out of that mind again. The lilting or otherwise pleasing melody serves to make it stay there and become a part of you.
Arius himself was a man given to a very strict way of living. His walk to all outward appearances was wholly that of a Christian. Living as he did amid an age of all manner of corruption in the clergy, this strict way of living had its appeal to many serious-minded believers in that day and Arius gained many followers because of this fact. Men could not believe that he was the author and founder of a dangerous heresy.
The result was that the two factions began to become distinct and a split in the eastern church not only seemed imminent; it was becoming increasingly plain that this split already existed due to Arius’ views and deposition.
Constantine, who had made Christianity the state religion and brought about this religious peace—at least in the outward sense,—being greatly displeased at this turn of events called an Ecumenical Council to meet at Nicaea to settle this problem which he, not understanding the true nature of the split, called a needless quarrel.
The council met in the year 325 and was composed of 318 bishops. The majority of these bishops either held or was favorably inclined to the view of Arius. Athanasius was one of the chief defenders of the truth at this council and through his vigorous defense of the truth of the divinity of Christ, Arius was excommunicated for his heresy, his doctrine was condemned and his books were ordered to be burned.
The creed adopted by this Council of Nicaea contained the following beautiful expression of the divinity of Christ, “I believe in one God…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the 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.”
It is not difficult to see in this expression what phrases were directly against the views of Arius. Especially that last section which reads, “Begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father” is directed at the false doctrine of Arius that although Christ was created before the worlds, He is yet a creature. The bone of contention in this controversy was exactly there that Arius denied that Christ was of the same substance with the Father. To say that He is of the same substance is to say that He is divine, God of God. The church under the guidance of the Spirit Who leads into all the truth rightly saw the danger of this heresy and was led to formulate a creed which preserves for us today the truth of the divinity of Christ and thus the possibility of our salvation.
Arius refused to subscribe to this expression laid down by the Council of Nicaea and was exiled to Illyria, but the church now had a richer expression of the truth and all things have been subservient to God’s purpose.